The Long and the Short of It

One of the flower beds had phlox paniculata (common name “border phlox”) when I moved here.  These were old, established perennials.  There were various colors: white, pale pink, hot pink and orchid.  They had that “old-fashioned” garden type look and I was glad to have them.  But they have spread over the years and seem to be growing taller and taller with each passing year.  The garden was starting to have a wild look to it…far beyond what a cottage garden should look like.

I thought back to the year the woodchucks moved in.  They were chomping on every plant out there.  I baited the have-a-heart trap with apples and cabbage leaves, caught the critter, and then took him for a little ride out to the woods.  It’s kind of scarey opening a trap with a woodchuck in it.  The first time I opened the trap door to let him loose I had visions of him springing out and and lunging at me.  They’d find my body weeks later in this very remote area and they would wonder what happened to me.   I have a very imaginative mind and sometimes my mind is my own worst enemy.  And, as it turned out, this wasn’t just one woodchuck…there were a whole family of them.  And I caught each and every one that summer and released them in the same wooded area.  I imagined that they all met up with each other out there in the woods and lived happily ever after.

Anyway, the woodchucks were eating my phlox that year.  This was before the phlox spread, grew really tall and looked wild.  I was heartbroken, my beautiful phlox cut down to about half its size by woodchucks.   They hadn’t even bloomed yet.  But, to my surprise, the phlox did bloom that year.  They bloomed a little later and they were a little shorter.  The flowers were spectacular.  The best year ever.

A few years later, as the phlox were by that time getting out of control, I thought back to the woodchucks and wondered if I could prune the phlox back before they flowered.  I did some research and came across a book entitled “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, Planting and Pruning Techniques” by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. 

"The Well-Tended Perennial Garden" by Tracy DiSabato-Aust

“The Well-Tended Perennial Garden” by Tracy DiSabato-Aust

In this book the author provides valuable pruning and deadheading advice.  Regarding phlox in particular, she writes “Deadheading prolongs bloom on plants and prevents reseeding.  Seedlings are not desirable because they are not true to type and often take over the more desirable parent plant.”  Maybe that’s what happened to my phlox, they were becoming that less desirable type.  She went on to say “Plants can be pinched or cut back and shaped to produce shorter plants and to delay flowering.  Border phlox can be cut back by one-half in early to mid-June, or 6 inches or more can be cut off when the plants are in tight bud.  Flowering normally will be delayed by 2 weeks with pruning, but it can be delayed by as much as 4 weeks.  If plants are cut back earlier, say in mid-May, flowering may not be as greatly delayed.”

At the end of May, the phlox were so high I could hardly see the top leaves of my giant hosta from the back door.  And you know how fond I am of that hosta.  I decided to prune the phlox.  On the left side of the photo below, I had already pruned a few of the phlox.  Before I pruned them, the birdbath was barely visible.  Remember, this was a month or so ago.  If I didn’t prune the phlox, all I’d have would be a sea of extremely tall phlox and not much else would be visible.

Garden at the end of May 2014

Garden at the end of May 2014

This is the view after I pruned the rest of the phlox….

After I Pruned the Phlox

After I Pruned the Phlox

The yellow juniper is visible as is the hosta…and both are growing like crazy now that they have some light!  Maybe I’m creating another problem? 

Yellow Juniper and Blue Angel Hosta

Yellow Juniper and Blue Angel Hosta

You can see more of that yellow juniper as well as the hosta above.  And to the upper left of the hosta is the maidenhair fern. 

New Growth

New Growth

This last picture was taken recently….you can see all the bright green new growth.  If it grows much more, I’m going to have to prune it back again!

Once the phlox is in bloom, I’ll take more pictures and let you know if this phlox pruning was successful.


One thought on “The Long and the Short of It

  1. KerryCan

    I love the story about the relocation of the woodchucks–making sure they could meet up again as a family is just the sort of thing I’d worry about, too! I have phlox that I bought at a garage sale and it hasn’t had the time to take over yet but I’m going to go out and cut some of it back, like you describe, to see what happens. Thanks for the info–it worked wonders in your garden!


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