Creeping Phlox Plants

Favorite Spring-Flowering Ground Cover

tulips and phlox
Tulips and creeping phlox make for a dynamic spring combination. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany of Creeping Phlox Plants 

Plant taxonomy classifies creeping phlox plants as Phlox subulata. Besides "creeping phlox," another common name for P. subulata is "moss pink," a name which suggests both its growth habit and the bloom color for which it is most widely known. Some prefer "moss phlox" as a common name. The "moss" in both of these alternate monikers indicates how short this plant is and helps distinguish it from another type of phlox, P. paniculata, which is a species of taller perennials with an upright habit going by the common names of "tall phlox" and "garden phlox."

Botanically speaking, creeping phlox plants are herbaceous perennials.

Characteristics of Creeping Phlox, Wildlife Attracted to It

In spring, creeping phlox plants produce small, fragrant flowers in dense clusters. If massed together as a ground cover, creeping phlox plants make a powerful landscaping statement. The colors available are red, white, blue, rose, lavender, purple, and variegated, in addition to the signature pink color. Creeping phlox plants reach, at most, 6 inches in height and can spread out up to 2 feet to form a mat across the soil surface. Some of the needle-like or awl-like foliage remains green throughout the winter. A plant that attracts butterflies, creeping phlox is a splendid choice for butterfly gardens. Luckily, deer are less likely to eat this plant than many others, qualifying it as a relatively deer-resistant ground cover.

Growing Zones, Plant Care, Sun and Soil Requirements

Indigenous to eastern and central portions of the U.S., this perennial ground cover can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-9.

After the blooming period, shear the foliage of creeping phlox plants back. This "pinching" will encourage foliage to become denser, thereby making your plants a more attractive ground cover for the summer months. If you wish to propagate creeping phlox plants through division, divide them in spring, immediately after blooming.

Creeping phlox plants do best in full sun and in evenly-moist but well-drained soils rich in humus or compost. The plants exhibit moderate clay-tolerance. 

Uses for Creeping Phlox in Landscape Design, Best Features

Since creeping phlox plants stay short and spread, they are widely used as ground covers. Although homeowners with flat land can use creeping phlox plants as ground cover to form plant borders along lawns, etc., their dazzling spring flower display is most easily appreciated when they are planted on slopes. In the latter case, these colorful, low-growing plants not only offer a bit of help in preventing erosion, but also blanket the slope with vibrant color in spring. In terms of location, a slope that faces in a southerly direction is ideal, since these perennials do grow best in full sun. If your slope has a retaining wall installed at its base, your plants will spill right over the top -- a truly wonderful look. This flowering ground cover is also often used:

  1. In rock gardens.
  2. As an edging plant at the front of a flower border.
  3. In the cracks between the stones of a stepping-stone path.

Surely the best feature of creeping phlox is its flower production. Not only are the individual blooms pretty, but there are also so many of them that the display created by these spring flowers is truly something special to behold.

The flowers are so densely packed that it can be hard to make out the plants' foliage from a distance. The fact that the tiny leaves remain green for much of the year is also a selling point. The plants' ability to spread over time will be appreciated by gardeners who need a ground cover that will fill in an area. But this trait is a double-edged sword, since other gardeners prefer well-behaved plants that do not spread out. Finally, the short stature and toughness of this plant make it a very useful and versatile ground cover in the landscape. All in all, it is among the best perennials to grow in sunny areas.