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One to grow: John Fanick phlox

One to grow

John Fanick phlox

At the top of the charts this week on our countdown of Texas Superstars is a new take on an old favorite. The billowy blooms of summer phlox are beloved by gardeners and butterflies, but the foliage of this perennial is often covered with the white film of powdery mildew in the South. Several varieties of summer phlox have proven to be immune to the debilitating effects of this foliar disease and are now available for sale in nurseries.

One of the hardy types for Texas was discovered growing in an abandoned yard in San Antonio and named after a Texas nurseryman.

Common name: John Fanick summer phlox

Botanical name: Phlox paniculata "John Fanick"

Why you want it: Huge, showy blooms last for several months on a carefree perennial. The plants tolerate heat, humidity and drought and faithfully return every year.

Foliage: Dark green, slightly waxy leaves grow in opposite pairs on upright stems. Leaves are 1 inch wide and 3 to 5 inches long, tapering to a point. Plants grow 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide and spread underground to make larger and larger clumps. Dig plants up every few years, replanting the young outer shoots.

Flowers: Fragrant, flat, round flowers form in large, domed clusters. Each flower is pale pink with a rosy eye. Blooming starts in early summer and lasts into the fall if old flowers are removed as they fade. The blooms make great cut flowers with their mild fragrance and long vase life. Phlox flowers are favorites of butterflies and are also visited by hummingbirds.

Care: Plant John Fanick phlox in a sunny location with good drainage. Pinch the tips of new plants to encourage branching. Provide good air circulation around the plants to discourage foliar disease. Keep old flowers cut off the plants to encourage fresh blooms. Cut the plants to the ground after the first freeze browns the foliage.

Although John Fanick is heat- and drought-tolerant, the intense summer sun fades flower color, so for best flower production plant it in a location with late-afternoon shade and water the plants during dry weather.

Water on the leaves promotes disease, so irrigate with a soaker hose or drip irrigation.

Landscape uses: 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. It looks fabulous planted with tall, blue-blooming salvias in back, and Laura Bush petunias or white, pink or purple verbena in front.

Mary Wilhite owns Blue Moon Gardens, a garden center near Tyler. Visit www.bluemoongardens.com or contact Wilhite at mwilhite@embarqmail.com.

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