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Native Plants: A Brief Fall Pause to Think Spring

For phlox!

native creeping phlox in bloom along a gravel path

This past spring I noticed for the first time how long the various low growing, spring blooming phloxes were in flower. It was a cool spring but, still, they bloomed from April through June. Planted in drifts, one could create waves of pinks, lavenders, whites and blues in sun or shade. With blooms from March till May and a semi-evergreen ground cover, low growing phloxes do a lot in the garden. Why talk about it in fall?

A few days ago, I was perusing the native plants at a garden center and across the aisle was the most dazzling display of tulip bulbs -- from dark burgundies to the palest of greens, yellows and pinks. I found myself thinking well maybe a few pots of tulips would be a fun thing for spring. The more I thought about it though, for the cost of those tulips that might last two seasons, I could be filling in bare spots with perennials that would last for years and likely bloom for much longer too. Not to mention the eco-benefits. So phlox it is!

There are lots of phloxes. The commonly available three spring blooming, low growing ones are moss phlox (Phlox subulata), creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) and woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata). These are different from summer blooming, tall phloxes we see in our area. Those are generally garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).

The low growing, spring blooming phloxes all have semi to fully evergreen foliage and serve as good ground cover when not in bloom. They also all are fairly good spreaders.

Early spring bloom, full sun and short:

Moss phlox at the Brooklyn Bridge Park in Full Sun
Moss Phlox at the Brooklyn Bridge Park in Full Sun with Wild Columbine and Zizia Behind

Moss phlox is the earliest to bloom and is the shortest. It grows in full sun. The straight species has violet to pink to white flowers and is native to most of the northeast. It seems what is mostly available for purchase is a huge number of cultivars including one called 'running with scissors.' Interesting ...

I have not grown this type of phlox so this information is from the Missouri Botanical Garden and Mt. Cuba. If you are growing it, please share your experience in the comments. I was totally impressed with the moss phlox above in New York in May. It was thriving in blazing sun. For us, both the wild columbine and moss phlox would bloom earlier, in March and April depending on where in the Chesapeake you are.

A number of moss phlox cultivars are currently available by mail from Plant More Natives (including 'running with scissors'). Just look for the "subulatas." A straight species is available by mail from Direct Natives.

Mid spring bloom, shade and a tad taller:

native creeping phlox in bloom in part sun

Creeping phloxes are easy to grow and a long bloom period is a welcome thing. These are generally available in the spring at both native plant nurseries and garden centers though, as always, if you want the straight species, your favorite native plant nursery is probably the way to go. This is woodland phlox 'sherwood purple' (Phlox stolonifera 'sherwood purple') in our garden. It is growing in filtered sun.

Woodland phlox 'sherwood purple' is currently available by mail from Plant More Natives.

Mid to late spring bloom, mostly shade and the tallest:

woodland phlox in bloom alongside a heuchera cultivar

Woodland phloxes grow really well in our dappled shade and filtered sun locations. The white phlox is woodland phlox 'May Breeze' (Phlox divaricata 'May Breeze') which has a really nice fragrance too. Sometimes this appears white and sometimes it appears as a very pale blue.

Woodland phlox "May Breeze' and Woodland phlox 'Blue Moon' are currently available by mail from Plant More Natives. It is worth noting here that nuts for natives has no financial connection to any nursery nor any profit motive -- just promoting native plants!

I totally believe in being in the season we are in and enjoying it but that is the thing about gardening. It does spark you to think ahead! This is the time if you want to fill in gaps or add particular plants for spring.

Happy Gardening.


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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