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How to Grow Perennial Salvias — Sage

Meadow clary
Salvia pratensis, Meadow clary

Salvias are grown for their showy spikes of flowers. Flowers are 2-lipped–the upper lips erect and hooded, the lower ones are toothed and spreading. Flowers can be tubular to bell- or funnel-shaped in a wide range of colors.

Salvias make up a large genus of popular garden plants. There are many species of half-hardy annuals and biennials, as well as herbaceous and evergreen perennials.

Annual and perennial salvias can be added to bedding, borders, and containers. Salvias are great additions to sunny borders, woodland gardens, and wildflower meadows. In flower beds, salvias look best in large clumps.

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Scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea
Scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea

Get to know Salvia–sage

  • Plant type: Annual, biennial, perennial depending on species (see list below)
  • Growing zones and range: All zones as an annual and biennial; Zone 5-9 as hardy perennials; tender perennials can be grown as annuals.
  • Hardiness: Varies depending on species (see varieties below)
  • Height and width: 12 to 36 inches (30-91cm) depending on the species
  • Foliage: Simple to pinnate, entire, toothed, notched, or scalloped leaves
  • Flowers: Tubular 2-lipped flowers in rings on long showy spires
  • Flower colors: Red, pink, purple, or white flushed with green, blue, or violet
  • Bloom time: Summer in most regions; year-round in frost-free regions
  • Uses: Beds, borders, cottage gardens
  • Common name: Sage
  • Botanical name: Salvia spp.
  • Family: Lamiaceae
  • Origin: Temperate and tropical regions worldwide

Where to plant Salvia–sage

  • Plant salvias in full sun in most regions; plant in partial shade in regions where summer temperatures are consistently 90°F (32°C).
  • Plant salvias in average to humus-rich garden soil.
  • Salvia prefers a soil pH of 6 to 7.5.

Salvia uses and companions

  • Plant Salvias in beds and borders and containers.
  • Salvias are effective in a sunny border, light woodland, or wildflower meadow.
  • Many Salvia species attract bees.
  • Good garden companions for Salvia include Achillea, Coreopsis, Gazania, Gerbera jamesonii, Heuchera, Potentilla, Rudbeckia.
Gentian sage, Salvia patens
Gentian sage, Salvia patens

When to plant Salvia–sage

  • Set salvias outdoors after all danger of frost has passed in spring.
  • Start seed indoors 8 weeks before the last frost in spring
  • Sow seed outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.
  • Set indoor-grown plants outdoors in their permanent places after the last frost when the weather has settled.
Autumn sage, Salvia greggii 'Lipstick'
Autumn sage, Salvia greggii ‘Lipstick’

Planting and spacing Salvia–sage

  • Start seed indoors in flat or six-packs; cover seeds with 1/8 inch of soil.
  • Water and keep seed warm 65° to 75°F (18°-24°C); seeds germinate in about 14 days, sometimes less. Grow in bright sunlight or a few inches below fluorescent light.
  • Sow seed outdoors in drills about 2 inches (5cm) deep; plant seeds 2 inches (5cm) and cover with 1/8 inches of soil.
  • Thin or transplant seedlings when they are about 4 inches (10cm) tall.
  • Space salvias in the garden 8 to 36 inches (20-91cm) apart depending on the variety.
Violet sage, Salvia x superba (nemorosa)

How to water and feed Salvia–sage

  • Water young plants frequently; established plants should be watered just enough to keep the soil slightly moist, not wet.
  • Fertilize salvias every 6 to 8 weeks with slow-release fertilizer, following the label directions.

Salvia–sage care

  • Mulch plants in dry areas with 2 to 3 inches (5-7.6cm) of aged compost or chopped leaves.
  • Pinch back seedlings for bushiness.
  • Stake tall plants as needed, especially if growing in a windy area.
  • Pests include cutworms and slugs; use collars to exclude these pests or dust ground with diatomaceous earth.
Clary sage, Salvia viridis

Salvia—sage propagation

  • Grow annual salvias from seed; grow perennials from seed or by division.
  • Seeds germinate in 12 to 15 days at 70°F (21°C); soak seeds of Salvia splendens to speed germination.
  • Sow seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost for early blooms.
  • All salvias can be grown from stem cuttings. Take stem cuttings during warm weather. Root under high humidity in a damp potting medium.

