Plant of the Week
Wild Sweet William
Latin: Phlox divaricata
Shade is both a blessing and a curse to the gardener. Because gardeners are
not immune to the heat of the summer sun, shade makes any garden more pleasant
to be but it limits the choice of plants that can be successfully grown.
Especially lacking are flowering perennial plants that give good display and yet
thrive in the shade. The Wild Sweet William, one of our native woodland phloxes,
not only grows naturally in the shade but produces a beautiful display without
much fuss or bother for the gardener.
Wild Sweet William, so called because it blooms at about the same time as the
commonly cultivated Sweet William, flowers from early April through mid-May.
Plants are pubescent, much branched and grow from 10- to 16 inches tall on
Flowers are tubular, with the face to 1 inch across, lavender-purple in color
and produced in a terminal cluster. White and pink forms are occasionally met
with in the wild. The plant growth habit is intermediate between the sprawling
form of creeping phlox and the stiffly erect form of the summer flowering garden
phlox. This species ranges from southern Canada to Michigan and as far south as
Louisiana and Georgia and is found in the woods throughout Arkansas.
The 60 species of phloxes are all native to North America and were quickly
recognized as valuable garden plants by early European plant explorers. Wild
Sweet William never hit the big time status of the summer flowering garden phlox
but its popularity as a garden plant in Europe has always been higher than here
at home. It is ideal for the woodland garden or even shady border where an early
spring display is needed.
Wild Sweet William is best in partial shade, but like most part shade plants,
will grow in the sun if it gets some water in the summer. A good way of deciding
how much shade exists in a proposed site is to look at what kind of lawn grass
will grow there. Bermudagrass is a full sun plant that will grow up to the edge
of shade and stop. It requires at least six hours of full sun to grow. Fescue is
a grass that will grow in partial shade -- admittedly it produces a better lawn
in full sun -- but it will still grow in some shade. The shade can be dappled
shade from the crown of high trees or full shade for part of the day and full
sun for part of the day, but usually only a few hours. If the site is so shady
that no grass species will grow, then the site has heavy shade. Fortunately Wild
Sweet William is adaptable enough it will grow in heavy shade too.
This species is best suited to a rich woodland soil where there is a high amount
of organic matter and good drainage. It will tolerate periods of drought but
performs best if given some water during the dry periods. In the right spot it
will reseed and increase the size of the colony but usually garden plants are
rooted from cuttings taken in the summer. Its open and natural form makes it
ideal for use as a single specimen or in large drifts of color to brighten the
dark recesses of the spring garden.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension News -
April 16, 1999
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.
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