Grow this! Phlox divaricata

Although tulips and narcissus are pretty, Phlox divaricata is the one perennial that makes my spring garden sing. It softly hums home to me. I think you should grow it too. Here are five reasons why:

Phlox divaricata with Narcissus 'Geranium'. I found the name for this daffodil in an older post.
Phlox divaricata with Narcissus ‘Geranium’. I found the name for this daffodil in an older post.
  • It’s blue or purple depending upon the variety you grow. Gardeners are always looking for blue plants. I have both blue and purple varieties in my garden because I started with one blue plant and one purple.
  • Woodland phlox is also native and would qualify for Wildflower Wednesday status.
  • It smells good.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Phlox divaricata, woodland phlox
This is the earliest I’ve ever seen an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in my garden. This one was very shy, but kept after the phlox.
  • According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, P. divaricata‘s “flowers attract butterflies, including swallowtails, gray hairstreaks, and western pygmy blues.” I’ve seen hairstreaks and swallowtails already this spring.
  • Woodland phlox is ethereal too. It blooms in my garden for about two months, goes to seed and then fades into the background. It also plays well with others whether you plant it with spring bulbs or Nassella tenuissima, Mexican feather grass.
Phlox divaricata, woodland phlox with Nassella tenuissima, Mexican feather grass
Phlox divaricata, woodland phlox with Mexican feather grass planted in a shallow border. I lined the border with Nassella tenuissima because it softens the concrete edging.

As I wrote above, I started with two plants from Wanda’s former Oklahoma garden about eight years ago. Wanda was better at planting in drifts than I will ever be, but I’ve made progress since 2008 with my spring ingénues.  I spread woodland phlox around most of the garden’s shadier spots. This phlox likes dappled shade for most of the year, but it sparkles in spring sunlight before the deciduous trees leaf out. I would never grow it in full sun, but you can place it in the shadow of larger shrubs to create shade. It enjoys irrigation, but good drainage too. You can also grow it in southern climates in morning sun and afternoon shade. I moved some to the tiered borders last weekend. It pouted for a day, and then bounced back.

Phlox divaricata, woodland phlox in my back garden in late March.
Phlox divaricata, woodland phlox in my back garden in late March.

So, how did I go from two plants to all of this? I spread it by seed and transplanting. While the phlox blooms, I dig small transplants and move them all over the garden. I dig a small hole, plunk in the transplant and water. They have quite shallow roots, and aren’t particular about soil. They do love shredded leaves so I surround them with my shredded leaf mulch. I don’t fertilize them. When they set seed, the shredded leaves are a perfect seed-starting medium–as they are for so many things.

Another view of the back garden with spring bulbs and Phlox divaricata.
Another view of the back garden with spring bulbs and Phlox divaricata.

When the phlox goes to seed in a few weeks, I gather the seeds and spread them anywhere I want to see more P. divaricata. They easily sprout and take root. They are not noticeable for the rest of this year, but next spring, I’ll find a few smaller plants in seeded areas.

Repeat the process each year, and soon, you’ll have a carpet of bloom. They are not thuggish and are easy to pull up where you don’t want them. I just dig and move them if I want to place something else there. As I said before, the shredded leaf mulch is a great seed starting medium so put down a layer of it–if you have some–before spreading seeds.

Problems? Like most phlox, P. divaricata can get powdery mildew, but I’ve only seen it once on the species. Voles and moles reportedly eat the roots, but don’t they eat most things–daffodils excluded? I haven’t had any trouble from moles or voles in the back garden though.

You can find plants from Monticello. Plants aren’t cheap, but it’s a faster way to start than with seeds. You can buy seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery. There are also selections of the wild phlox like ‘Clouds of Perfume,’ but the regular phlox is also scented. I would just stick with the species myself.

26 Replies to “Grow this! Phlox divaricata”

  1. Ahh phlox! So pretty. Your drifts are lovely.
    I’ve been to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and daydream about it a lot.
    Confession: I have noticed phlox all my life, but it was only about 3 years ago that I realized what time of year it shows up, that it’s perennial, and that all the best cottage gardens have it. Until then it was kind of… Hovering in my imagination somehow. I didn’t know it was real? lol
    Anyway, thanks for this article. I need to join the phlox club.
    Hugs xo

  2. Woodland phlox is a happy plant isn’t it? Sweet scent and sweet memories of friends for many of us! We call it Louisiana phlox but I am pretty sure it is woodland phlox. My favorite thing about the phlox is it continually flowers for upwards of two months like you stated. I like your splashes of yellow daffodils with the pastel shades. Your phlox looks good with the Mexican feather grass, too. I like the Piet Oudolf woodland landscape with grasses and lavender shades. The phlox is a terrific substitute plant for our climate. I might try your combination outback, underneath some native oaks and abelias. The abelia and phlox scent should really bring the swallowtails around. What a great idea that Monticello is offering heritage plants. Thanks for that link.

  3. I’ve seen this phlox recommended several times, and yet I still don’t have any. Time to remedy that! Such a beautiful addition to your spring garden!

  4. Dee, it looks wonderful in your garden…and thank you for the Wildflower Wednesday link/participation! It’s a perfect native wildflower. Pretty colors, great fragrance and fairly easy to grow. I am going to order seeds today and watch for them on my plants! xo

  5. I have phlox divaritica that we dug from a field a few years ago. It is the true species. The color ranges between purple and blue. I love to see it bloom in early spring.

  6. I bought one plant (Blue Heaven) in 2013 and divided it last fall. Planted some in new spots and left half the original plant where it was–just in case none of the transplants survived. But of course they did. I don’t think mine gets as tall as your, perhaps because it’s cooler here when it blooms. And I will have to look for seedlings–it never occurred to me it might self-sow. I will have to look for seeds this year, too. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Kathy, I bet you’r right that it’s your weather that makes it shorter. Mine gets quite tall for woodland phlox especially right before it sets seed. I wonder if Blue Heaven has a lot of seed. It would be interesting to see.

  7. That’s beautiful Dee. I love how you’ve grown it with grasses. I inherited reams of lipstick pink Phlox and have to admit they’d rather turned me off it. The blue is gorgeous and I’ve even found a UK supplier. Whoo hoo!

    1. RD, yeah Lipstick in good in small amounts, but reams would be overwhelming. This is a lovely soft purple or blue. So glad you found a UK supplier! I hope you love it as much as I.

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