Although the moss phlox has flowers less than an inch in diameter, the blossoms crowd closely together creating carpets of springtime color.
This is a favorite American wildflower that is also a popular garden flower. Moss phlox is a creeping, mat forming little plant with linear, almost needle-like leaves and upright clusters of mildly fragrant flowers in pink, white or violet. Pink is the most common color. The semi-evergreen leaves are crowded together, about ½ in (1.3 cm) long, and rather stiff, almost prickly when handled. The flowers are about ¾ in (2 cm) across, with the corolla arising as a tube with five lobes (petals), each lobe notched at its end. A single plant can cover an area about 20 in (50 cm) across, but it spreads by rhizomes and forms a carpet of pretty flowers above a moss-like mat that stands just 3-5 in (7-12 cm) tall. Young plants are herbaceous, but they become slightly woody with age.
More than 30 cultivars have been named. ‘Amazing Grace’ has pink flowers with purple centers. ‘Candy Stripe’ has flowers that are white striped with pink. ‘Coral Eye’ has flowers that are white with a coral colored center. ‘Emerald Blue’ has pale blue flowers. ‘Red Wings’ has bright red flowers. ‘White Delight’ has pure white flowers. And so on.
Purple moss phlox flowers are most often seen but cultivars are available in a range of brilliant hues.
Moss phlox (Phlox subulata) is native to eastern North America from Ontario and Michigan south through the mountains to Tennessee and North Carolina. This popular wildflower grows on rocky slopes, in dry sandy soils, on roadsides, in pastures and fields, and in lawns. Moss phlox is popular as a cultivated flower and has escaped to establish populations well beyond its original range.
Moss phlox thrives in average well-drained soil, and it tolerates sandy, gravelly, rocky, and low-fertility soils. Light: Phlox grows best in full sun, but appreciates dappled shade where summers are hot and dry. Moisture: Moss phlox likes a well drained soil, but plenty of water in spring and early summer will keep it blooming for several weeks. It is moderately tolerant of drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8. With afternoon shade, moss phlox might survive in zone 9. Propagation: In general, seeds from moss phlox cultivars will not come true to type. The best way to propagate moss phlox is to detach rooted stems and replant them. You can also root softwood cuttings in spring. Under good growing conditions, moss phlox will self-seed.
Springtime wouldn’t be the same without the bright happy pink of moss phlox carpeting residential areas, fields, hillsides and road shoulders throughout the eastern U.S.
Moss phlox and its many cultivars are very popular bedding plants used in flower beds, butterfly gardens, path edges and in front of taller flowers. A stand of moss phlox makes an excellent ground cover, with the leaves retaining some green in winter. This phlox does well in dry, sandy or gravelly soils and tolerates hot and dry exposures better than other species in the genus. Moss phlox is especially well suited to rock gardens. This is a slow grower that looks great cascading over a hanging pot. If you cut the stems back about half way after flowering, you will get denser foliage and possibly a second blooming.
Moss phlox is at its most beautiful when colorfully cascading over a stone wall.
Moss phlox was discovered by John Bartram and sent back to England in 1745. To this day it is a favorite garden flower in the U.K., where many of the cultivars have originated.
There are 70 or so species of Phlox, all but one native to North America. Four commonly encountered species are: Annual phlox (Phlox drummondii), a southern US species with 1 in (2.5 cm) flowers and alternate, rather than opposite, leaves; Garden phlox (P. paniculata), a large upright (to 4 ft; 1.2 m tall) shrubby perennial with flowers about an inch (2.5 cm) across; trailing phlox (P. nivalis) with petals lacking notches; and sand phlox (P. bifida) with petal notches so deep the corolla appears to have ten lobes.