Nancy Brachey

Put some color at your feet in the garden

This close-up shows the color details of a creeping phlox.
This close-up shows the color details of a creeping phlox. jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com

These days, spring seems to be in its glory above our heads, with redbud, dogwood, and cherry trees all in breathtaking form. But look down too.

The daffodils, early tulips and first show of azaleas are there, but so are some worthy early perennials that not only provide early spring color but are useful in the landscape.

They are creeping phlox and evergreen candytuft, both undemanding low spreaders useful to edge flower beds or run down slopes or cascade over a low wall.

Both are evergreen, though the candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is a better looking evergreen through the year. It has narrowish, dark green leaves that form an attractive low mound. The size varies. The typical evergreen candytuft reaches about 8 inches, but named varieties such as Snowflake can be a few inches shorter.

Evergreen candytuft’s flowers are a bright, gleaming white that looks wonderful under the bright pink, purple and red azaleas in bloom at the same time. It will grow well in full sun to partial shade, but not full shade.

Use your grass shears to prune candytuft lightly after it blooms and stimulate fresh, more compact growth through the summer.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) , which is also called moss phlox, is a rugged perennial that forms a mat or groundcover that can be very useful. I have seen it prosper for years in hot, sunny spaces that would be a problem for other perennials. It looks good in a rock garden and especially nice when cascading over a low wall.

This is a valuable plant for a sunny slope that is too hard to mow, where the plants can spill down. Some people mix colors when choosing this perennial. But I think one color is more effective on a bank or a large area.

The color choices for the spring flowers of creeping phlox are wonderful. The range includes light to vivid pink, red, blue or lilac, all very pretty. Sometimes, you may see a white one in stores, but if it is white flowers you want, go for candytuft.

You will get the best flowers in sun, but they will prosper in a few hours of light shade each day. As with candytuft, soil should be loose and well-drained. It will also benefit from an occasional shear of the entire plant to keep it looking neat and full.

These plants are in stores now, in bloom. So that is a great opportunity to look them over, see what colors appeal to you and suit your landscape and plant now..

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. My loropetalum is blooming but overgrown. When can I prune it?

A. If you are enjoying the blooms, wait until the spring flush fades, then prune, but no more than one-third of the plant. This is a vigorous plant that will produce new growth quickly.

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