How to plant salvias?

Contents

How to DeadHead Salvia

…and the answers to many other questions about this popular plant

Salvias are like that old childhood friend you still love to hang out with; easy-going, dependable, and undeterred by life’s ups and downs. Salvias are perhaps the easiest perennial, next to daylilies, that just about anyone can grow with success. There are so many amazing choices of Salvia that it’s hard to get bored by them.

Salvias are beautiful! Simple as that.

Many gardeners are already familiar with Salvia and for good reason. There are over NINE HUNDRED species in the genus Salvia and it’s a mainstay in gardens all over the world. If you’re one of those gardeners who’s already growing Salvia but have some concerns about how to properly care for it, this short, informative video on How to DeadHead Salvia may be of interest to you.

Before and after deadheading Salvia images

Salvia Before Deadheading

Salvia After Deadheading

Just who is this Salvia anyway?

Salvia is part of the mint family (Lamiceae), and with over 900 species worldwide, it can be found on virtually every major continent except Antarctica. In some areas of the world they grow into shrubs that stay green all year long. In others, there are herbaceous types that die back in the colder seasons and woody types, which stay up after losing their leaves in the winter.

Overall, Salvia prefers to grow in hot, dry conditions with well-drained soil. Salvia will not be for you if your garden is too moist, boggy, or shady.

So why write about Salvia?

Well, for starters, because they’re beautiful, easy, and dependable flower-garden friends. Undeterred by drought, deer, rabbits, woodchucks, beetles, or slugs, Salvia just keeps motoring along, all season long. They need very little attention and pay you back with interest when you pay them the right kind of attention. How many things in life are that dependable?

Planting Salvia is also a great way to help the environment. They attract all the critical pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, to name just a few. So in addition to helping the rest of our gardens flourish, they attract the birds and insects that help grow our local fruits and vegetables.

Did I mention they’re beautiful?

What is Salvia used for?

Lots! Salvia was first cultivated in the Mediterranean where it was a key ingredient in a wide range of culinary and medicinal uses that go back centuries.

Culinary sage is used in more recipes than we have time or space to list here. Cooks everywhere love it for its sweet and savory flavor that goes well with poultry and pork, pairing perfectly with many other classic herbs such as rosemary and thyme. It’s even been used to cure digestive issues, soothe ulcers, and even to treat snakebites.

Salvia divinorum was originally grown in Mexico and used by the Mazatec people as a “vision-inducer” for their spiritual rituals. The elders deeply respected the plant, praying before the harvest, and only using it for meditation and deep spiritual exploration.

What about Salvia for an ornamental garden?

Available in a wide variety of colors, heights, and spreads, Salvia works well with several other perennials that prefer dry, sunny conditions, such as daylilies (Hemerocallis), geraniums, and roses. My hands-down favorite is Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’, because it’s so robust and dependable, with deep purple flowers that last an astonishingly long time.

Some of my other favorite Salvias include:

  • Salvia nemerosa ‘Snow Hill’ has a compact growth habit with long-lasting, pure white flower drifts, and slender leaves.
  • Salvia nemerosa ‘Eveline’ features a more open growth pattern with large ovate leaves and tall pink flower spikes in May and June. This one doesn’t rebloom as readily but sometimes will push out a few new pink stalks if you deadhead it right after the first bloom.
  • Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’ has flowers that are deeper purple and tightly arranged for a stiffer, upright look in the garden.
  • Salvia verticilata ‘Purple Rain’ has a bigger serrated leaf that hugs the ground with dark purple flower spikes that area arranged like little pompoms on the stalk. Stunning, but a little more floppy than the nemerosa types.

Just in case you get bored (if that’s possible) with the perennial Salvia that grow in the northern climates, take a look into all the annual Salvias that grow as perennials closer to the equator. They are to-die-for gorgeous, even if you can only grow them in the summertime.

These four are my favorites:

  • Pineapple Sage
  • Blue Angel Sage
  • Black & Blue Salvia
  • Lady in Red Salvia

Start them early, feed them with a soluble fertilizer, and watch as they explode with color in the summer heat.

The secret to bigger, better blooms

Many perennial Salvias will bloom twice if you do nothing, but if you dead-head them (remove the old, spent flowers) you can get three or even four blooms in a season. The first flush of bloom is the most robust, but the flowering will linger on all season if you give it a proper pruning after the first bloom.

By proper pruning, I mean dead-heading with care. Often you see gardeners go after the plant with shears or scissors. That is NOT the proper way to do it at all. If you haven’t already checked out the deadheading video above, now might be a good time.

You want to pay attention to the branching architecture and trace the old flower stalks down to where you see two new leaf sets and buds forming on either side of that main stem. The plant is efficiently organized and predictable, so it’s an easy task to perform and well worth the time to learn. It’ll feel slow at first, but you’ll get the hang of it and in no time you’ll be able to deadhead Salvia quickly, without even thinking about it. Personally, I love the task – it almost becomes a form of meditation.

Regardless of whether you’re a flower newbie or an accomplished gardener, Salvias are a traditional New England favorite because of their beauty, dependability, and ease-of-care. Plant some in your garden if you haven’t already. The bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will be glad you did — and so will you!

