How to propagate salvias?

Salvia Cutting Propagation: Can You Grow Salvia From Cuttings

Salvia, commonly called sage, is a very popular garden perennial. There are over 900 species out there and every gardener has a favorite, like the deep purple clusters of Salvia nemorosa. If you have salvia and want more of these easy-care beauties, nobody can blame you. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to propagate. Can you grow salvia from cuttings? Read on for information about salvia cutting propagation including tips on how to root salvia cuttings.

Can You Grow Salvia from Cuttings?

The great thing about salvia cutting propagation is that you are certain to get plants exactly like the parent plant. With seed propagation, this isn’t always the case. Anyone with sage plants can start propagating salvia from cuttings. It’s easy and virtually foolproof.

When you are propagating salvia

from cuttings, you’ll want to cut segments of the plant from stem tips. Some experts recommend that the cutting include one bud at the top of the stem and two leaf nodes. These are the places leaves grow from the stem.

Others suggest taking a cutting between 2 and 8 inches (5-20 cm.) long. In either case, be sure you use sharp, sterilized pruning shears and make the cut just below a node.

How to Root Salvia Cuttings

As you take the cuttings for salvia cutting propagating, place them in a glass of water, cut-end first. That helps to keep them fresh.

The next step is to trim off all leaves on the lower few inches of the stem cutting. If you are working with big-leaf salvia, also cut off the lower half of each leaf you’ve left on the stem.

You can either start propagating salvia from cuttings by placing them in water or by putting them in soil. If you opt for salvia cutting propagation in water, just put the cuttings in a vase and add a few inches of water. After a few weeks, you’ll see roots growing.

When rooting salvia cuttings in soil, dip the cut end in rooting hormone, then plant it in moist potting medium. One good medium to try is a 70/30 mix of perlite/vermiculite and potting soil. Again, expect roots in about 14 days.

Prune and Propagate

Josh Byrne

JOSH BYRNE: Aren’t these flowers beautiful. It’sSalvia microphylla’Hot Lips’. Now it’s been flowering for months on very little water, but as you can see, the whole shrub’s become a bit straggly and it’s ready for a cut back to keep it nice and compact and you can be quite brutal with these – chopping it back into shape and it’ll just come back nice and bushy. Now I’ll come and finish off the rest of this pruning later, but what I wanted to show you is how to make the most of the stuff that you cut off.

Now rather than going straight in the compost, I’m going to make more plants out of it. All I have to do is find nice bits of stem where you can see little leaves already shooting off. Now they’ll all form beautiful little cuttings, so I’ll just start with say3 and make them about the length of a pencil…cut them off just like that…tidy them up…and what you need to make sure is that you’ve got several nodes which are these points where you’ve got leaves sort of sprouting. Ok – trim those up…there we go. Get rid of the…some of the messy stuff. Now here….this is some pots filled with regular potting mix and all I do is poke 3 holes in each one and each of these…I’ll probably just cut those down just a little bit more, making sure they go the same way up as they were growing..I’ll pop them in like that…and then some water.

Now lots of the shrubs in my garden can be treated the same way – things like wormwood – Powis Castle – also things like the perennial basil, most of the salvia shrubs – can all be turned into easy cuttings just like this. Now I’ll keep this nice and moist in a sheltered warm spot and we’ll find these will take root in a couple of weeks and be ready to plant out in about 10 to 12 weeks. Really, really cheap plants. The rest of this stuff, well, into the compost.

COSTA GEORGIADIS: Now it’s starting to get cold in many parts of the country. Here’s Tino with some tips on how to protect your plants. You look nice and warm buddy.

Blue anise sage is a bushy subshrub.

There are about 900 species of annuals, perennials and soft-wooded evergreen shrubs in the genus Salvia (the largest genus in the mint family, Family Lamiaceae), including many species used for culinary and medicinal herbs and as ornamental plants. Blue anise sage, Salvia guaranitica – also sometimes called anise-scented sage, Brazilian sage, giant blue sage, sapphire sage, or various other common names – is native to southern South America (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and north eastern Argentina) where it’s leaves purportedly were used by the Guarani Indians of Brazil as a sedative. This attractive subshrub (freezing to the ground in winter and sprouting back in spring) is hardy in zones 8-10, but can be grown as an annual in colder climates.

