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On Gardening: Luminary series of summer phlox offers color, fragrance

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

Recently I was given the task of writing a garden piece on a topic I wish I had. Sounds like a writer trap, doesn’t it? Although I am still writing that piece, I also wish I had planted more Luminary phlox last spring.

The Luminary series of garden phlox made its debut with three colors: Opalescence, Ultraviolet and Backlight (which is white). While The Garden Guy was dawdling around, others were getting the plants. The competition is even greater on first-year plants, as there is typically not enough. I would urge you to be ready come spring, or even line up sources now.

We call the Phlox paniculata, garden phlox or summer phlox, but the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflowers Center says it is "Fall Phlox." Did you know it was native to 36 states? This is a must-have plant in the summer sunny garden.

I planted Luminary Opalescence in April and had blooms in May. I actually had blooms and delicious fragrance through August, when I let it get swallowed up by its runaway partners. Believe me, it is still there. It is the best-behaved garden phlox I have grown. It gets about 30 inches tall. No drooping, no powdery mildew issues, it self-cleans and just keeps on blooming.

The phlox is one of those plants cherished by gardeners across the country. On the other hand, it is also one of dozens of plants that get passed over because they are typically not in bloom when it’s shopping time. The need for instant gratification makes the perennial market a needless, precarious situation.

The summer phlox likes fertile soil with good drainage. I have seen them perform exceedingly well in full sun, but in the Deep South a little shifting or filtered sun in midafternoon makes a happier plant. Be sure and apply a good layer of mulch after planting.

While most of the garden phlox get fairly tall — 3 to 4 feet — and often require support, the Luminary series are a little shorter, though Proven Winners calls them tall garden phlox. Ultraviolet is the tallest and may reach 36 inches. Opalescence will be slightly shorter — 30-32 inches — and Backlight is a fraction shorter.

Luminary phlox would look great planted to the rear of a perennial garden. To really create a dazzling display, give yourself plenty of room. Make your beds large enough to plant in informal drifts. Combine with other summer perennials like coreopsis, daisies, rudbeckias and salvias.

 

You’ll notice your phlox has another outstanding trait. The sweet nectar is relished by visiting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. So this is also an ideal flower for the backyard wildlife habitat-type garden.

Once you have your phlox established for a couple of years, they can be propagated easily by taking root cuttings, stem cuttings or divisions. Clump division simply requires the separation of crowns within a clump. Division is done in spring or early fall. Root cuttings are best done after dormancy in the fall.

If you are looking for plants that will return year after year, offer tantalizing fragrance, color and long season bloom, there is no better choice than the new Luminary series perennial summer phlox. Although they may not be blooming when you shop in the spring, a healthy green plant will give you the promise of a green thumb.

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(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Norman Winter receives complimentary plants to review from the companies he covers.)

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