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Salvias are like that old childhood friend you still love to hang out with; easy-going and dependable

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Growing Salvia – Tips On Growing And Caring For Different Types Of Salvia

Growing salvia is something every gardener should try. Learning how to grow salvia and how to take care of salvia plants provides the gardener with a wide range of sights and smells, as there are many different types of salvia. Find out about the different salvia plant types and choose the one that appeals to your senses for the bare spot in the garden.

Salvia Plant Types for the Garden

Blooms of most salvia plants are long lasting and attract butterflies and pollinators, which are always good for the garden. Salvia plant types may be annual or perennial, most are rapid growers and tolerate summer heat with more graceful, spiky blooms.

Many colors are available from different types of salvia and these include blues, purples, pinks, reds as well as some whites and yellows. Some salvias even take on a shrub-like appearance, such as rose sage (Salvia pachyphylla).

The foliage

of growing salvia remains attractive for the season and is often the source of the fragrance. Depending on the salvia plant types you choose, you may experience the fragrance of pineapple (Salvia elegans), fruit (Salvia dorisiana) or the common spice sage (Salvia officinalis). In addition, the recently popular Chia plant seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant.

How to Grow Salvia

Salvia is also referred to as sage in many different types of salvia. Learning how to grow salvia varies among the different types of salvia too. They can be planted from seeds, seedlings or cuttings when the soil has warmed outside, following the last frost date.

You can plant salvia in average soil in a sunny to partly shady location for most varieties. Some growing salvia plants, however, such as Japanese yellow sage (Salvia koyamae), like shade and rich moist soil. When planting different types of salvia with which you are not familiar, research each plant to find their preferred growing conditions.

Care of Salvia Plants

A member of the mint family, the care of salvia plants is moderate with most growing salvia varieties.

Requirements with watering, as with growing, varies among the different salvias, but most prefer to dry out between waterings to ½ an inch deep.

Fertilization with a time-release plant food encourages growth and more flowering spikes.

Salvias flower on spiky racemes or panicles rising above the plant. When blooms are spent, remove these spikes to encourage additional flowering. If the salvia plant begins to look tired or overgrown by midsummer, you can also remove one third of the plant. Salvia plants will regrow and reward you with blooms that last until autumn.

Salvia

Salvia, (genus Salvia), genus of about 960 species of herbaceous and woody plants of the mint family (Lamiaceae). The genus is distributed throughout Eurasia and the Americas and is especially diverse in Central America and in the Mediterranean region. Some members are important as sources of flavouring, and many are grown as garden ornamentals. Chia (Salvia hispanica) is cultivated commercially for its edible seeds.

Clary (Salvia sclarea)A to Z Botanical Collection/Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Plants in the genus Salvia are herbs, shrubs, or subshrubs and are generally perennial and aromatic. The leaves can be simple or compound and are arranged oppositely along the square stems. The flowers are usually tubular with two lips and only two stamens and are borne in terminal inflorescences. They produce nutlet fruits. Some species are attractive to hummingbirds, though most are pollinated by insects.

sageOverview of sage.Contunico © ZDF Enterprises GmbH, MainzSee all videos for this article

Common sage (S. officinalis), a woody perennial growing 60 cm (2 feet) tall, bears aromatic leaves that are the source of the culinary herb. Another species with foliage used for flavouring is clary sage (S. sclarea), a taller, biennial herb with strong-smelling, hairy, heart-shaped leaves. Its white flowers and leaflike bracts below them are pinkish or violet-flushed. Both species are native to southern Europe.

common sageCommon sage (Salvia officinalis), used as a culinary herb. DeA Picture Library

Montane tropical America has many Salvia species, perhaps the most spectacular of which is Wagner’s salvia (S. wagneri), or chupamiel, a treelike shrub, native near the mountain lakes of Guatemala. It attains more than 4 metres (13 feet) in height and has triangular 30-cm (12-inch) spikes of woolly scarlet corollas opening from magenta calyxes. Blue sage (S. farinacea) opens bright blue flowers after rains in the hills of southwestern North America. Possibly the best-known species is the garden annual scarlet sage (S. splendens) from Brazil, the blazing spikes of which contrast with dark green oval leaves.

mealy sageMealy sage (Salvia farinacea), a common garden ornamental.© Yatsugatake no Kaze/Fotolia Get exclusive access to content from our 1768 First Edition with your subscription. Subscribe today

S. divinorum, known colloquially as salvia, is a hallucinogenic plant native to Mexico. Salvia has historically been used by shamans to achieve altered states of consciousness and has grown in popularity as a recreational drug; the leaves can be eaten or smoked. The active ingredient, salvinorin A, induces intense but short-lived effects, including changes in mood and body sensations, visions, feelings of detachment, and altered perceptions of self.

salviaSalvia (Salvia divinorum), a hallucinogen. © Doug Stacey/Fotolia

Salvia, Salvia: “Savior Among Plants”

Ornamental sage, better known as salvia, comes in more than 900 varieties of every size and shape, whether as tender annuals or hardy, herbaceous perennials. What they all have in common is jewel-like color and a predilection for good drainage and heat: in other words they are a gift for gardens in drought.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer, except where noted.

