Garden Phlox vs. Creeping Phlox

Written by S. Mathur
Updated: November 3, 2022
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Gardeners love phlox for the bright colors that the flowers add to any space. In fact, the name phlox means “flame” in Greek, and refers to the vivid colors seen in many varieties. If you’re planning to plant these easy-to-grow perennials, you should be aware of the differences between garden phlox vs. creeping phlox, so you can choose the right variety for your garden. 

Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the two species, as well as some useful information about their origins, and useful tips on how to grow the two kinds of phlox.

creeping phlox

Creeping phlox is a vibrant ground cover. It’s also known as moss phlox, moss pink and mountain phlox.

©speakingtomato/Shutterstock.com

Garden PhloxCreeping Phlox
ClassificationPolemoniaceae familyPolemoniaceae family
Scientific namePhlox paniculataPhlox subulata
Alternative namesFall phlox, perennial phlox, summer phlox, panicled phlox
Moss phlox, moss pink, mountain phlox
DescriptionPlants grows in clumps 2-4 feet high and 2-3 feet wide. 
Leaves are the classic elongated leaf shape and dry out after the growing season.
Flowers bloom in the summer, from July to September. Colors are lavender, pink, lilac, purple and white.
Flowers are grouped in loosely-branching clusters called panicles

This spreading plant grows close to the ground 4-6 inches high and forms mats 2 feet across. 
Evergreen or nearly evergreen leaves have a spiky, needle shape
Flowers mid to late spring. Flower colors are pink, purple, red and white.
UsesUsed to add color and fragrance to garden, especially in cottage gardens. 
Cut flowers
Medicinal uses of the plant as a laxative and to treat boils
Ground cover 
Borders
Rock gardens 
Erosion control on sloping ground
Butterfly and hummingbird gardens 
Distribution and growing conditions USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8
Full sun preferred but dappled shade will do
Fertile well drained soil, will tolerate sandy and gravely soil 
USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9
Full sun preferred but dappled shade will do
Fertile, well-drained soil
Drought and cold resistant 

Garden Phlox vs. Creeping Phlox: Key Differences

Classification

There are hundreds of species of phlox around the world, all of which belong to the Polemoniaceae family of flowering plants. The scientific name for garden phlox is Phlox paniculata while the Latin name for creeping phlox is Phlox subulata

The name creeping phlox is also given to another variety, Phlox stolonifera. It is almost identical with Phlox sublata, except for a band of color in the center of the flower in P. Sublata.

In gardening terms, all phlox species are herbaceous perennials, which is to say that they are plants that return year after year. The top growth dies out in the winter, but the roots remain intact. Herbaceous plant lack woody stems that persist above the ground. 

Origin and Distribution 

Both garden phlox and creeping phlox are native to the central and eastern regions of the US. They have been introduced to many other regions across the U.S., Canada, Asia and Europe. 

Creeping phlox is very hardy and can tolerate cold temperatures as well. It is suitable for USDA 3 to 9 Hardiness Zones, while garden phlox has a slightly more limited range of zones 4 to 8. 

Description 

There are many differences between the two species in appearance, the shape of the leaves, and blooming season. These can help you identify the plants, and also to decide which one you want in your garden. 

Garden phlox plants reach to  2 to 4 feet in height and grow in clumps that can be 2 to 3 feet wide. Creeping phlox, as the name suggests, grows close to the ground to 4 to 6 inches in height. The spreading plants form mats around 2 feet across.

Garden phlox leaves have the classic elongated leaf shape and they dry out after the growing season. Creeping phlox has spiky, needle-like leaves that are evergreen or nearly evergreen

Both varieties have fragrant flowers in a range of colors, with some overlap. Garden phlox flowers come in shades of lavender, pink, lilac, purple and white, and grow in loose branching clusters or panicles, from which the species gets its name.

The flowers in both species typically have five or six petals in a star shape. Creeping phlox flowers are pink, purple, red, and white, and carpet the ground in color during the blooming season.

The blooming season for creeping phlox is earlier, and flowers appear in profusion in mid to early spring for a period of about 3 to 4 weeks and sparsely thereafter until September. Garden phlox plants flower in the summer, from July through September. 

garden phlox

Garden phlox makes for great cutting flowers, and it smells divine!

©S. O. E./Shutterstock.com

Uses

Their physical characteristics also lead to differences in the way garden phlox and creeping phlox are used in gardens. Garden phlox is used in perennial beds, especially in cottage gardens, and to provide cut flowers for home decor. 

As a spreading plant, creeping phlox is used for ground cover and borders, for erosion control on slopes and in rock gardens. The fragrant flowers make it a good choice for butterfly and hummingbird gardens. 

Gardeners value both varieties for the color and scent they add to the garden.

Garden phlox has some medicinal uses, as a laxative. The plant is also used to treat boils.

Creeping Phlox vs. Garden Phlox: Growth Tips

Both varieties like full sun and well-drained soil, and will also flourish in partial or dappled shade in hotter climates. However, garden phlox does not like hot, humid summers, so it may not be suitable in the southern US states. Garden phlox also prefers a sheltered spot to grow. 

Creeping phlox is a hardy, salt-tolerant, drought resistant plant. It can tolerate sandy and gravely soils as well, so long as they are well drained. 

Plants of both species should be pruned after they have finished flowering. This will help to promote foliage growth and better flowering in the next season. 
Neither species requires much care, except a little weeding, which is best done by hand. You can add a compost fertilizer in the spring to keep the plants healthy.

Garden phlox can be propagated by division and rooting of plants or taking root cuttings in the fall. The best way to propagate creeping phlox is by division in the fall. You can do this by digging up the whole plant and cutting it in half all the way down to the roots. You can then plant the two pieces in the locations you want. 

Garden phlox are susceptible to powdery mildew in hot, dry climates. This can be controlled by spacing plants so the mildew cannot spread, and by removing affected stems. 

Creeping phlox is relatively pest-free and disease-free but it can fall prey to powder mildew and spider mites in hot and dry climates. You can get rid of spider mites by washing the plants in a string jet of water, or using an insecticidal soap. You can also make up your own insecticidal solution with dish liquid and water.

Garden Phlox vs. Creeping Phlox: Which Is Right for Your Garden?

Now that you know the differences between Garden Phlox vs. Creeping Phlox, you can decide which one is better for your purposes. Both are easy to grow, perennial flowering plants, but while garden phlox is best for flower beds, creeping phlox is used as ground cover. Whichever variety you choose, it will add color and fragrance to your garden

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © imamchits/Shutterstock.com


Sources

  1. Gardenia.net, Available here: https://www.gardenia.net/plant-variety/phlox-subulata-creeping-phlox
  2. The Spruce, Available here: https://www.thespruce.com/tall-garden-phlox-4117536#:~:text=Creeping%20phlox%20is%20a%20ground%20cover%2C%20whereas%20garden,while%20garden%20phlox%20is%20a%20summer%20bloomer.%20
  3. Farmer's Almanac, Available here: https://www.almanac.com/plant/phlox
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About the Author

I am a writer and enjoy gardening in my spare time. I have weeded and harvested many a vegetable garden and berry patch, and raised many indoor plants. Composting is a near-obsession of mine. My favorite flowers are roses, peonies, tuberoses, jasmine, plumeria, Black-eyed Susan, daisies…and almost all of them actually.

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