All About: Creeping Phlox

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If you’re looking for a groundcover to brighten up your landscape in spring, Creeping phlox might be the plant for you. This herbaceous perennial grows vigorously, transforming your landscape with its tidy green foliage and bright blooms quickly. There is a color for every landscape or garden coming in a range of colors from pink to purple to even blue.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata), often called moss phlox, mountain phlox or moss pink, loves sun, tolerates drought, attracts butterflies, and even resists deer. This superstar groundcover is great for gardeners of any skill level; if you’re looking to add easy-care color and interest to your landscape, consider making creeping phlox your next garden addition.

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A Sea of Pink (or Purple, or Blue)

While creeping phlox has many good qualities (we’ll talk more about them later), its flowers are probably what makes most gardeners fall in love with this perennial. Blooming each spring, its green foliage is topped with dozens of beautiful, bright blooms. Each bloom has five flat petals that are individually notched, adding a perfect touch of charm to these tiny blooms. While the blooms may be small, they pack quite the punch, not only just in color. The blooms of creeping phlox create a low-growing carpet of color, producing quite an impact in the garden.
top-down view of a mix of pink, purple, and white phlox

More Than Just Flowers...

Phlox carpet of vibrant green foliage in early june
Phlox vibrant greem foliage looks like green moss covering a rock

Even when not in bloom, this mat-forming groundcover still looks pleasing in the landscape, maintaining a fresh green hue that remains attractive until it dies back in winter. Its awl-shaped (a tool commonly used for working with leather) leaves form a cushion and often resembles moss; hence, its common name: moss phlox. Another wonderful quality of creeping phlox is it can tolerate light foot traffic. Consider adding creeping phlox to pathways or between patio pavers.

Close up of creeping phlox with soft pink flowers

A Magnet To Pollinators

If you’re looking to attract more pollinators to your garden and support your local ecosystem, adding creeping phlox is a great way to do it! Its fragrant flowers tend to attract butterflies and other pollinators each year. If you want to bring swallowtail butterflies to your garden, creeping phlox provides a great nectar source early in the season for swallowtails and hummingbirds.

Native To North America

Did you know creeping phlox is native? Creeping phlox is that this vigorous perennial is native to the Eastern United States. It’s indigenous to rocky and sandy areas, ledges, clearings, and slopes from Michigan and New York to the Appalachian Mountain area from Pensivannia to Georgia. Its mountain heritage gives it the common name mountain phlox. This perennial is hardy in much of the United States, thriving in USDA zone 3-9.

close up of creeping phlox with soft purple flowers
Close up of creeping phlox with blue flowers

Low Maintenance, Weed Smotherer

Creeping phlox is not only durable, but it’s also remarkably easy to care for. Not only does it tolerate a wide range of climates and tricky soils, but it doesn’t seem to be plagued by powdery mildew as harshly as many other phlox does. On top of its ease of care, it can also take away an often dull and time-consuming garden task: weeding. Creeping phlox’s dense mat-like habit makes it great for suppressing weeds, giving you more time to enjoy your garden.

How To Grow

If you came here wondering how to grow creeping phlox, you’re in luck! Phlox subulata is best grown in well-drained soils in full sun. Though it can do well in areas with dappled light like a sunny area in a woodland garden or in especially hot, humid climates, the best flowering is typically found in full sun. With a little care, creeping phlox will thrive in your landscape.

Soil:

Creeping phlox likes well-drained soil enriched with organic matter. Plants prefer soil with a slightly acid to neutral pH.

Light:

Creeping phlox grows best in full sun (or partial shade in the South). For best flower production, avoid too much shade.

Water:

Low to Average. Mature, established creeping phlox can tolerate some drought. Generally needs watering weekly, especially during hot summers or periods without rain.

Fertilizing:

A general-purpose slow-acting granular fertilizer worked into the soil around the plants in the spring is sufficient for phlox for the season.

Winterizing:

No special care is needed to protect creeping phlox in the winter. Leave its standing in winter, and clean up spent foliage in spring before bloom.

Maintenance & Pruning:

While pruning is optional for creeping phlox, it can help encourage rebloom. To do so, cut back stems after flowering has finished by half. This will promote dense growth and attractive habit for the summer months, making it a more attractive groundcover. This will also encourage some fall rebloom, though deadheading is not required.

What To Watch Out For

While we mentioned that Phlox subulata might not be bothered by powdery mildew as fervently as other phlox, there are still a few pests/diseases you’ll want to look out for. If you are experiencing hot and dry conditions, look out for spider mites. Oppositely, if you experience wet, humid weather creeping phlox can sometimes be susceptible to foliar nematodes. These are harder to control, and it’s best to remove and destroy diseased plants and be sure to keep the ground clear and clean of debris. While deer typically resist creeping phlox, you may have to watch out for rabbit damage.

How To Use:

Phlox subulata is an incredibly versatile groundcover. Perfect for rock gardens, pathways, pollinator gardens, and more-this colorful perennial will add appeal wherever you include it. If your woodland garden has a sunny area, consider planting creeping phlox to add some color or add it to slopes for erosion control, the options are virtually endless!

Purple, pink, and white creeping phlox growing on top of garden rocks

What's In A Name?

Are you wondering where the botanical name Phlox subulata came from? Let’s break it down: the common and genus name Phlox is derived from the Greek word phlox meaning flame, this is in reference to the bright flower colors Phlox subulata is often known for. Subluata from Latin, means awl-shaped referencing to the foliage that is shaped like the leatherworking tool.

Pairs Well With:

Not only is creeping phlox versatile in the landscape, but it also looks great with a variety of plants. Creeping phlox makes a great companion to ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint, echinacea, or ‘Tahoe’ candytuft. Or pair creeping phlox, with more creeping phlox! Mix and match different varieties to create a stunning display that cascades over walls or creeps along garden beds. You can’t go wrong when it comes to picking a companion for creeping phlox.

top-down view of pink creeping phlox next to white flowers

Often Confused With:

Due to their similar looks, Phlox Subulata is often confused with Phlox stolonifera. They’re so similar in both appearance and biology that their common names are often used interchangeably. Both are semi-evergreen groundcovers that boast a bounty of bright spring blooms, but there are a few notable differences between the two phlox species. Phlox subulata grows shorter, forming a lower, more dense habit than its counterpart. The foliage also differs amongst the species, with Phlox subulata featuring awl-shaped foliage that appears more needle-like than the oval-shaped foliage of Phlox stolonifera. Lastly, Phlox stolonifera can tolerate a touch more shade compared to sun-loving Phlox subulata. Overall, Phlox subulata makes a better groundcover thanks to its lower-growing habit that has a propensity to bloom quite densely, creating a stunning carpet of blooms in spring.

Discover Our Entire Selection Of Creeping Phlox

Whether you know it as creeping phlox, moss phlox, moss pink, or mountain phlox, Phlox subulata makes a great garden addition to just about any landscape. Thriving in USDA zones 3-9 and native to the Eastern United States, this low-maintenance ground cover will not only be loved by you but pollinators too!

Written by: Miranda Niemiec, click here to read bio.

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