Above: With their intense coloring of petal, calyx, and stem, salvias can lift a garden into something special. They are also good mixers, providing long-flowering verticals that flatter complementary shades of purple, blue and red, while shimmering against textural green.Above: Salvia ‘Amistad’ is a fairly recent large variety that is highly regarded. Reaching 4 feet high and flowering from May until October, dark stems and calyces of ‘Amistad’ contrast with luminous purple flowers and sizable green leaves. Removing spent flower spikes extends the season.Above: The names “salvia” and “sage” both come from the Latin “to save,” which refers to the health-giving properties of the culinary and medicinal herb. However it is clearly a garden savior in a decorative sense: for keeping late summer borders alive, and as an important source of nectar for pollinators.

Cheat Sheet

  • Salvias are a huge family, ranging from tender plants with intensely colored flowers to tough, evergreen herbs.
  • They can do elegant or cottage, large or small, in full sun or dappled shade.
  • Common sage (Salvia officinalis) and clary sage (Salvia sclarea) are best known as aromatic plants, with hairy leaves that release oil when rubbed.

Above: Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’ at Cottesbrooke Hall, Northamptonshire. This ornamental shrub is aromatic, growing to 3 feet. It mixes here with Allium sphaerocephalon, which will gradually turn to dark red in bud, before opening.

Keep It Alive

  • Salvias thrive in arid conditions, appreciating free-draining soil.
  • With regular deadheading, they can flower from late spring until the first frosts.
  • For exposed, coastal areas, Salvia patens is particularly suitable. ‘Blue Angel’ is electric blue, and has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Above: Salvia with sweet rocket, in a cottage-y pairing.

Salvia is in the Mentheae family; broadly, it is a type of mint. This makes sense when you look at the structure and aromatic properties of common sage, grown for culinary and medicinal purposes, and clary sage, which is used as an essential oil. Common sage is an all-round life saver and can be drunk as a bitter tea: worth it for a cheap body cleanser or aphrodisiac.

N.B.: Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is not a true sage though it is a close relation and also a good “doer” in the garden.

Above: Sage goes well with sage, either as a monoculture or with varied spikes of intense blue or crimson. Photograph by Lana Von Haught. For no-fuss color in a Los Angeles courtyard, see: New Glamor for Old Hollywood: A Visit to Howard Hughes’ Garden.Above: Culinary or medicinal Salvia officinalis. Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Sage can become large and unwieldy in an herb garden and can be better placed among flowers, with its wonderfully textured foliage. Purple and variegated varieties are especially useful.

Beth Chatto grows purple sage with spiky eringium, for contrasting color and texture. See: Required Reading: Beth Chatto’s 5 Favorite Flowers for a Gravel Garden.

Above: Salvias grow as very hardy perennials at altitude, or may need overwintering in a greenhouse in the northern hemisphere. The most exciting varieties to appear in recent years have been New World salvias, such as those bearing the name ‘Dyson’ in the UK.

N.B.: Looking to add to your garden this spring? Our Perennials 101: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design can help:

  • If you’re interested in edibles with medicinal benefits, consider Thyme 101, Rosemary 101, and Nettles 101.
  • Our Hardscape 101 guides will help you make your dreams a reality. Explore Edible 101 for tips on layout, planting, and design for your favorite edibles.

Salvia, Sage

Salvia

There are few gardens that don’t have at least one salvia growing in them. Whether you have sun or shade, a dry garden or lots of rainfall, there’s an annual salvia that you’ll find indispensable. All attract hummingbirds, especially the red ones, and are great picks for hot, dry sites where you want tons of color all season. Most salvias don’t like cool weather, so plant them outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.

genus name
  • Salvia
light
  • Sun,
  • Part Sun
plant type
  • Annual,
  • Herb
height
  • 1 to 3 feet
width
  • 1 foot wide
flower color
  • White,
  • Pink,
  • Blue,
  • Red
season features
  • Summer Bloom,
  • Fall Bloom
problem solvers
  • Drought Tolerant
special features
  • Good for Containers,
  • Fragrance,
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Low Maintenance
propagation
  • Seed

More varieties for Salvia

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Black and Blue sage

Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ is a blue-flowering favorite of hummingbirds. Perennial in Zone 7 and warmer; it’s grown as an annual in cooler zones.

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Blue salvia

Salvia farinacea offers stately pale blue blooms on a 3-foot-tall plant of gray-green foliage. It’s a perennial in Zones 7-10, but is usually grown as an annual.

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Coral Nymph sage

Salvia coccinea ‘Coral Nymph’ offers bicolor, salmon-and-white tubular flowers on 2-foot stems. Perennial in Zones 8 and warmer; grown as an annual in cooler climates.

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Golden Delicious pineapple sage

Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ shows off bright golden-yellow foliage that smells of pineapples when rubbed. In autumn it bears spikes of bold red flowers. It can be grown as a perennial in Zones 8-11

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Lady in Red sage

Salvia coccinea ‘Lady in Red’ is an award-winning, long-blooming, heat- and drought-resistant selection with bright red flowers. It grows 2 feet tall. While it’s usually grown as an annual, it is perennial in Zones 7-10.

