Top Ten Performer #7: Annual Phlox

A cartload of buckets…which one is the annual phlox?

I might not have chosen Annual Phlox as #7 even though I love its wide range of color and romantic clusters of small flowers, but numbers don’t lie. When I checked the records and found that the bouquets delivered for the Growing Kindness Project in 2022 had annual phlox in them from June 20 all the way through the final bouquet in early November, well after hard frost, is was obvious they deserved recognition!

Admittedly, I didn’t have a lot of experience with annual phlox. I grew the variety “Phlox of Sheep” for a few years as a bedding plant in the “Sunrise Garden” at the herb farm and loved it for its soft pastel colors. It was definitely too short for a cutting flower and didn’t bloom the entire growing season, so I’d dismissed the entire group. But, in researching cutting flowers a few growers mentioned it, so I thought I’d give it a try and I’m certainly glad I did! Geo lists 9 varieties of annual phlox but a few of them are just too short (8-10″.) For cutting we want the 15-18″ which are: “Blushing Bride, Grandiflora, Starry Eyes, and Sugar Stars, Cherry Caramel and Creme Brulee.”

A purple-hued bouquet: dara, zinnias, “Midnight” nigella and pods, lemon monarda, bells of Ireland, parsley bloom heads, and on the lower right, a cluster of annual phlox.

Annual phlox is definitely not a focal flower, but it is an excellent supporting cast member. I found it extremely useful to “marry” the vase with the bouquet here and there around the bottom edge. Because it comes in so many, many colors from pure white, white with contrasting pink, violet, rose or red centers; soft pink through bright red and on into magenta; cream, cream with violet tinged centers, cream with deep red centers, blues, deep purple; deep purple with white star centers, and many more there is a phlox for any bouquet. There are blooms with streaks and speckles and contrasting stars to add zip to more mundane flowers. As the season progressed, I felt no bouquet seemed quite finished without a sprig or three of annual phlox around the base, and some taller ones intermingled into the bouquet. Plus it supplies a light, sweet fragrance.

Sunflower, marigold, asters, rudbeckia, Hot Biscuits amaranth, lemon basil, feverfew, and that sweet little annual phlox!

Granted annual phlox is not the tallest flower in the bouquet usually, although they can reach 18-20″ with proper care, which means shearing off the first round of buds and the second round of buds just as they are forming to encourage plants to branch and produce longer stems. It seems cruel, but you will be rewarded with beautiful flowers until hard freeze. If I had sheared, or at least harvested the “Phlox of Sheep” in those past years, they too would have bloomed until freeze. Lesson learned.

A row of “Creme Brulee” phlox along the climbing peas. The blooms were still being harvested in early November!

Last year the annual phlox was seeded February 22. Phlox seed needs darkness and cool temps to germinate. I did them in soil blocks, put them on my basement floor with a black plastic cover over them. Germination was March 3. They are fast growing and dislike root disturbance. I planted them out after danger of frost (May 15 here) 4″ apart to encourage longer stems, pinched off the first buds May 18 and began harvesting June 20.

Annual phlox “Grandiflora” in front of Bells of Ireland.

Now that I know they can take cold temperatures, I plan to seed them at least two weeks earlier and plant them out under a row tunnel in late April. When they will bloom (some plants need a certain day length rather than number of days to bloom) may not change much, but planting them out earlier will allow more seeds to be started and transplanted earlier in the basement! Also, old annual phlox seed often has terrible germination rates, so since some of my seed is leftover from last year an early start will allow me to replant if necessary. There wasn’t a lot of seed left because I used up most of the 2022 seed by direct seeding rows as other crops came out. Since phlox blooms in 50-60 days there is plenty of time to grow it without the hassle of starting it indoors if you prefer. Interestingly, the early phlox was still blooming nearly as well as the later planted rows when frost came and seemed to tolerate it a bit better, maybe due to more extensive root systems.

This year, I’ve already seeded “Starry Eyes” which had terrible germination last year and isn’t popping up yet again this year; while “Sugar Stars, Grandiflora, “Cherry Carnival, “Blushing Bride, and “Creme Brulee” are well underway in growth. I’ve added the beloved “Phlox of Sheep” of days gone by and a new one also from Select Seeds, “Isabellini” which wasn’t in their catalog but was on their website!

Phox didn’t seem to need any special conditioning after harvest. It was just cut and put into water immediately, allowed to rest in the cool, dark basement with all the other flowers and that was it. No bugs or diseases seemed to bother it and as long as it received water, even the heat didn’t really slow it down. I left a few plants to see if it would reseed, just for fun, and also collected a bit of seed to test because I’ve noticed that some varieties seem to disappear from the catalogs now and then over the years…like the “Phlox of Sheep.” And yes, I’m going to try to research that name to see why it’s called Phlox of Sheep, which seems a bit odd for a plant name. Do sheep like to eat it? Anyone out there know?

So, that’s Lucky Top Performer # 7. Are you ready for #8?


About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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