You planted white phlox, so how did you get pink flowers?

My white phlox were coming up pink, probably because I let them go to seed. This year I have cut off the flowers before they formed seed. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I got my white phlox from a neighbor maybe 20 years ago. They’re beautiful and dependable and slightly fragrant and I love them.

But in the past several years I’ve been getting flowers that show up pink or slightly pink.


A lot of phlox are hybrids, said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. Two different plants are crossed to get the new plant.

Without warning, the hybrid can revert back to one of the parent plants, he said, causing the pink flower. He has also heard of colored flowers reverting back to white. This can happen to roses as well.

But what probably happened is that I let my plants go to seed.

“When you get seedlings, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see color variations,” Farfaglia said.”Dividing the plants is the way to get the same plant every time.”

If you want to maintain the same color, pull out the plants with flowers of a different color, he said. Also, don’t let the flowers, even the flowers of the color that you want, go to seed. Cut the flowers off before they go to seed.

He noted that some people enjoy the variety and like to let their phlox or other perennial flowers go to seed.

“That’s okay too,” he said, “as long as you realize you might get a different color.”

Has this happened to you? Do you see the color change as a nice surprise or as something you want to prevent? Leave a comment.


I made a mistake in this article by using the word “revert.”

Reader Remy Orlowski of the Sample Seed Shop wrote to correct me.

“Hybrids do not revert,” she said. “Spontaneous mutations do.

“Plants that are variegated (flowers or leaves) will shoot up solid colors because variegation is a mutation.

“Hybrids are the babies of crosses. So when you see another color in your plant, it is from seed. The color difference (also size of the plant, size of the bloom) is either showing color from the breeding lineage or it is a cross with other varieties in your garden/neighboring garden.”

Orlowski also supplied more details on how the flower of a rose might come up in a different color, which I didn’t ask John Farfaglia to elaborate on.

“Roses sometimes are mistakenly thought to change when it is the top grafted part that has died and the root stock has grown up and replaced the desired rose,” Orlowski said. “This is why I personally like own-root roses as that will not happen. They often are smaller and can take longer to become a full sized shrub, but they will not die out.”

I thank Orlowski and Farfaglia for their time and patience in helping me get this right!












17 Comments on “You planted white phlox, so how did you get pink flowers?

  1. My white ‘David’ phlox now has some pink mixed in. It was a nice surprise! I usually dead head in the fall, but I didn’t do much upkeep last year because of health issues.

    I have one area next to my Blue Chiffon Rose of Sharon where I once had phlox planted before moving it. I must have missed a tiny piece when moving because the phlox has slowly been increasing in that spot, growing and blooming through the branches of the aggressive ROS. That area is now mostly pink phlox.

    I broke my arm in May, so the garden is like a jungle! Pink phlox where there shouldn’t be phlox and ROS popping up EVERYWHERE. The landlord cut back my lilac and ROS in March so they could put up siding. The lilac (‘President Lincoln’) has grown back with a vengeance–leaves bigger than my head and growing at least 7 feet in one season. I think my plants are plotting a takeover…

  2. I planted 3 different color phlox 2 years ago Pink, white and a light lavender This year every single one is the light lavender they are healthy and pretty but I wish I had all 3 colors and hope they will go back to that.

  3. The phlox I planted 8 years ago has self seeded and now I have 4 different colors! I love it!! Wish I could add a photo.

  4. I have two sections of phlox planted in the same garden. When they were planted about six years ago, they were pink. This year, one of the sections has sprouted plants with two separate colors, purple and white. We were surprised! We thought the light was playing tricks on our eyes. Now we’re hoping that it will happen to the other section on the other side of the garden. We may try to transplant to encourage the multiple colors.

  5. Could the plant possibly be getting less sun than the others? Perhaps crowded out? Are there any signs of insects or disease?

  6. I have a phlox plant that has not bloomed in 3 years although the plant is quite large & there are several other phlox plants nearby in the same bed that have bloomed each of those 3 years. What gives? Does it need something?

  7. i have had this happen with phlox and echinacia. in fact, i love the surprise! but i was jealous that my daughter got different colors from the ones i gave her (but didn’t keep any myself after a move). i think that’s God or Mother Nature being in charge….

  8. Sadly, my whole phlox planting of ‘David” has become pink. I had them planted with a pink called, I think, ‘Laura’; I just figured the two got together and created LORID! Guess not…

  9. There was a yellow rose in a house I bought. After about 5 or 6 years the whole bush produced white roses and never went back.

  10. Yes, echinacea can definitely revert or come up as a different colored seedling. There are many plants that will do this.

  11. I wonder if this happens with echinacea too. We bought a gold colored echinacea and the surrounding seedlings bloomed pink (or purple).

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