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Phoenix Bright Lilac salvia

Salvia splendens ‘Phoenix Bright Lilac’ offers lilac-purple flowers all summer on compact, 16-inch-tall plants.

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Pineapple sage

Salvia elegans is a tender shrub that has pineapple-scented foliage and bright red flowers in late summer and autumn. The leaves are great for teas or garnishes. It grows 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Zones 8-11, though in most areas it’s treated as an annual.

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Scarlet Sage

Salvia coccinea is a durable non-stop bloomer popular in park plantings. It’s usually grown as an annual, but is perennial in Zones 7-10.

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Wendy’s Wish salvia

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ is a majestic plant with spikes of magenta-pink flowers from spring to fall. It grows 3 feet tall and wide. Usually grown as an annual, it is a perennial in Zones 9-11.

Plant Salvia with

You’ve gotta love annual vinca — it really delivers. It will tolerate a wide variety of conditions and still keep it up with almost unreal-looking, glossy green flowers and pretty pink, lavender, or red flowers that look like tiny parasols.Whether the summer is dry or wet, hot or cold, vinca plugs along unfazed. It makes a great container plant. Or plant it in a bed or border, grouping at least eight or more together for best effect.Plant established seedlings in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Vinca withstands drought but does best with moderate moisture. Fertilize occasionally. Like impatiens, this plant tends to be “self-cleaning” and needs little deadheading.Shown above: Pretty in Pink vinca

Among the most popular container-garden plants, sweet potato vine is a vigorous grower that you can count on to make a big impact. Its colorful foliage, in shades of chartreuse or purple, accents just about any other plant. Grow a few together in a large pot, and they make a big impact all on their own.Sweet potato vines do best during the warm days of summer and prefer moist, well-drained soil. They thrive in sun or shade.

Ageratum is such a little workhorse that nearly every garden should have some. This annual is an easy-to-grow, old-fashioned favorite that produces a steady show of colorful powder-pufflike flowers from late spring through frost. It’s also rarely bothered by pests, so you count on it to look good. Plus, it provides some of the truest blues you can find in flowers — a rare thing.Plant in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Plant in groups of a dozen or more for best show. Deadhead and fertilize regularly for best blooms.

Salvia Varieties for Your Garden

A patch of ‘Color Spires Violet Riot’ Salvia nemorosa lives up to its name in this perennial planting. Photo by Mark Fonville

I often get asked by gardeners which plants are among my favorites. As a garden designer and lifelong plant connoisseur, that can sometimes feel like a trick question. But if someone is looking for a plant that is hardy, long-blooming, and culinary to boot, then it’s tough to beat the versatile and beautiful salvia.

Salvias, often referred to as “sages,” can play many roles in the garden, from floriferous annuals and showy perennials to delicious herbs. And so versatile, they often can be used interchangeably—culinary salvias are showy enough to be used in the flower garden, and perennial salvias bloom prolifically enough to be used in containers and window boxes.

Almost all salvias need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day to bloom successfully and require well-drained soil. As an added bonus, bees and hummingbirds find them irresistible, but deer and rabbits find the scented foliage unpleasant, so they pass them up.

Have I sold you on them yet? The following are some of my favorite salvia varieties, along with a few ideas about how you might be able to incorporate them into your flower garden—or your next salad, chicken dish, or cocktail.

Annual Salvia Varieties

A bold, red line of scarlet sage or Salvia splendens ‘Ablazin’ Tabasco’ stands at the back of this annual bed. Photo by Mark Fonville

  • Salvia splendens , often called scarlet sage, is probably the salvia that most people are familiar with. They’ve been around forever and are often available at big box stores and hardware stores in six packs. Hardy in zones 8 to 10, this annual salvia is available in a variety of colors in addition to the old standby red, such as pink, lavender, orange, and white. And like most salvias, it’s a profuse bloomer. Traditionally paired with other annuals such as marigolds and zinnias, step out and combine them with grasses and daylilies.
  • Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ — an outstanding cobalt blue — is a stunning addition to any flower garden. It’s hardy in zones 8 to 10 and can reach anywhere from 2 to 5 feet tall, depending on the length of your growing season. Its flower spikes can be almost 12 inches long, making it easily accessible to and adored by hummingbirds. Excellent paired with reblooming daylilies, as well as fragrant oriental lilies.
  • Salvia leucantha, or Mexican bush sage, is a late summer bloomer with velvety gray foliage and soft lavender blooms. Hardy in zones 8 to 10, it can reach 2 to 3 feet tall and take on a shrubby appearance with enough time to mature. Paired with Chinese coral cannas or ornamental grasses for a flare in the fall.
  • Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ is a must for plant collectors or gardeners with a sense of humor. ‘Hot Lips’ claim to fame is its unusual bi-color flowers that have the appearance of a white salvia that has been kissed by someone wearing scarlet lipstick. It garners attention in the garden from bugs, hummingbirds, and humans alike. It can reach up to 3 feet tall and is hardy in zones 8 to 10. Beautiful paired with the bold blooming peony flowering daylilies.
  • Salvia greggii ‘Wild Thing,’ or autumn sage, is a hot pink stunner that is hardy in zones 6 to 9. In addition to having a great name, ‘Wild Thing’ can reach up to 2 feet tall and has a shrubby, slightly woody appearance with blooms that delight hummingbirds.

