Garden Phlox – Facts, Identification, Grow & Care

Garden Phlox is a herbaceous perennial wildflower native to Eastern North America that blooms from late summer to early Fall.  Generally a pink to purple color, it is very showy when planted in mass, and can stand out in a garden setting.  This is the latest bloomer of the Phlox family, and can provide your garden with some lovely pastel color from August to October.

garden phlox bloom flower Phlox Paniculata
I found this specimen growing near a creek at a nearby park in October 2019. Still putting out beautiful flowers.

 Facts

  • The native range is from OK/NE, to Minnesota to Louisiana – and East to the Atlantic Ocean
  • The Scientific Name of Garden Phlox is Phlox paniculata
  • Also known as Fall Phlox or Tall Phlox, it is a perennial flower
  • Blooms 1-2 months from late summer to Fall
  • Garden Phlox is hardy from USDA zones 4-8, check you zone here
  • Will attract late season butterflies, moths, and other small pollinators
  • Tall Garden Phlox Attracts the Hummingbird Moths and Sphinx Moths! – It is always lots of fun to see those moths
  • Not deer/rabbit resistant

Garden Phlox Identification and Physical Description

Stalk / Stem

Garden Phlox generally grows 2-4′ tall, depending on the conditions.  Studies have shown that the environmental conditions effect how Garden Phlox grows/flowers much more than its genetics. It is erect and has no branching (most of the time) until the end, where the flowers will be located.  The stalk will be green, smooth and without hairs.

Leaves

Leaves are 3-6″ long and 1/2″-1.5″ wide and opposite.  They are lance shaped, or similar to a long tear-drop, with the leaf narrowing significantly as it approaches the tip.  There are generally veins on the surface.  The leaves are not serrated, but have extremely tiny hairs along the edges – but nowhere else.

Flower

There will be a cluster, or pannicle of flowers at the top of the stalk.  Clusters will be anywhere from 2-6″ diameter, and kind of flat.  Individual flowers are pink with 5 petals and the center point of the flower will be tubular.  The number of petals is also a tell-tale identifier for this being a phlox, and not the dreaded invasive (but pretty) Dames Rocket. Colors can range from pale pink / white to dark pink / reddish or purple.

A couple of weeks after blooming seed capsules will form.  There will be about 3 leaves wrapping tightly around a small brown seed the size of a small pea.  Once it is dry enough, the capsule will kind of burst open and release the seed.

Seed heads on Phlox Paniculata

I’ve heard the capsules popping in brown bags I stored some seed heads in.  It is kind of funny when your are working on something in a quiet basement at 4 am, and all of a sudden you hear a random noise coming from a paper bag.

Root

Phlox Paniculata has a taproot, and small rhizomes.

Garden Phlox Growing Conditions

This plant will thrive from full sun to partial shade, as long as it doesn’t dry out.  Garden Phlox is not drought tolerant and may require supplemental watering.

Preferred soil types are anything with plenty of organic matter, however this particular species is tolerant of clay soil as well.  The key thing is that the soil should drain well, but not dry out.

This specimen is in partial shade, in a somewhat wooded area next to a creek.

How to care for Garden Phlox

If you plant Garden Phlox in its preferred conditions, it should not require supplemental care.  You may need to apply liquid fence if deer/rabbits are a problem.  Other then that, just make sure the plant is spaced well to prevent powdery mildew from taking hold.  Because of the risk of powdery mildew, you should try to water Garden Phlox at the base on the plant, and not from overhead.

Maintenance

Deadhead flowers to prolong blooming and prevent self-seeding.  Or, don’t – it is up to you!  But if there isn’t much space between plants, and a lack of air movement, you can get powdery mildew on the leaves.

How to Establish Garden Phlox

If purchasing plants, just transplant it to the garden in an area that gets full sun to partial shade, and moist to medium soil moisture that drains well. A handful of compost added into the hole can help it establish more quickly.

