Phlox, bulbs and more
By Larry Sombke
Question: My garden phlox are covered with mildew and it makes them look ugly. What can I do to stop this?
Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) is a wonderful old-fashioned perennial flower that grows about two to three feet tall and is covered with tiny pink, white or pale purple flowers from late July until mid- September. They are a native American wildflower that have been bred and tamed for use in mixed borders and cottage gardens.
Their big problem is they are very susceptible to powdery mildew, a nasty fungus that discolors and eventually disfigures the leaves and stems of garden phlox no matter how hot and dry it is. The ultimate solution for this problem is to grow mildew-resistant varieties of phlox. A few cultivars which have shown good resistance include “David”, a white variety, “Eva Cullum”, which is pink and “Franz Shubert”, a lavender phlox.
You can reduce the mildew on your phlox by transplanting it to an area that gets more sun (phlox will tolerate quite a bit of shade) and thin out your clumps to give your plants a little more air circulation.
Finally, if you are very involved, you can spray your plants with a simple sulfur-based garden fungicide such as Safer's Fungicide beginning in May.
Garden phlox are the backbone of any well-planned cottage garden or mixed perennial bed. They bloom all summer and make great bouquets. But there are some other phlox you might want to add that are as equally pretty.
Phlox subulata, better known as moss phlox or moss pinks, is already well-known to a lot of gardeners around here. It is the pink, white and lilac colored phlox that grows like a ground cover over embankments and hillsides in full-sun and part-shade in early spring.
Phlox divaricata is better known as wild sweet William and blooms in May and June with unmistakable pale blue or lavender flowers. It seems to prefer its wild habitat and is not known as a garden plant.
Phlox maculata, better known as spotted phlox, is similar to tall garden phlox except it has dark spots on the leaves. It, too, is very disease resistant. Look for “Alpha” and “Rosalind”.
“Phlox stolonifera”, or creeping phlox, is a lovely woodland phlox that thrives in moist, shady spots and blooms in early spring. My small patch has spread consistently over the years and is always a welcome sight. It grows only about six to eight inches tall and is used primarily as a ground cover in my garden.
You should be able to find most of these varieties of phlox next spring in one of your quality garden centers or in a reasonably good catalogue. You may even be able to find a couple plants in a garden center this fall.
Question: I want to plant some daffodils and tulips in my garden. When should I do this and what are some good choices?
Spring blooming tulips, daffodils and other bulbs are a colorful way to get your garden season off to a good start early next spring. But to have flowers in May, you have to plant the bulbs anytime between now and the end of October. The sooner you get to the garden center or the catalogues, the sooner you will be assured of getting the bulbs you want to buy.
Daffodils are my all-time favorite, and I wouldn't enjoy spring very much if I didn't grow the 18" tall yellow trumpet “King Alfred.” But, the small 8-12” tall narcissi “Jack Snipe”, “Tete-a-Tete”, “Ice Wings” and “Thalia” are also good for small spaces.
If you have more space and are looking to create a naturalized look, collections of mixed daffodils are a good buy. They are usually a dollar a piece, but the collections can be priced at 20 for $10 all the way up to a half bushel for $65, for instance.
Plant your bulbs as soon as you get them. They like a spot that will be sunny in spring and that is well-drained. If you are going to plant just a few bulbs, you can dig the holes with a hand trowel or a special bulb spade. If you are going to plant a whole bed, it's better to dig up the whole area. Set the bulbs in and then backfill the dirt. If you are planting a lot of bulbs, you might want to get a bulb auger you attach to a power drill to dig the holes.
After the bulb has bloomed next spring, cut off the flower stalk but leave the leaves which help replenish the bulbs underground. Remove the leaves after they have turned yellow/brown in early summer. Apply natural organic fertilizer in the fall. Dig them up every few years and divide them if they begin to show fewer flowers.
Tulips are the most majestic of all the bulbs, especially the 24” tall Darwin hybrids in their bright reds and yellows. Pastels are all the rage right now, with some very interesting shades of pink, green and peach for the more color-conscious gardeners. Don't overlook the lesser-known tulips including:
Emperor tulips, a.k.a Fosteriana. These 12-18” tall, long-stemmed tulips are close cousins of the first tulips ever grown. 'Red Emperor', 'White Emperor' and yellow 'Sweetheart' are old-fashioned classics.
Species, or botanical tulips, most closely resemble the original tulips found in the wilds of Turkey over 400 years ago. You have to look closely at some of them to see the tulip resemblance, but do give them a try. Look for "Tarda', 'Turkestanica’, 'Lilac Wonder,’ 'Saxatillis' and up to a dozen more. If you have extra space and want to try a little bit of everything, buy a botanical tulip collection.
Kaufmanniana tulips are known as the “waterlily tulip” because when they open, their flowers resemble water lilies. ‘Heart's Delight', 'Stresa' and others are good examples.
Greigii tulips are low-growing, 6-8” tall tulips with variegated or mottled foliage and pretty two-tone flowers. 'Red Riding Hood', 'Golden Tango', ‘Corsage' and 'Plaisir' are just a few of the varieties in this interesting family.
Fragrant hyacinths and first-to-bloom crocus are the other two pillars of the bulb garden. Planted in a sunny well-drained site, both will last for years and years. Crocus can be naturalized in a lawn as long as you don't mow the lawn until the flowers are spent and the leaves are beginning to wilt. Luckily this time usually coincides with the first lawn mowing.
Larry Sombke is a guest on WAMC and the editor/host of his blog website www.beautifuleasygardens.blogspot.com. He is a landscape consultant and the author of “Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens.” Send your garden questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.