Perennial Salvia Varieties

A hummingbird sips from a blue flowering Salvia ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ in P. Allen Smith’s garden. Photo by Mark Fonville

  • Salvia x sylvestris ‘May Night’ is an award-winning perennial hardy in zones 4 to 9, reaching about 18 inches tall. It provides a stunning blue show in spring, then will repeat flower throughout the summer with not-so-careful deadheading. Another feather in its cap is that ‘May Night’ can tolerate clay soils, a bonus in gardens like mine. Only the earliest to bloom and beautiful paired with ornamental onions (alliums) and coral colored peonies.
  • Salvia nemerosa ‘Sensation Rose’ creates a pink flower display with blooms reaching only 12 inches tall. Hardy in zones 4 to 8, ‘Sensation Rose’ is another repeat-bloomer that will debut fresh flowers every several weeks. The pink flower spires make it a welcome addition to the salvia collection.
  • Salvia nemerosa ‘Marcus’ is a desirable blue salvia because of its diminutive size at 8 to 10 inches tall. This makes it popular at the front of the flower bed where its deep violet flowers can be appreciated throughout the season. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.
  • Salvia nemerosa ‘Blue Marvel’ features the largest flower blossoms of all of the nemerosas making it a desirable addition for the gardener who doesn’t have the time or patience for subtlety. Like ‘Marcus,’ ‘Blue Marvel’ also only reaches about 10 inches tall and is a vigorous bloomer even without deadheading. It is hardy in zones 4 to 9. Charming when combined with shorter reblooming daylilies such as “happy returns’ or little ‘Stella d’ Oro.’

Culinary Salvia Varieties

Brilliant, scarlet blossoms of Salvia elegans or pineapple sage. Photo by pilialoha/

  • Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina,’ or golden leaf sage, is as beautiful as it is delicious. It grows to 1 to 2 feet tall and wide with leaves that are about 2 inches long and variegated with pale green and golden yellow. Hardy in zones 6 to 10, ‘Icterina’ is drought-tolerant once established and can be used in cooking either dried or fresh. Sage is often used in chicken and fish dishes and can be added to make a savory herbal butter.
  • Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ is another popular culinary salvia that is also prized for its ornamental qualities. ‘Purpurascens’ foliage is a dusky purple and silvery green, as striking planted in the ground as it is in containers. Hardy in zones 6 to 9, purple sage grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Beautiful paired with purple basil and lavender.
  • Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’ outshines all the culinary sages for its showy leaves, which are purple and green outlined in a striking white margin. Hardy in zones 6 to 9, ‘Tricolor’ can reach 12 to 18 inches tall. It can be used in any dish that calls for sage flavoring.
  • Salvia elegans pineapple sage is a summertime favorite because of its brilliant scarlet flowers and fruity, pineapple-scented leaves. It’s a late summer bloomer, but I often find it in nurseries at the beginning of summer already in flower thanks to growers’ who start it early in the greenhouse. Hardy in zones 8 to 10, pineapple sage can reach up to 4 feet tall and is often blooming when hummingbirds start migrating south at the end of summer. Its culinary uses are endless—toss leaves and flowers into salads or add to fruit cocktails. Leaves can also be used in recipes in place of mint, adding a unique twist to iced tea, cocktails, and ice cream. Or simply rub a bruised leaf around the lip of a glass of ice water for flavor. Use it with abandon.

Planting beds with Proven Winners ‘Playin’ the Blues’ Salvia planted in the corners. Photo by Steven Veach

The moral of this story is that salvias are one of the garden’s most flexible, hardworking, and easy plants. Whether used as an annual or perennial in the flower garden, as an herb in the kitchen garden, or as a filler or centerpiece plant in your summer containers, salvias are worthy of a spot of honor. And for this plant lover, they check all the boxes — beautiful, floriferous, and in the herb garden, delicious.

By P. Allen Smith

About Allen

P. Allen Smith is one of America’s most recognized garden and design experts. His Moss Mountain Farm serves as a place of inspiration, education, and conservation. Book tours at pallensmith.com/tours.

More from P. Allen Smith

  • P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm
  • Sunflower Power
  • Adventures in Roses
  • Plant the Right Rose
  • A Springtime Brunch at Moss Mountain

Salvias: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties

Salvias are a large group of garden plants that includes annuals, biennials, perennials, and shrubs. The perennial salvias are mainstays of the midsummer garden border. Another common name is sage.

About salvias
A relative of the familiar kitchen sage, flowering salvias produce spikes of small, densely packed flowers atop aromatic foliage. These heat- and drought-tolerant beauties bloom from early to late summer in shades of blue, violet, red, pink, and white. Plants grow 18 inches to 5 feet tall, depending on the variety. Use care when choosing salvias, because not all plants are hardy in all regions.

Special features of salvias
Easy care/low maintenance
Good for cut flowers
Attracts hummingbirds
Tolerates dry soil

Choosing a site to grow salvias
Select a site with full sun and very well-drained soil.

Planting Instructions
Plant in spring, spacing plants 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.

