White Summer Phlox stands cool and crisp in the sultry summer heat. It has been blooming for over a week in my garden. The flowers have five petals with deep throats. The five petals remind me of happy faces.
My several year old clump of Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata) slowly expanded. I had to divide the clump last fall. I spread divisions of the plant in several places. It seems that the dividing caused the plant to grow even more. Now the clumps I divided are almost as large as the original plant.
What Colors Does It come It?
The plant comes in deep pink, lavender, and white flowers. This is such a popular plant there are many cultivars in many colors such as light purple, light and deep pink, white with red centers, white, salmon-orange, cherry red and more.
Do Pollinators Like Phox?
Pollinators flock to all phloxes, and Summer Phlox is no different. The blossoms are busy with a variety of bees, tiny flies, butterflies, and occasionally hummingbirds. Night-flying moths are attracted to the blossoms.
The plant is easy from seed. You could buy a packet and have a dozen plants for very little money. Then you can plant clumps of plants which are much more attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators than one lonely plant. Grouping three to five plants is more attractive to butterflies and pollinators. If you have several plants grouped together that measure a few feet across, pollinators are going to stick around.
Plant the straight species if you want to attract pollinators. Research study after research study, finds pollinators most attracted to the native straight species over cultivated varieties.
I have found no scientific support that Phlox paniculata is a host plant for any species of butterfly. Nectar is the big attraction.
Summer Phlox is a Native Plant. No, Really It Is
Summer Phlox is indigenous to eastern North America. It is one of those native plants that surprises people they’re native. It seems people think that native plants are weeds. And beyond the ‘three sisters’ (corn, beans, and squash) don’t realize the dozen or so North American indigenous foods that they eat. Or the beautiful native plants for the garden.
I say to many gardening friends, that many, many of the plants they think of as English Garden and Cottage garden plants are actually North American natives. In English Gardening, Phlox maculata, is “Wild Sweet William’. Both Phlox paniculata and P. maculata plants are North American natives.
Growing Summer Phlox
I was just bowled over the first time white Summer Phlox bloomed in my garden. It was a hot and steamy July day, and the white blooms looked like a cool breeze. I waited until the clump grew bigger and last year I divided it and spread the divisions to my raised bed of butterfly and pollinator flowers.
This plant is a clumper. It doesn’t run and spread willy-nilly all over the garden. It stays where you put it. Nor does it overpower plants around it. It’s a well-behaved beauty.
Summer Phlox can contract powdery mildew, a gray fuzzy growth on the leaves. I haven’t had a problem. My plants aren’t against a wall and receive good air flow in both the front and back of the plant.
This is definitely a back of the border plant. It is tall. Right now a few Phloxes are in front of several Blazing Stars and from the path you can’t see the Blazing Stars. Once the growing season ends and the plants are dormant, I’ll have to switch them around.
I would start with plants of the straight species, no cultivars, and see how you like it. Pollinators respond better to the straight species. If you like the plant then add some of the wonderful cultivars in different colors.
Don’t be shy with experimenting with different pruning techniques. One year I pruned the plants in a stair step configuration, and the plants bloomed all at the same time in a ‘sloping wall’ effect. It sure was pretty. I haven’t been able to duplicate the same effect since.
I hope you fall in love with Summer Phlox and it becomes one of your favorite fifty native plants, too.
Phlox Paniculata Facts
Common name: Summer or Border Phlox
Scientific name: Phlox paniculata
Family name: Polemoniaceae
Description: tall, plant or strong stems which reach five feet tall. The large flower heads are close clusters of five-petaled flowers with short tubes connecting the flower to the branches.
Native range: southern New York to northern Georgia, west to Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas
Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9
Habitat: river bottoms and meadows
Height: 36 to 60 inches tall
Light needed: Sun to partial Sun
Soil/Moisture needed: moist, rich soil
Bloom period: summer; in Philadelphia blooms July – September
Bloom color: white, lavender, or pink
Grow: grow from roots, cutting, divisions, or seeds
Easy to Grow from Seed: Yes
Pruning and Maintenance: Deadheading promotes blooming. Removing the the seed heads prevents re-seeding. Plants grown from seeds collected from a cultivar won’t come true to the cultivar but may revert to the species.
To shorten mature height, cut back plant by up to half its height. Cut back two months before blooming and the plant will bloom on time; cut or pinch closer to regular bloom time and blooming will be delayed by two to four weeks.
To delay bloom: cut or pinch growing tips less than two weeks before normal bloom time. Flower size will be reduced.
Diseases/Problems: Susceptible to powdery mildew.
Attracts: butterflies, bees, pollinating flies, occasionally hummingbirds, and moths
Host plant: unknown
More on Phlox paniculata
Phlox: A Perennial for Pollinators (Triangle Gardener Website)
“David Fall Phlox” (Mt. Cuba Center Website)
“Phlox Paniculata L.” (USDA Plant Database)
A list of book I used for background information. The links open at Amazon.com, of which I am an affiliate. See FAQs: Buying from this website.
Cullina, William. The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada. 1st ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2000.
Leopold, Donald Joseph. Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening & Conservation. 1st. Portland, Or: Timber Press, 2005.
Ottesen, Carole. The Native Plant Primer. 1st ed. New York: Harmony Books, 1995.
More Pollinator Plants for Summer