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Mexican sage, Salvia leucantha
Mexican sage, Salvia leucantha

Salvia–sage varieties to grow

  • Salvia argentea, silver sage. Biennial or short-lived perennial; small pinkish flowers; rosette of leaves covered with tiny silver hairs.
  • S. azurea, blue sage. 3-foot (.9m) perennial, long blue or white flowers; upright open plant to 5 feet tall. Hardy to -20°F (-29°C).
  • S. coccinea, scarlet sage, also called Texas sage. Half-hardy annual; spires of tubular red flowers grow to 3 feet (.9m) tall.
  • S. columbariae. Half-hardy annual; spires of blue flowers within purple bracts; grows 1 to 2 feet (30-61cm) tall.
  • S. elegans, pineapple sage, shrubby perennial to 6 feet (1.8m) tall, pineapple-scented leaves, and loose scarlet flowers.
  • S. farinacea, Mealycup sage. Tender perennial is often grown as an annual; spires of blue or silvers blooms; calyx holding each 1/2 inch blossom is covered with short whitish hairs, giving the plant a mealy appearance; ‘Victoria’ series are cultivars with dense, intensely violet-blue flowers; it flowers over a long period. Hardy to 10°F (-12°C).
  • S. farinacea cultivars. Cultivars of mealycup sage, silvery-white, shades of light blue, and dark blue.
  • S. forskahlii. Perennial; flowers are long blue spires with white throats; plants grow to 3 feet (.9m) tall.
  • S. greggii, autumn sage, 2-foot perennial (61cm), 3/4-inch long flowers in shades of red, purple, violet, pink, or yellow.
  • S. guaranitica, bears deep blue 2-inch (5cm) long flowers with purple-blue calyxes.
  • S. leucantha, Mexican sage, 3-foot (.9m) shrub with gray-green leaves and dense spikes of white or purple flowers tubular flowers.
  • S. officinalis, garden sage, aromatic leaves used in cooking, racemes of lavender-blue flowers.
  • S. patens, Gentian sage. Bright blue tubular long-blooming flowers in spikes; grows 12 to 42 inches (30-106cm) tall; arrow-shaped leaves 2 to 5 inches long covered with short, sticky hairs; evergreen in mild climates, grown as an annual in cold winter regions.
  • S. pratensis, meadow clary. Perennial, sprays of lavender-blue claw-shaped flowers; grows to 3 feet (.9m) tall. Hardy to -20°F (-29°C).
  • S. splendens, Scarlet sage. Annual; bright blue blooms; colors also include white, pink, violet, and deep purple. Cultivars include ‘Carabiniere’ with scarlet flowers, ‘Fireworks’ with red and white striped flowers. ‘Pirate’ with brilliant red flowers, ‘Purple Blaze’ with deep purple flowers, ‘Red Hot Sally’ has deep red blooms.
  • S. x superba (nemerosa), violet sage. Perennials with violet-blue or purple flowers; grow to 36 inches (91cm) tall; cultivars include ‘East Friesland’ which is purple and ‘Mainacht’ which is deep violet-blue. Hardy to -20°F (-29°C).
  • S. x sylvesris, hybrid sage, bears racemes of pinkish-purple flowers; cultivar ‘East Friesland’ bears violet-blue flowers; other cultivars are ‘May Night’ and ‘Mainacht’ and ‘Rose Queen’,
  • S. viridis, clary sage. Tender annual with bracts of white, violet, or rose blooms; grow to 18 inches (45cm) tall.

Salvia argentea – silver sage

Silver sage is grown for its foliage rather than its flowers. Silver sage produces a rosette of 6- to 8-inch-long scallop-edged, furry, silvery white leaves that look like velvet. Some gardeners remove the tall spikes of 1- to 2-inch-long, chalky white, yellow-centered flowers as they develop in late spring or early summer; this features the foliage. Silver sage is a biennial or short-lived perennial; removing the flowers prolongs its garden life.

  • Size: Flower stalks 2 to 3 feet tall; basal foliage rosette 8 inches high and 2 feet wide.
  • Light: Full sun.
  • Soil and moisture: Fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil; moderate moisture.
  • Planting and propagation: Plant container-grown plants in spring, spacing them 2 feet apart. Needs no division. Renew by allowing the plant to self-sow.
  • Special care: Cut off developing flower stalks if desired.
  • Pest and diseases: Slugs are sometimes troublesome; rot can occur in winter-wet sites.
  • Climate: Zones 5-9; heat tolerant.
  • Cultivars: Only species are offered.
  • Garden use: Plant near the front of the border to enjoy the leaves; good silvery foliage contrast.

