Summer Phlox: A Pollinator Plant for Summer Heat

White Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
White Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata)

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.

Summer Phlox in white and pink
Summer Phlox in white and pink.

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.

Skipper on summer phlox
Skipper_butterfly (Hesperia comma) on Summer Phlox.


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.

White Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
White Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata)

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.

Summer Phlox and Liatris
White Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata) and Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

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.


Summer Phlox (Phlox Panculata, David). Photo by Donna L. Long.
Summer Phlox (Phlox Paniculata, David). Photo by Donna L. Long.

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)


Works Consulted

A list of book I used for background information. The links open at, 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.

DiSabato-Aust, Tracy. The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting & Pruning Techniques. Expanded ed. Portland, Or: Timber Press, 2006.

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

Clumping for Neatness: Tidy Native Plants 

Summer Blooming Native Plants 

Blazing Stars Attract Pollinators and Birds to Your Garden


A Seasonal Gardener's Handbook, Revised edition by Donna L. Long.
A Seasonal Gardener’s Handbook, Revised edition by Donna L. Long.


  1. Dear Donna, your words and your heart are the cool breezes to my sultry July days.

    Phlox and a lot of other meadow natives thrive in my urban parkway, which is the space between the sidewalk and the street. Because it is in the city, I have to keep an eye on their height. Your comments on pruning confirm what I’ve found to be good pruning advice from Michigan State University Extension and Robin Sweeter at Farmers Almanac (generally 1/3 in May, maybe 1/3 in June and if needed once more before July 4). I have had powdery mildew in the past so May 12’s phlox experiment was to pinch back weak stems to the first set of leaves to let more air in. So far they seem pretty happy about it.

    Local paparazzi have descended upon the garden. July is dressed up and playing her tune. It’s a multi-species love fest!

    • Hi Sherry, I like your guidance on prunning and your Phlox sound beautiful. I enjoyed reading about your flowers. Thank you.

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