A satisfying ground cover for winter

The deep pink flowers of creeping phlox cover the prostrate plant during the cooler months.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 24, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 10:17 p.m.

As hard as it was to find a suitable winter flowering plant, it was even more difficult to find a ground-cover that would add some interest to the otherwise drab landscape.

I came upon it quite by accident, at my favorite plant nursery, of course.

I had not planned on buying anything; I was just borrowing some plants to illustrate a talk on winter color. And there I saw it: creeping phlox, or Phlox subulata.

Up north this plant graces spring and summer gardens, supplying a season's worth of color. Here in Florida, we can use it in the winter, since it will struggle during our hot and humid months.

A rapidly spreading perennial, creeping phlox grows to no more than 6 inches in height. The foliage is soft, needle-like and flowers are quite brilliant - blue, mauve, carmine, pink and white. They are slightly fragrant.

This is a good addition to rock gardens. Creeping phlox, also sometimes called moss pink, likes full sun and is drought tolerant, which is good because our winters are traditionally dry.

Once flowering is through, shear the plant back to get a surge of new growth and more flowers. It likes slightly alkaline soil (add lime if yours is acid) with good drainage.

A garden anomaly

It happens a lot in nature: Plants blooming out of synch. I occasionally get calls from people with azaleas or Japanese magnolias blooming in the fall. There's no good explanation what triggers this out-of-the-ordinary behavior.

A recent oddity appeared at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. In the rock garden in front of Summer House, which was decorated with poinsettias for the holidays, there suddenly appeared an Amorphophallus inflorescence. These normally bloom in the spring.

Gardens director Don Goodman was puzzled, but pleased. This is one of his favorite plants.

He considered its appearance a Christmas gift.

Marina Blomberg can be reached at 374-5025 or gardener@gvillesun.com.

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