Moss phlox is a garden beauty, whose native land is America. As an easy to care for perennial, it enjoys great popularity in flower beds.
Profile of moss phlox:
Scientific name: Phlox subulata
Plant family: phlox family (Polemoniaceae) or Jacob’s-ladder family
Other names: mountain phlox, moss pink
Sowing time: autumn
Planting time: spring
Flowering period: April to June
Location: sunny to partially shady
Soil quality: stony to sandy, sensitive to lime, moderately nutritious, low in humus
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flower beds, ground cover, group planting, planters, dry stone walls, borders, cottage garden, flower garden, roof garden, rock garden, pot garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 6 (-20 °C / -5 °F)
Bee and insect friendly: Yes
Plant characteristics and classification of moss phlox
Plant order, origin and occurrence of moss phlox
The moss phlox or mountain phlox (Phlox subulata) belongs to the lower members of the genus Phlox from the phlox family (Polemoniaceae). It is native to the northern United States, where it grows along forest edges and in low-humus barrens. In Europe, the moss phlox is a popular ornamental plant in parks and gardens.
Characteristics of moss phlox
Moss phlox is an undemanding plant that grows in a creeping, cushion-forming manner, producing gorgeous, carpet-like, sometimes overhanging flower clusters ranging from white to dark red. This hardy perennial spreads quickly and grows between 5 and 15 centimeters (2 and 6 in) tall. The fine roots of Phlox subulata can reach up to 60 centimeters (24 in) into the soil.
Phlox subulata is a wintergreen plant. Its leaves are very narrow to needle-shaped and have a smooth leaf margin. The surface is softly hairy. The leaves sit in an opposite arrangement on the shoot. They appear green year-round and carpet the ground. In winter, the foliage is somewhat looser than during the growing season in summer.
From March onwards, the plants develop star-shaped flowers, whose petals are fused into a tube in the lower part. The corolla tips are spread flat and slightly incised at the edge. The flowers are terminal and grow to about 2.5 centimeters (1 in) in size.
Phox subulata develops pink flowers, the center of which is tinged with purple. The numerous cultivated forms shine in various shades of color from white to pink and red to blue. Some varieties develop multicolored flowers with contrasting colored flower eye. They attract wild bees and butterflies that feed on the sweet nectar. The flowering period lasts until June.
Moss phlox – cultivation and care
Like all phlox species, moss phlox prefers full sun. The perennial also tolerates partially shady conditions, but the lack of sun has a negative effect on the abundance of flowers.
The preferred soil of Phlox subulata should be dry to fresh, well-drained and only moderately nutritious. The substrate can be sandy and with minerals. Very calcareous soil, on the other hand, is not tolerated very well by the moss phlox, and acidic soils absolutely not. The topsoil thickness should not be less than 20 centimeters (8 in), so that the roots can hold on well. Waterlogging must be avoided at all costs.
In order that moss phlox forms a dense carpet, it is necessary to plant about ten specimens per square meter (10 sq ft). When planted individually, a distance of about 30 centimeters (12 in) between plants should be maintained. However, you can also plant it together in small groups or individually, for example, on a dry stone wall. The best time to plant is early spring, but potted perennials can be planted throughout the summer. To grow well, freshly planted moss phlox must be watered regularly.
Outdoors, moss phlox requires additional watering only in prolonged periods of drought. On particularly hot days, you should water the plant in the evening hours, as soon as the soil has cooled down somewhat.
If the moss phlox grows in very dry locations where water runs off quickly, you should mulch the soil. This will reduce the evaporation of moisture from the subsoil, and after some time a humus layer will form on the root area, which will maintain the water balance.
The nutrient requirements of these perennials are low. Before the beginning of flowering, you can administer a little compost. This measure is also recommended in preparation for the winter. A layer of mulch will protect the soil from freezing and ensure that the evergreen plants receive adequate moisture during the frosty months.
If your plant shows signs of a nutrient deficiency, you should mix some swill made from nettles into the watering water or rake a handful of horn shavings into the soil. If the plant is undersupplied, it will drop its flowers and leaves.
