En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - February 25, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests, Planting, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Bare spot in Prairie Phlox in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have Prairie Phlox in my garden that I have had for about 4 to 6 years. I got the original plant from the NPSOT at their booth one year at the Wildflower center. It is really lovely in the spring when it is in bloom,and it has spread nicely, but in the last couple of years the center has died out. I read that that happens. I tried transplanting some of the healthier plants but between the ants and the drought I didn't have any luck. So what can I do with that bare spot. The ants seem to have moved on, but the bare spot is unattractive.


When we searched our Native Plant Database on the common name "Prairie Phlox," we got three results, but one of them was not native to Texas. So, your phlox is probably either Phlox pilosa (downy phlox) or Phlox pilosa ssp. pilosa (downy phlox). Ordinarily, we would recommend digging all your plants for dividing, and doing a little work on the soil in the area. Adding some compost, maybe a little fertilizer and generally fluffing up the dirt could really reinvigorate your plants. You could then break them up into clumps (they have rhizome-like roots), and replant them in the fresh new bed, and water gently but thoroughly until they start to perk up. Especially in a clumping plant like phlox, division and replanting all the plants will add to the volume of your phlox and increase its vigor. 

When we say "ordinarily" it's because we're worried about your statement that the ants "seem to have moved on."  Lots of times ants will become semi-dormant in the winter, feasting on the seeds they have been harvesting and stowing away. Also, we have had so little rain, and you didn't say if you irrigated, which could have caused them to come to the surface. And you didn't say what kinds of ants they are, maybe you haven't identified them, but we're betting no ant is going to take a shovel blade breaking through his roof without causing some trouble. We're not entomologists and we couldn't find any information on how to identify whether ants are still in residence without disturbing them. And a disturbed ant is not a happy ant. We hesitate to give you advice about something we know so little about, but would suggest you contact the Texas AgriLIFE Extension Service of Texas A&M, Travis County. Hopefully, someone there could tell you how to establish whether an ant bed is still active and how to get it to go away. 

Pictures of Phlox pilosa ssp. pilosa (downy phlox)

Phlox pilosa

Phlox pilosa



More Planting Questions

Oak leaf hydrangeas from Edwardsville IL
August 13, 2012 - Hello, I live in West Central Illinois (across the river from St. Louis) and I am considering planting several Oak leaf Hydrangea's in my yard. The location where I would like to plant them is und...
view the full question and answer

Where to find Horseherb seed
August 02, 2015 - I would like to purchase some Horseherb seeds. Can you tell me where I can do that? Either locally or on line. Thank you.
view the full question and answer

How close can house be built to live oak from Austin
May 30, 2012 - We have a healthy 21" live oak tree on our lot and are planning to build a home in Circle C subdivision in southwest austin. The home foundation will be within 15' of the large live oak. Need your h...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting and Pruning Callicarpa
August 21, 2014 - I saw the previous question about Callicarpa from the guy in Texas and I have two questions based on the response. In SW Vermont, is late fall still the best time to transplant my Callicarpas? Also, i...
view the full question and answer

Pinus taeda (Loblolly pines) for a property in Van Zandt County, Texas
March 17, 2015 - I want to initiate a stand of loblolly pine trees on our property in Van Zandt County in NE Texas. Assuming the ph factor is within range, how do I obtain seedings for this endeavor? Any other advic...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center