Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires': the Other Creeping Phlox

Hot Cultivar Furnishes Spring Color

Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires.'
Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires' gives good springtime color. David Beaulieu

What Is It?

Phlox stolonifera is the botanical name for a plant commonly called "creeping phlox" (see below for help distinguishing this plant from another, more popular plant with the same common name). 'Home Fires' is the cultivar name of the particular type that I, myself grow.

Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires' is categorized by botanists as an herbaceous perennial. It is also considered semi-evergreen.

What Does Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires' Look Like?

At maturity, this plant stands at about 10-12 inches tall when in bloom (6 inches when not in bloom), with a width of two or three times that. Because it forms dense colonies, the width of an individual plant actually won't be apparent after a while, since it will blend into the whole. The foliage is a mix of narrow leaves in the upper part of the plant and rounded leaves below.

The flowers are pink and come in clusters. These fragrant flowers bloom in mid-spring.

Where Does It Grow?

The species plant from which the cultivar derives is native to eastern North America. You can grow Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires' in planting zones 5-9.

This perennial is perhaps best used as a shade garden plant, although some growers are successful locating it in sunny areas as long as they faithfully furnish water when the soil dries out. I grow mine in partial shade.

It has just average water needs but does require a soil that is friable and drains well.

How to Care for Your Plants

Maintenance is minimal. I fertilize mine with compost whenever I get around to it. If you encounter problems with powdery mildew, try to increase air circulation by:

  1. Practicing good flower-bed hygiene (remove fallen tree leaves, dead growth, etc.)
  1. Dividing the plants (either in spring or fall)

Other Kinds of Phlox stolonifera

This ground cover does come in other cultivars, too, such as:

  1. 'Sherwood Purple,' which has purplish-blue flowers.
  2. 'Pink Ridge,' which is another type with pink blooms (but the pink color is brighter than on 'Home Fires'). 
  3. 'Blue Ridge,' which bears violet-blue flowers.

Comparison: Phlox stolonifera vs. subulata

As I mentioned above, there is another "creeping phlox": P. subulata. In fact, in my region (New England, U.S.), P. subulata is the more popular of the two and generally what people mean when they say "creeping phlox." Both are outstanding flowering ground covers that bloom in spring. But they differ in some important ways. For example:

P. subulata:

  1. Reaches only about 6 inches tall
  2. Bears strictly needle-like leaves
  3. Is strictly a full-sun plant

Phlox stolonifera, by contrast:

  1. Is almost twice as tall when flowering as is P. subulata
  2. Has mixed foliage (some rounded, some more like the needles produced by P. subulata)
  3. Grows in partial shade

If I had to choose between the two in picking a ground cover, I'd select P. subulata. It stays shorter and blooms more prolifically. 

Phlox stolonifera also invites comparison with  P. divaricata, which is known as "woodland phlox" (in fact, the label that came with my Phlox stolonifera refers to it as "woodland", not "creeping" phlox, although the latter is the more widely used common name for the plant).

Uses in Landscaping

Since it spreads via stolons to form a blanket across the earth (indeed, the specific epithet, stolonifera, means "bearing stolons"), it should come as no surprise that the classic use for this plant is as a ground cover. It is also effective as an edging plant.

Wildlife gardeners will be interested in the fact that they are also plants that draw butterflies and are used, as well, in hummingbird gardens.

Learn more here about the various types of phlox.