Ongoing Care
Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Some types can be sheared back after flowering to induce a second flush of flowers in fall. After the first killing frost, cut stems back to an inch or two above soil line. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years as new growth begins in the spring, lifting plants and dividing them into clumps.

20 spectacular salvias to grow

Salvias really earn their keep in the garden. The great range of colours and forms makes them indispensable border plants, while the nectar-rich flowers are magnets for bumblebees and butterflies.

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Caring for salvias is easy, if you plant them in the right location. Shrubby and hardy herbaceous salvias can be overwintered if they’re given good drainage and as much sun as possible.

In colder spots, tuberous half-hardy salvias, like Salvia patens, will need to be mulched or lifted, like dahlias.

Finally, most woody-based and tender salvias will need to be moved to a warmer area in the colder months, or can alternatively be grown in a conservatory.

More on growing salvias:

  • How to grow salvias
  • What to grow with salvias
  • Caring for salvias – Golden Rules (video)

Discover 20 spectacular salvias to grow in the garden.

Shrubby and hardy herbaceous salvias can be overwintered if they’re given good drainage and as much sun as possible.

Salvia x jamensis ‘Sierra San Antonio’

Growing to a height of 75cm, this shrubby perennial salvia will produce a profusion of creamy yellow and peach coloured flowers. Plant ‘Sierra San Antonio’ in full sun, and provide good drainage to ensure its hardiness. Very drought-tolerant.

Height x spread: 75cm x 30cm.

Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’

A sensational hybrid, ‘Love and Wishes’ has a generous flowering period, usually from June to November. Rich red-purple flowers, deep burgundy stems and a tidy growth habit make this a great choice for containers. Will grow in partial shade or full sun.

H x S: 80cm x 50cm.

Salvia ‘Flower Child’

Salvia ‘Flower Child’ has a more compact growth form compared with other salvias. Bright pink flowers provide a striking contrast to the darker, blue-green foliage.

H x S: 60cm x 30cm.

Salvia ‘Javier’

If you want to add drama to your garden, look no further than ‘Javier’. Masses of velvety black buds open to reveal bright mauve-purple flowers, all contrasting with lime green foliage. Grows to around 65cm in height and is drought-tolerant.

H x S: 65cm x 30cm.

Salvia leucantha ‘Purple Velvet’

‘Purple Velvet’ is a woody salvia producing deep purple flowers held on towering stems, which can reach 1m in height. The calyces have a distinctive downy appearance. Not fully hardy, so ensure adequate protection is given in winter.

H x S: 1m x 30cm.

Salvia ‘Dyson’s Joy’

Salvia ‘Dyson’s Joy’ is an exciting bi-coloured hybrid, perfect for dry spots in the garden. Flowers profusely from May to November and is hardy in most areas if provided with full sun and good drainage. Can grow to 60cm in height.

H x S: 60cm x 30cm.

Salvia ‘Serenade’

An ideal choice if you need a hardy salvia. Deep purple stems bear luminescent violet blooms, extremely popular with bees. ‘Serenade’ can grow reasonably tall, to around 70cm, and can be grown in partial shade or full sun.

H x S: 70cm x 30cm.

Salvia patens ‘Cambridge Blue’

Few flowers match the cornflower-blue blooms of ‘Cambridge Blue’, which contrast beautifully with the deep green foliage. In colder areas, mulch or lift the tubers, as with dahlias. Watch out for slugs, which enjoy the young shoots.

H x S: 75cm x 50cm.

Salvia cacaliifolia

Salvia cacaliifolia is a native of Southern Mexico and Central America that produces eye-catching indigo flowers held on tall stems, which can reach 90cm in height, and has bright green foliage. Half-hardy, so provide winter protection.

H x S: 60cm x 30cm.

Salvia ‘Krystle Pink’

Another hardy salvia, ‘Krystle Pink’ has charming sugar-pink flowers, which appear from May to November. This shrubby variety will reach an ultimate height of 70cm.

H x S: 70cm x 30cm.

Salvia ‘Silas Dyson’

The striking blooms of ‘Silas Dyson’ put on a show from May to November. Port-coloured buds open to reveal crimson flowers. Drought-tolerant, plus hardy if given full sun and good drainage.

H x S: 60cm x 30cm.

Salvia ‘Jezebel’

A tall, shrubby perennial, ‘Jezebel’ produces masses of showy, bright red flowers, from May to November. Perfect for a dry spot and hardy if given full sun and good drainage.

H x S: 90cm x 30cm.

Salvia ‘Amistad’

A woody-based salvia, ‘Amistad’ has particularly large flowers and can grow to 1.2m in height. Deep purple flowers and even deeper purple calyces appear from May to November, and stand out against lush green foliage.

H x S: 1.2m x 50cm.

Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’

This ravishing clump-forming salvia is awash with violet-blue flowers from May to July. Cut ‘Caradonna’ back after flowering to encourage a second flush of flowers, and plant in a site with full sun and good drainage, to ensure hardiness.

H x S: 50cm x 30cm.

Salvia x sylvestris ‘Rose Queen’

Short on space? ‘Rose Queen’ is a more neat and compact variety compared to other salvias, and will grow to around 60cm in height.