Salvia officinalis – Garden sage

Garden sage is grown primarily for the culinary uses of its aromatic evergreen leaves. The plant is also highly ornamental. The velvety, silvery green, blunt leaves take on a pebbly appearance due to a network of prominent veins. Some cultivars have variegated foliage; all have a lemon-camphor aroma. Spikes of tiny, violet-blue, two-lipped, tubular flowers on tall, woolly white stalks bloom above the foliage in late spring and early summer.

  • Size: Foliage clumps 1 to 2 feet tall; flower stalks to 3 feet tall.
  • Light: Full sun.
  • Soil and moisture: Fertile to average, very well-drained soil; moderate moisture. Drought tolerant once established.
  • Planting and propagation: Plant container-grown plants in spring, spacing 2 feet apart. Take cuttings in summer.
  • Special care: Prune or cut back to near woody base in early springs to renew.
  • Pest and diseases: Slugs and spittlebugs are sometimes troublesome. May rot in winter-wet site.
  • Climate: Zones 4-9.
  • Cultivars: ‘Berggarten,’ very silvery round leaves; ‘Compacta,’ 1 ¼ feet tall; ‘Tricolor,’ gray-green leaves variegated on edges with creamy white and purple; ‘Aurea,’ gray-green leaves variegated on edges with golden green, 1 ½ feet tall; ‘Purpurea,’ steely purplish gray leaves, 1 ½ feet tall.
  • Garden use: Herb gardens, cottage and formal gardens for foliage accent among green-leaved plants.

Salvia pratenis (S. haematodes) – meadow sage, meadow clary

Meadow sage is a showy, cold-hardy sage. Attractive, 6-inch-long, oblong leaves, wrinkled and hairy with toothed edges. emerge from a large basal rosette. Branched spikes of fragrant, 1-inch, lavender-blue flowers shaped like a parrot’s beak bloom above the foliage clumps from late spring into midsummer with repeat bloom possible.

  • Size: 2 to 3 feet tall; 3 feet wide.
  • Light: Full sun to light shade.
  • Soil and moisture: Fertile to average, well-drained soil; moderate moisture.
  • Planting and propagation: Plant container-grown plants in spring, spacing 2 to 3 feet apart. Divide in spring if desired.
  • Special care: Individual plants are usually short-lived but self-sow to perpetuate themselves in the garden. Leaves get ragged if the soil dries out.
  • Pest and diseases: Usually pest free.
  • Climate: Zones 3-9; heat tolerant.
  • Cultivars and similar species: S. azurea var. Grandiflora/S. pitcher (azure sage), 4 to 6 feet tall, stake with a tall brush or allow to lean on nearby plants, Zones 5-9. Salvia greigii (autumn sage); crimson or white flowers all summer on bushy 2- to 3-foot-tall plants, Zones 7-9.  Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage): white-and-violet flowers in late summer on shrubby plants 3 to 4 feet tall, green leaves with white, woolly undersides, Zones 8-9.
  • Garden use: Attractive vertical effect in beds and borders; cool color combines well with most other flowers.

Salvia x superba (S. nemorosa) – hybrid blue salvia, hybrid sage

Hybrid blue sage is one of the showiest and longest blooming of the cold-hardy salvias.  Dense spikes of tubular, purple-violet flowers with showy wine-red bracts bloom above woody-based mounds of pungent foliage in early summer. After flowers fade, the bracts remain showy, but if the old spikes are removed another crop of fresh flowers develops. Oblong, 3-inch-long, gray-green leaves make a nice contrast to the stalks of rich-colored flowers.

  • Size: 1 ½ to 3 feet tall; spreads to 3-foot-wide clumps.
  • Light: Full sun to light shade.
  • Soil and moisture: Fertile to average, moist soil; moderate moisture best, but tolerates drought once established.
  • Planting and propagation: Plant container-grown plants in spring, spacing 2 to 3 feet apart. Divide in early spring every four or five years, being careful with a woody base.
  • Special care: Cut back hard after each flush of flowers to encourage repeat bloom. Tall types may need staking in hot areas.
  • Pest and diseases: Usually pest free.
  • Climate: Zones 4-7, Best with cool nights; performs poorly in heat and humidity.
  • Cultivars: ‘Blue Hill,’ true blue flowers, 1 ½ feet tall; ‘Blue Queen’ (‘Blakonigin’), violet-blue, 1 ½ feet tall; ‘East Friesdland’ (‘Oestfriesland’), deep purple,1 ½ feet tall; ‘May Night’ (‘Mainacht’), deep indigo-blue, early blooming, 1 ½ feet tall; ‘Rose Queen,’ rose-pink, 2 feet tall; ‘Miss Indigo,’ violet, 2 ½ feet tall.
  • Garden use: Outstanding vertical effect and purple color in informal and formal gardens.

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