In the Garden:
A kaleidoscope of phlox in our perennial border.
Late summer can be a quiet time in the perennial garden if it weren't for phlox. Come August the brilliant colors of Phlox paniculata burst forth in reds, whites, purples, and pinks throughout our garden. They are a great colorful transition from the daisies and lilies of summer to the asters and sedums of fall. Plus some of the varieties are fragrant.
There are many different species and varieties of phlox that bloom at different times. Phlox paniculata is the species we favor in our garden because they are tall and flower in late summer. They grow 3 to 4 feet tall and have full flower heads that bloom for weeks in late summer as long as the weather stays cool. Some of the best varieties are 'David' (white) and 'Bright Eyes' (pink with red centers).
Phlox can be an aggressive plant, so we spend a lot of time in spring weeding out new shoots where they shouldn't be. If left untamed, they will take over the perennial border, crowding out weaker plants. They grow best in full sun and well drained soil. However, my phlox didn't like last year's drought in our garden, so make sure the soil stays moist throughout the summer. Stressed plants tend to be shorter and flower less fully.
Phlox are relatively care-free once established except for powdery mildew disease. This fungal disease loves the cool nights and bright, warm days of late summer. It starts as a whitish growth on the lower leaves. Eventually the leaves yellow and, if severe, can defoliated the plant just when you're expecting a rainbow of flowers. Some varieties such as 'David' and 'Katherine' (lilac) are relatively mildew resistant.
You can also reduce mildew in the garden by thinning the plants in spring and removing weeds and other perennials that are crowding the phlox patch to promote air flow through the garden. The better the air flow, the drier the leaves stay and the less chance of getting the disease. After the flower show is over, cut the plants back to the ground and compost the tops. Next year, they'll be up again ready to perform their late summer show of color.
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