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by Pernell Gerver

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"Growing the Many Different Spring Phlox"

Phlox is a large genus of perennials with many different species and varieties. Most gardeners are familiar with tall garden phlox - the upright plant with large flower clusters atop its stems that bloom from summer to early fall, but there are also many different spring-blooming phlox that begin blooming in early spring and continue into early summer. All are easy to grow and grow in a variety of conditions from deep shade to full sun, depending on type. Click on a plant name to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

One of the earliest spring phlox to bloom is woodland phlox. This shade-loving phlox is a wonderful groundcover for a woodland garden. It spreads slowly, but forms a dense cover. It bears single, ¾-inch wide flowers on foot-tall, slender flower stems. Each flower stem carries two to three flowers. It attracts some of the earliest butterflies to the garden. Woodland phlox spreads by underground stems as well as by rooting where its stems touch the ground. There are many different varieties of woodland phlox and one of the best is 'Clouds of Perfume.' It bears sky-blue, very-fragrant flowers on foot-tall flower stems. It blooms in early to mid spring and is colorful for weeks. In my woodland garden I planted it alongside crested iris and yellow lady's slipper orchid and the color combination is striking.

Creeping phlox 'Home Fires'Creeping phlox is another spring-blooming phlox. It's similar to woodland phlox and it likes the same part shade to shade conditions. It's also very early to bloom, often blooming by late April. It has long stems that creep along the ground and form a dense carpet. The stems carry clusters of small, rounded leaves. Rising above the foliage are large clusters of colorful, often fragrant, rounded, single flowers. The flowers clusters stand between eight and 12 inches above the foliage and bloom for weeks and weeks in early to mid spring. One of the showiest creeping phlox is 'Home Fires.' It bears striking, bright-pink flowers that really stand out in the shade garden. It blooms in early May atop eight-inch-tall flower stems. It's a very floriferous variety, producing hundreds of flowers each spring.

Moss phlox 'Candy Stripe'Moss phlox is another type of spring-blooming phlox. I often see this phlox growing in lawns and it's easy to spot in early to mid spring when it comes into bloom. Any other time of year it's hardly noticeable. It forms a dense carpet of needle-like leaves. It's an evergreen phlox that only grows a couple of inches high, but it can spread several feet around. Flower color includes white, blue, purple, lavender, pink, coral, salmon, and bicolor, depending on variety. It's an excellent choice for planting on slopes, on top of a rock wall, or as an edging plant and it's especially attractive when several different colors are planted together. They tend to mingle together and create a colorful tapestry of bloom. It thrives in hot, sunny, even dry, conditions. One of the most striking is a variety called 'Candy Stripe.' It has unique, bicolored flowers. The star-shaped flowers are white with a pink stripe running down each petal. It blooms in early spring and is virtually covered in flowers when in full bloom.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Water Hyacinth Colorful Floating Plant"

Q. I recently purchased three water hyacinths. I have them in a large bowl. The black hairy roots seem to be growing larger. No new growth in the top flower itself, but I did not expect any since I just purchased them a week ago. I was told they are fast growing and would spread, but I was not told how to care for them. Could you please tell me the correct way to care for them? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

A. water hyacinthWater hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is a tender water plant that floats on the surface of the water by means of its inflated leaf bases. It doesn't need to be grown in a pot. Its roots hang in the water while its leaves and flowers bob on the surface. It has shiny, bright green leaves about a foot long. This floating plant multiplies quickly, spreading across the pond. Its thick root system is ideal for spawning fish. Its roots also help to keep the water in the pond clear.

Its showy flowers are butterfly-shaped in pale lavender with a speck of orange in the center. It begins flowering in summer and continues until frost. The flowers are borne atop a thick flower stalk and there can be as many as six flowers clustered together one on top of the other on each stem.

Water hyacinth is a tender water plant that should be set into the pond once the water temperature has reached 70 degrees and after all danger of frost has passed. Simply place the plant on the water's surface. It thrives in full sun to light shade. If it multiplies too rapidly during summer, remove and compost excess plants as needed.

A hard frost will kill water hyacinth in autumn. It can be treated as an annual and replaced every year or a few plants can be brought indoors over winter. To keep them over winter, place a few plants in a bucket of water with a couple of inches of soil in the bottom. Use only enough water to allow the roots of the plants to touch the soil. Set the bucket in a warm, sunny location indoors over winter.

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