Moss phlox does not require regular pruning, as its growth remains compact. You can regularly remove withered shoots and inflorescences. This will allow the already established buds to get more light. Shorten half of all shoot tips immediately after flowering. In this way, the plants can be stimulated to a second flowering.
After a few years, you should rejuvenate the moss phlox, so that the plant again grows more lush. It tolerates radical pruning to hand height. This measure is carried out in late autumn or very early spring for early flowering varieties. Late-flowering phlox varieties retain their foliage through the winter so that the root system is better protected from the cold. They are pruned shortly after winter between February and March.
From May to July is a particularly good time for taking cuttings of moss phlox. To do this, cut from the ends of the shoots of the plant about 5 to 6 cm long cuttings and remove from each of them the lower leaf bases. Then put the cuttings in a rather shady place in the garden in loose substrate. Keep this moderately moist for a few weeks until the cuttings have formed their own roots and can be transplanted.
After a few years in the bed, you can carefully dig up particularly vigorous specimens of moss phlox in the spring and carefully divide them with a sharp-edged spade. Be careful not to make the size of the remaining individual pieces too small.
Propagation by seed is possible. You can pick the fruits of the moss phlox after ripening. Since the seeds sprout only after a cold stimulus, you should sow them outdoors before winter. Pre-growing indoors at temperatures between 16 and 18 °C (61 and 64 ° F) is possible. These plants are sensitive to frost in the first year and should be planted outdoors only from the second year. Note the following tips:
- phlox needs frost to germ, which is why it should be sown outdoors before winter
- plants grown indoors may be frost sensitive
- the tender roots of small young plants can be easily injured when transplanting
Diseases and pests
Phlox subulata is sometimes attacked by stem nematode (Ditylenchus dipsaci). The pest can be recognized by stunted stems and leaves. Pruning to the ground is necessary in such cases. Downy and powdery mildew also occurs more frequently on almost all phlox species. As a precaution, plants should not be allowed to dry out and should never be watered over the foliage. Infested plant parts should be removed in case of heavy infestation and the remaining perennial should be treated with a fungicide.
Phlox subulata tolerates temperatures down to -20 °C / -5 °F. The plants survive the winter in temperate climate without any problems. They should be watered on frost-free days, because they do not retract their metabolism even during the cold months. In case of strong sunlight, you should cover the leaves with a layer of brushwood. This material protects against excessive evaporation and prevents the shoots from drying out.
Use in the garden
As a cushion-forming perennial, moss phlox is particularly suitable for planting in rock gardens, wall tops, as borders along terraces and paths, between slabs and steps, in roof gardens, in wall joints and for dry stone walls. Together with rock speedwell (Veronica prostrata), basket of gold (Aurinia saxatilis) and evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), but also in the company of bulbous flowers or other cushion perennials such as lilacbush (Aubrieta deltoidea) or Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana), the small flowers are shown off to their best. Traditionally, phlox is planted as a groundcover. It also cuts a fine figure as an underplanting for tall stems or as a lush flowering plant in planters. In this case, however, care should be taken to ensure adequate drainage in the form of gravel, sand or expanded clay. And even for grave planting the colorful but unobtrusive moss phlox is used with pleasure.
- Temiskaming: Blooms between April and May, flowers purple. Grows 10 to 15 centimeters (4 to 6 in) high.
- Bavaria Blue: Blooms from April to May with white, pink or pink flowers, eye blue-purple. Growth height between 10 and 15 centimeters (4 to 6 in).
- Zwergenteppich (Dwarf Carpet): blooms between April and June, flowers glow dark pink, flower center red. Grows 10 to 20 centimeters (4 to 8 in) high.
- Candy Stripes: petals white with pink stripes, flower eye reddish. Grows between 5 and 10 centimeters (2 to 4 in) tall.
- Emerald Cushion Blue: Strong-growing, robust. Flowers light purple, between April and June. Height of growth 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 in) .
Use in the kitchen – Edible
The fresh flowers of the moss phlox are a true delicacy. They taste sweet and sweeten not only desserts but also refreshing appetizers. The petals refine salads or herb butter. They can be used for colorful flower ice cubes or ice cream. Pluck off individual flowers in the spring. During the main blooming period, the flavor is fully developed.