H x S: 60cm x 30cm.

Salvia x sylvestris ‘Viola Klose’

‘Viola Klose’ is a stunning, fully hardy salvia with radiant violet flower spires, atop fresh green foliage. Grow it in full sun or partial shade and expect it to grow to around 50cm in height.

H x S: 50cm x 50cm.

Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’

Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’ in flower

‘Purple Majesty’ is similar to ‘Amistad’ but with more vivid flowers and a narrower habit. It’s hardy in milder areas and flowers from August to October.

H x S: 1.2m x 40cm.

Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’

Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’ in flower

‘Mainacht’ bears spikes of closely packed, deep blue flowers that are held in pinkish bracts. Fully hardy and brings great presence to borders. It flowers from June to July.

H x S: 75cm x 45cm.

Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’

Salvia nemerosa ‘Ostfriesland’ in flower

The purple stems of Salvia ‘Ostfriesland’ carry dense spikes of violet flowers for many weeks, from July to September. Fully hardy.

H x S: 45cm x 60cm.

Salvia ‘Mulberry Jam’

Salvia ‘Mulberry Jam’ in flower

Salvia ‘Mulberry Jam’ is a lovely variety with a compact and free-flowering habit. It bears rich, hot-pink flowers from August to November. Half-hardy, so needs winter protection.

H x S: 1.2m x 1m.

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Many thanks to Dyson’s Nurseries, who provided information on the plants in this feature.

Salvia cuttings

Salvias are easy to propagate by taking cuttings from their sideshoots, in spring and summer. When potting up the cuttings, use a free-draining compost and grow them on in a bright area out of direct sunlight. Keep the cuttings moist by regularly misting them.

Salvias to grow in the garden

Salvia is a huge and varied genus of perennials and small shrubs with origins around the world. Collectively known as meadow sage, these species have characteristically blue-purple flowers in dense spikes and thrive in dry situations – very dry. All have a distinct herby smell, reminiscent of the common culinary and medicinal sage, Salvia. officinalis. For gardeners, salvias have a very useful characteristic: not only do they perform spectacularly well in a short growing season, they do so again later on in the year. In continental climates, they flower in early summer after a period of rapid growth in spring, but by late summer salvia tend to become dormant. Here in the UK, where summer frequently gives enough moisture for growth to continue you can cut them back and wait for a second flowering in late summer. With a compact habit and reasonably tidy good looks after flowering, they make ideal border plants and on dry soils will co-exist successfully with rough grass.

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How to grow salvias

Full sun is essential for growing salvias, although some species show tolerance of shade, especially at lower latitudes. In the right conditions most salvia species and cultivars will live to more than ten years, although this is not always the case. It’s possible that less-than-perfect drainage and high fertility may shorten their life span. Salvias are tolerant of drought, and although they die back early in very dry summers, they may re-grow with cooler, wetter, autumn weather. They flourish on poor stoney soils, with a tolerance of alkalinity, making them useful for soils containing building rubble. However, they’ll also do well in average-to-fertile and most, but well-drained soils.

If cut back moderately after their first flowering, most cultivars will repeat flower in late summer. All may be easily propagated from cuttings, pulled carefully off the crown, as growth begins in spring. Seed also germinates easily, but the plants may not breed true. Salvias are generally pest and disease free, but in climates with hot and humid summers, they may suffer from fungal diseases. They are prone to slug and snail damage.

Recommended Salvias to grow in the garden

Salvia microphylla ‘Cerro Potosi’

© Jason Ingram

This tough salvia can hold its own in the garden, even in quite heavy soil. Come spring it looks a little sad, but with a light prune to tidy it up and encourage new growth, it quietly recovers and goes on to produce a wonderful show through the summer well into autumn. The vivid, magenta flowers are small but numerous and carried on stiff twigs well above the scented foliage.

Height 1.3m. Origin Mexico. Conditions Any rich soil that is not saturated; full sun. Hardiness RHS H4. Season Summer – autumn.

Salvia pratensis ‘Indigo’

© Jason Ingram

The meadow clary is one of two salvia species native to the British Isles, with blue flowers. In recent years, seed companies have offered a range of colour forms from white and pink to blue and purple. Salvia pratensis ‘Indigo’ was raised by Thomas Carlile at Loddon Nurseries in Twyford, Berkshire. It has a rosette of foliage and rather lax flower stems with a form resembling an upside-down pyramid so its top is wider than its base. The violet-blue, flower spikes are large for this species and very attractive to bees. This cultivar is raised by cuttings.

Height 90cm. Origin Europe. Growing conditions Well-drained soil; sun. Hardiness RHS H7, USDA 7a-11. Season of interest Summer.

© Jason Ingram

Salvia leucantha is a vigorous, tender salvia, rather late-blooming. It makes a mound of long, felted, grey leaves, usually nearly a metre high and wide by September when the flowers begin to emerge. In October it is a fountain of purple. The flowers are actually white, but the calyxes and the whole flowering stem are covered in furry purple velvet, making the long arching flower stem look like scrunched up purple and white chenille, totally surreal. ‘Purple Velvet’ is all purple, less shocking but easier to use in the garden.

