Perennial phlox are mostly forms of Phlox paniculata, which is commonly native from Pennsylvania and Illinois southward.
They bloom in mid to late summer with immense terminal heads of white, pink and purple flowers.
There are native forms quite common to northeast Texas. These hardy perennials have been popular in Texas and Southern gardens for many generations.
They are easily grown but can be subject to powdery mildew. The most common color is a pink-purple form.
Then in the early 1990’s Greg Grant, a premier plantsman in the south, observed a row of summer phlox growing in St. Augustine grass, half under a live oak and half in the sun, in southeast San Antonio.
Grant obtained plants from the homeowner and included them in a Texas Superstar trial of summer phlox. He named it after John Fanick, a well known nurseryman in San Antonio.
‘John Fanick’ is a pale pink with a darker eye and is particularly attractive when combined with the common pink-purple type.
Experience has shown it to be the most vigorous of all the summer phlox, and it is also highly fragrant.
Grant says that ‘John Fanick’ is one of the best butterfly-attracting plants available. Swallowtails are partial to it.
It even attracts hummingbirds. It survives in heat, humidity and drought. It is an ideal cottage garden plant or can be used in xeriscaping.
Use it in beds and borders to add color and fragrance.
In addition, you will have bouquets of fragrant flowers that can be used as cut flowers.
During this same time period, Dr. Jerry Parsons, Extension horticulture specialist in San Antonio, found another phlox with magenta pink blossoms in an old San Antonio garden. It was included in the Texas Superstar trial as well.
Results of these two trials across the state indicated that these were the top performing summer phlox. This other summer phlox is named ‘Victoria.’
Summer phlox benefit from fairly frequent division. Fall or winter is the ideal time to dig the clumps about every two years and reset the individual plants. They thrive in sunny, well-drained locations but will tolerate up to about half shade.
Since the flowers come at a really hot time of year they last better with some afternoon shade.
Bloom height is two to three feet with a two-feet spread. Plant where it will have good air circulation. Blooming starts in early summer and lasts into the fall if old flower heads are removed as they fade.
A summer mulch which helps keep the root zone cool is beneficial. To encourage re-blooming and keep the plants tidy, shear after the first bloom cycle.
In winter cut them to the ground after the first severe frost and apply a little lawn fertilizer in the spring. They spread underground to form larger and larger clumps.
To propagate, divide clumps in the spring or take tip cuttings in spring and early summer. Neither variety comes true from seed.
Water on the leaves can promote powdery mildew; if possible, irrigate with a soaker hose or drip irrigation.
Use ‘John Fanick’ phlox in drifts in a perennial border for summer color. Include it in a butterfly garden to attract many types of butterflies, and in a cut-flower garden.
As a cut flower, it maintains its wonderful fragrance and a long vase life. It looks fabulous planted with tall, blue-blooming salvias in back, and Laura Bush petunias, or white, pink or purple verbena in front.
Jennifer Paul, Texas A&M University System Agriculture Program
Mary Wilhite of Blue Moon Gardens www.bluemoongardens.com
Dr. William C. Welch, Professor & Landscape Horticulturist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Gail Haynes is an Ellis County Master Gardener, rainwater harvest specialists and guest columnist in the Daily Light. For further information, contact the Ellis County Master Gardeners at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 701 South Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie, or call 972-825-5175 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.