If you have an area of the yard that is constantly wet, or puddles up after heavy rains, don’t plant it there! Keep an eye on the young plant for a week or two and make sure the soil stays at least somewhat moist.  After that, the plant should be good-to-go and take off on its own.

How to Grow Garden Phlox from Seed

To germinate seeds for Garden Phlox, you can do this fairly easily by just planting fresh seed about 1/8″ (3 mm) deep in the fall, directly where you want the plant to grow.  Just mark the location so you remember it in the Spring.

Garden Phlox Seeds after drying/bursting

To start Garden Phlox from seed in pots, follow the steps below;

  1. Get some Garden Phlox seed!  Gather fresh seed if you can.  Or, if purchasing seed online, store in the refrigerator in a sealed container if you aren’t stratifying it or planting it immediately.
    • If you don’t want to wintersow the seeds, then you must stratify them (simulating the winter).  To do this, store them in a moist paper towel in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator for 60 days.  Alternatively you could use moist sand in a zip-lock bag.
  2. Prepare pots for planting.  Fill pots with moist potting soil or seed starting mix up to about 3/4″ from the top (18 mm).
  3. Plant Seed 3 mm deep.  Place seed on top of the soil, then cover seed with 1/8″ (3 mm) of soil.
  4. Winter sow the seed.  Do this by covering the pot with a plastic dome or lid, with holes poked in it.  Set the pot outside in the winter.  Do this no later than January, as it generally needs 60 days of cold moist stratification.
  5. Germination should occur in the Spring.  Grow and care for the young seedlings until they have a few sets of true leaves, and then plant out into the garden.

Garden Uses

Garden Phlox can make a great plant for a flower bed, moist wildflower garden or backyard micro-prairie.  The key thing is to plant it where it likes to live – full sun/partial shade and moist/medium, but well drained soil.  It is tall, but not huge – which gives it some versatility in where you can plant it.  As a rule of thumb, it will stand out better if there are at least 3-5 plants in a cluster, spaced a couple feet apart.  Think of how much more dramatic a forest is rather than a single tree.

Click below to see our guide on making your own backyard micro-prairie!

Fauna

Garden Phlox attracts a wide variety of pollinators, particularly butterflies and moths.  Caterpillars from a couple of moth species will feed on the foliage, as well as some other specialty insects.

Pests and diseases

Deer and rabbits will eat the foliage.  So, it may be a good idea to spray with liquid fence if you notice any damage.

Powdery mildew has been documented to be a problem on this species.  Also, although leaf-spot fungus hasn’t been reported to be a common problem on this species, it has been documented to be susceptible to it.

This specimen may have a bit of powdery mildew on the leaves

 

Garden Phlox Reference Table

Common Name Fall Phlox, Garden Phlox, Perennial Phlox, Tall Phlox
Scientific name Phlox paniculata
Bloom Time Late Summer / Early Fall
Bloom Duration 4-8 weeks
Color Pink – Purple
Bloom Size Clusters of flowers at the top of a stalk.  The cluster will generally be 4-6” tall and half as wide.
Characteristics Individual flowers are about 3/4 “ wide (18 mm)
Height 2 to 4 feet tall (60-120 cm)
Spacing/Spread 2 to 3 feet (60-90 cm)
Light Requirements Full Sun / Partial Shade
Soil Types Clay/Loam – just needs to drain well
Moisture Moist to Medium, well drained
Maintenance Deadhead flowers to prevent self-seeding
Typical Use Manicured flower beds, woodland border, rain garden, near the edge of ponds.
Fauna Associations Butterflies, moths, skippers, and other pollinators.  Deer/rabbits will browse Phlox
Larval Host Several moth caterpillars feed on foliage
Sowing Depth 1/8” (3 mm)
Stratification 60 days cold stratification.  Or direct sow in Autumn/Winter – You need fresh seed!
Native Range USDA Zones 4-8
Notes This is a really pretty/petite fall flower

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garden phlox grow and care guide

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