Height 1m. Growing conditions Full sun, frost free. Hardiness USDA 8a-10b. Origin Mexico and Central America. Season of interest September – October.

Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’

To achieve a full display of these late-flowering salvia (flowers in November) requires a fine summer and a mild, frost-free autumn. Inky purple flowers present in classic hooded structure, contrasted by generous felted foliage. However, perched aloft stems of nearly 3m tall they are sadly beyond easy appreciation. By planting out on rich, moist ground alongside a pool, and training up bamboo supports to reach a cantilevered balcony, we have found a way of admiring the magnificent blooms face to face.

Height Depending on treatment and conditions, but potentially up to 280cm. Origin South America. Soil Deep, well-nourished soil. Season August – November

Salvia greggii ‘Stormy Pink’

© Jason Ingram

Around 20 years ago nurserywoman Derry Watkins, owner of Special Plants, found an accidental seedling in her nursery. She grew it on, took cuttings and then, assuming it was tender, left it in the garden to die. Surprisingly, it is still there, not fazed in the slightest by hard winters. Derry cuts it hard, back to thick stems like bonsaied tree trunks every spring and it grows to around four feet every summer, blooming from June right through until October. Derry named it ‘Stormy Pink’ because of the grey calyx that appears behind each one of the creamy pink flowers.

Height 1m. Growing conditions Sun and drainage. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 7. Origin Seedling from Special Plants. Season of interest June – October.

Salvia confertiflora

© Jason Ingram

Giant pots of this, threaded informally between specimen Agapanthus praecox creates an exuberant floral display which lasts into October. It may not be winter hardy, but the rate and quality of growth in a single season merits better recognition for summer display. Stems are covered in a rash of scarlet hairs that define the elegant profile and each carry a succession of coral-red flowers in ascending whorls. Even when flower petals drop, the dark red calyces will command admiring glances. Cuttings taken at the end of summer can be over-wintered for next year.

Height 150cm. Origin Native to South America/Brazil. Soil Free-draining loam, or perfect for pots. Season July to September.

Salvia ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’

© Jason Ingram

Although many salvias come into flower earlier than ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’, none have a nicer colour in late autumn. The colour seems to deepen as temperatures fall. The lavender-blue flowers, which have a whitish lip, are set off by inky-blue brachts. If you plant your overwintered pot in the open ground in spring, you will have a gorgeous clump come autumn laden with flowers. This can mean that it’s difficult to find a shoot without flowers for taking autumn cuttings, but with some luck the original plant will survive if the winter is not too cold.

Height 1.2m. Origin Mexico. Growing conditions Best grown in a pot in a warm, sunny spot. Over winter indoors. Hardiness RHS H4, USDA 9b-11. Season of interest Autumn.

© Jason Ingram

This cultivar, which was found by plant expert Ronaldo Uria in an Argentinian garden – Amistad means friendship in Spanish – is one of the best salvias. Deep, purple-blue flowers sprout from almost-black calyxes on long, dark stems. Both the young plants, 1m tall, and older ones, up to 1.5m tall, all flowered profusely from July right through October. The vigorous bushy plants are self-supporting with glossy green leaves.

Height 1-1.5m. Growing conditions Full sun, good drainage. Hardiness USDA 8a-11. Origin Cultivar found in Argentina. Season of interest June – October.

Salvia greggii ‘Icing Sugar’

© Rachel Warne

All the Salvia gregii cultivars flower over a long period. Although there is never a mass of flowers they continue throughout summer. Dozens of new forms are being introduced at the moment. I like this one for the complementary colours of its dark pink and pale pink flowers. Lots of claims are made about the hardiness of this plant but given they have not survived the past two winters, take cuttings at the end of the summer, or treat them as an annual and buy new plants each year.

Height 50cm. Origin Garden hybrid. Conditions Sun or part shade in well-drained soil. Season Flowers from June until the end of September.

Further reading

The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Salvias by John Sutton (David & Charles, 1999). Definitive guide but now out of print. Try second-hand book shops for a copy.

Where to buy

Ashwood Nurseries
Ashwood Lower Lane, Ashwood, West Midlands DY6 0AE.
Tel 01384 401996, ashwoodnurseries.com

Dyson’s Nursery
The most extensive stock of ready-to-buy salvia plants in the country.
Great Comp Garden, Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 8QS.
Tel 07887 997663, dysonsalvias.com

John and Lynsey’s Plants
An outstanding garden and the UK’s widest selection of salvias, usually available to order through propagation. Open by appointment – and for the National Gardens Scheme.
2 Hillside Cottage, Trampers Lane, North Boarhunt, Hampshire PO17 6DA.
Tel 01329 832786, no website

Other good sources

The Beth Chatto Gardens
Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex CO7 7DB
Tel 01206 822007, bethchatto.co.uk

Cotswold Garden Flowers
Browns’ Nurseries, Gibbs Lane, Offenham, Evesham, Worcestershire WR11 8RR
Tel 01386 833849, cgf.net

Dove Cottage
Shibden Hall Road, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX3 9XA
Tel 01422 203553, dovecottagenursery.co.uk

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Larch Cottage Nurseries
Melkinthorpe, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2DR
Tel 01931 712404, larchcottage.co.uk

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