Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Garden Clean Up Reminder

Late winter is clean up time for wildflowers and grasses. By then the goldfinches have striped the rudbeckias, coneflowers, and agastaches bare of their seeds, the fluffy seed heads of the ex-asters have blown about the garden and the grasses which provide winter cover for small critters are looking ratty from the rain, wind and occasional snow falls.
Phlox paniculata's fall color
But, I never, ever, leave the summer Phloxes standing all winter. Once they've been flash frozen I cut them to the ground and trash all the cuttings.

Phlox after a frost is still pretty, but it has to go. There might be bug eggs hiding!
Trashing the dead leaves and stalks is an essential first line defense against the Phlox Plant Bug Lopidea davisi is a plant juice/sap sucking insect that feeds mainly on perennial phlox. This is not a pest to ignore. I found out the hard way! They can form dense populations and suck the life juices (sap) out of your plants. The clever little adults lay white-colored eggs in the fall in stems of the plant, behind the leaf petioles. The eggs overwinter  and nymphs emerge in early May. Two or more generations could develop in a season.

Phlox Plant Bugs are tiny and fast moving critters that hide underneath leaves and make it hard to see and smush! So far they don't seem to be a tasty treat for the beneficial insects or birds that visit my garden. Perhaps, their orange and black coloration signals stay away to most insect eating critters.
The Phlox Bug~soon the leaves with turn yellow and die
It's easy to see how they could get established in the garden if we're not vigilant.  That's what happened here a few years back. I'm glad to say that I've finally gotten it under control.

 Phlox paniculata is a foundation plant at Clay and Limestone. The Bumbles, butterflies, skippers and a variety of pollinators rely on it for nectar and pollen during our dry and droughty summers. I count on it for color and beauty. It's a tough plant, but it needs help when challenged by a pest like Phlox Bug.

Here's what you can do starting right now to make sure it never gets a proboscis near your phlox!
  • Practice good sanitation. Cut back and dispose of infested stems and leaves. Clean up stem and leaf litter in the winter. I cut back every stem I find and threw them in the trash, not the compost. Compost works if yours gets hot enough to cook bugs! Mine doesn't.
  • Scout for nymphs and treat. Apply insecticidal soap to both the upper and underside of the leaves. Use a light horticultural or sunspray oil. I haven't had to up my treatment to this.

You might not have this pest in your garden, but, cutting back and disposing of the stems and leaves will go a long way to insure that you won't ever see one of these nasty pests on your Phlox.

Just in case you forget, I'll post about this next fall, too. I pinky swear!


PS Of course you know that I never, ever, ever, ever use pesticides in my garden. I love my bees and other pollinators and don't want to risk causing them harm.


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Hmmmm, I didn't know about these pests. I will be on the look out for them.

  2. Hmmmm, I don't ever cut the phlox down ahead of the rest of the stuff, and always leave the cuttings in situ. I will also be on the look out. Thanks!

  3. I haven't seen those critters here yet but I will cut down the phlox. I promise. Perhaps a few today and a few tomorrow and before I know it they will be gone.

  4. Gail,
    I'm reading away, saying to myself, "oh great, another wonderful insect, that no doubt is headed our way." But, glad to hear that it can be controlled somewhat by keeping foliage tidier than I normally would. So glad you're reinforcing the need for folks to be watching their plants - not only will they find the odd evil creature, no doubt they'll find something really wonderful they weren't expecting

  5. I haven't seen that particular pest down here in Texas and I am GLAD!

  6. Good to know! I leave most everything standing until February or so (early spring)...the one exception being Monarda. If they have Powdery Mildew during the growing season, I'll chop them to the ground at the first frost and dispose of everything, which hopefully cuts the chances of Mildew the following season. It's been especially important the last few years, since we've had unusually mild winteres that are perfect for those damn spores!

  7. Very good information. I've never had that bug, but I don't want it either. Thanks.

  8. Thanks for the warning on the phlox plant bug. I've never seen it but now I will pay attention if I do. For us the big problem with phlox is mildew but it's worth growing all the same. I have volunteers springing up all the time...

  9. Gail, I got ahead of you this year for cutting back the garden. Posted some photos in the archives on October 17, 2012. And as for the pest, here it gets so cold in the Winter most everything goes south for the Winter both people and pest. So no problem with either in the area yet! Jack

    1. I hope the cold is killing them Jack, but, Phlox Bug has been found in Ontario, Canada so your trashing the cuttings is a good thing!

  10. Good to know - thanks for the tip!

  11. I don't have Phlox in my garden, but I do basically the same thing with my Peonies for similar reasons. Many of the natives stay up all winter, and then I tidy things up in the spring. Thanks for the informative post!

  12. I should have read this yesterday when it was still sunny and 70 degrees! I'll have to wait now until the rain stops to get out there and check if I still have some phlox standing. Thanks for the reminder of this possible pest.

  13. Thanks for the info!
    By the way, it looks as though I might have new baby phlox emerging at the base of the older Phlox paniculata (David variety). Is this possible? Last year, I thought that Phlox paniculata did not emerge from winter dormancy until springtime...

  14. I just started growing phlox paniculata so thanks for the tip. Does this critter also go after p divaritica?

    1. I've only seen it on Phlox paniculata. I do check and keep an eye on both P divaricata and P pilosa, but so far nothing.

    2. Thanks for the reminder Gail!

  15. Interesting post, I've never seen, or heard, of a Phlox bug before. So many plants here, like the sunflowers, are left standing over winter for the bees and other insects that use their stems overwinter their young in. You raise a good point though that it's important to know what else might be overwintering in parts of the garden too!

  16. I had not heard of this either so I will be on the look out and try to cut back the phlox next year...too cold now although I might get a chance this winter on a mild day.

  17. I have not had Phlox in my garden before but think I will try some next year, and I'll take your advice.

  18. Thank you for this information, Gail. I need to see if I still have phlox out there to clean up.

  19. What a nasty little critter. I'm headed out this weekend to cut down my old stems!

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