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Garden phlox will attract many visitors

Garden phlox stand out in the garden when in full bloom. John Zvirovski / The Sun

One of the most common flowers in the garden is phlox. It has been used in gardens for well over a hundred years and maintains being a staple in our myriad of plant selections. The name comes from a Greek term that means flame, thus it was originally known as the flame flower because of its intense, hot colors. Today phlox comes in numerous hybridized colors from the hot colors of yesteryear to some of today's soft pastel shades.

Not only is this a wonderful plant for the garden because of its heavy blooming capacity, but also because of its ability to grow in most gardens. The key to growing successful phlox is to have rich, organic soil that is moist but well drained and a location that receives full sun. If the plant receives any amounts of shade, it will decrease its blooming abilities.

The other nice thing about the phlox species is that if planted with the right varieties, you can have blooms from early spring all the way through fall with proper planting.

The first type is known as Creeping phlox. These varieties have needle-like evergreen foliage that only grow to about 8 inches tall by about 18 inches wide. They begin blooming in late April to early May covered in small star-shaped flowers. It is one of the earliest blooming perennials in the springtime and they are very eye-catching, as few other flowers are in bloom during the same time. 'Bruce's White' and 'Pink Ridge' are a couple of the common varieties on the market. 'Sherwood Purple' is another creeping variety that has round leaves and can tolerate semi-shaded areas.

Another low-growing type is woodland phlox that blooms in early May. These grow in a mounded form up to 18 inches high. There are the ice blue flowers of the 'Clouds of Perfume' and the fragrant lavender flowers with the maroon eye of 'Chattahoochee.'

The second type is known as the garden phlox. These are the large, clump-forming perennials that are in bloom from early July through the end of August. Many different cultivars exist in this selection ranging in color from pure white, lavender, pink and salmon to the brilliant colors of deep purple, red, orange and fuschia pink. Most grow anywhere from 24 to 42 inches in height by 18 to 24 inches wide.

Some of the most popular varieties are the fragrant white blooms of 'David' and 'World Peace,' the lilac color of the 'Franz Schubert,' the violet purple flowers of the 'Russian Violet,' the rich cherry red of the 'Starfire,' the brilliant salmon pink of the 'Sir John Falstaff' to the unique pink blooms with the red eyes of the 'Bright Eyes' and 'Eva Cullen' selections. Surely there is a color of this perennial that will suit your needs in the garden.

The final type is known as the annual phlox, which is planted by seed in the spring. These plants can grow anywhere from 6 to 18 inches in height. They love full sunlight and will begin blooming in early June until frost. The blooms will be profuse during most of the growing season if the spent flowers are removed to prevent the plant from going to seed. The most common colors for annual phlox are red, pink, purple, white and some bicolored ones with a unique 'eye' in the center of each bloom. The most common seed selection is the 'Fordhook Finest Mix' available at local nurseries in seed packets during spring.

Of the perennial phlox, make sure to divide the plants every three to five years to prevent the plant from dying out in the center. Dividing is best done in early spring when the plants are first emerging. Always remember to have at least three to five growth stems per division to replant in the ground with vigorous roots. Spacing between plants should be at least 18 to 24 inches apart. This holds true for both the creeping and garden phlox strains.

Mildew can be an issue with phlox plants that are too close to other plants or that are crowded. Always make sure that your plants have good air circulation around them to maintain their optimum health and prevent this fungus from occurring. Another tip to remember is to avoid getting the foliage wet in the evening when watering and just water the soil at the base of the plant.

Spider mites can be a problem on this plant, mostly in the garden phlox varieties. If there is a heavy infestation, it can nearly destroy your plant for the season. Healthy, vigorous plants are usually unaffected by them, but plants that are grown in hot, dry conditions can be more susceptible. If the infestation is heavy, go to a local nursery to obtain some Kelthane, which is a miticide specially developed for ornamental and flowering perennials.

With a little care and the proper placement of a combination of different types of phlox, you can have a garden full of blooms from one type to another the entire growing season. Not only are they wonderful to look at and smell, but their sweet fragrance also attracts the butterflies and an occasional hummingbird.