The pointed oval leaves are borne on square stems, a characteristic of the mint family.

The plants can grow up to 6 feet tall where it is a perennial, but remains much shorter when used as an annual. The pointed oval leaves are 2-5” long, and lightly sweet-scented, but despite the common name, do not smell like anise. They are slightly toothed, hairy, and are borne in opposite pairs on the branched, square dark green stems. The leaves are dark green, wrinkled above and pale green below. The plants have a loose, bushy, rather open form. Plants sucker lightly and may form tubers.

A flower of Salvia guaranitica.

The striking flowers are 1½-2” long, with purple to true blue petals surrounded by a green calyx. The petals form a hood-like upper lip and a shorter, downward pointing lower lip, sort of resembling an open parrot’s beak or snake’s mouth, around whisker-like stamens. The flowers are produced in showy spikes up to 10” long, The open racemes can be both axillary and terminal.

The plant begins to bloom in mid- to late summer and continues until frost. The nectar-producing blossoms are very attractive to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Many of the bees are nectar robbers, chewing or drilling holes through the calyx to get to the nectar directly, without entering the flower and contacting the reproductive organs for pollination. Honeybees tend to be “secondary robbers,” collecting nectar through holes made by previous visitors, such as bumblebees.

The flowers are produced on spikes up to 10″ long.

Grow blue anise sage in full sun. It will survive in partial shade, but will be gangly and floppy with fewer flowers. It does best in fertile, well-drained soil. Plant 18-24” apart (closer in containers or when used as an annual). Unlike many sages, this species prefers regular water, especially in the heat of summer, but do not allow it to remain wet. Pinch about monthly

Blue anise sage adds interesting color to many annual plantings.

to keep plants full and compact. Fertilize container-grown plants monthly, but when planted in the landscape they require little additional fertilizer or flower production will be reduced on taller, more brittle plants. Deadhead the flowers as they fade to encourage continued blooming. This species has few pests, especially when grown as an annual, but may suffer from powdery mildew or whiteflies.

The species can be grown from seed, but cultivars are best propagated by cuttings (or division in spring in areas where the plants are hardy). Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the average last frost and transplant outdoors when the soil has warmed and after all threat of frost is past. Softwood cuttings can be taken in spring or use semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or fall. Although cuttings are fairly easy to root even without rooting hormones, bottom heat enhances the results. Potted plants can be held over the winter in a bright, cool location. The tubers can also be harvested and stored in a very cool location (35-40˚F) similar to dahlia tubers. Dig in early autumn, leaving some soil around the rootball and store in a cool, dark location. The stem, stolons or rhizomes with nodes attached (as there are no eyes on the tubers that will sprout) need to be kept from drying out, but too much moisture will promote rot. When growth starts again in early spring move to a bright, warm spot.

‘Argentina Skies’

Blue anise sage is a good addition to annual or mixed beds. It also does well in containers. Several cultivars offer flowers in different shades:

  • ‘Argentina Skies’ has pale blue flowers with a green calyx. The plants produce large tubers and many runners.
  • ‘Black and Blue’ has striking cobalt blue petals and a nearly black calyx, along with very dark stems. It is more compact (2-3 ft) than the species or many other varieties, goes dormant in mild climates and readily produces tubers.
  • ‘Blue Ensign’ has large medium blue flowers.
  • ‘Costa Rica Blue’ blooms year-round in mild climates, with heaviest bloom from autumn into winter. It has dark violet-blue flowers and yellow-green calyces on tall plants.
  • ‘Black and Blue’

    ‘Omaha’ is a variegated form of ‘Costa Rica’ with yellow and green leaves.

  • ‘Purple Majesty’ is a hybrid of S. guaranitica and S. gesneraeflora from Huntington Botanical Gardens. It grows to 4 tall with bright green leaves and large purple flowers.
  • ‘Purple Splendor’ has very dark, rich purple flowers.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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March 2003

Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ (Perennial Solutions)
By Paul Pilon

Salvia ‘Caradonna’ is a unique cultivar of the reliable genus and species Salvia nemorosa. The violet-blue flowers are similar to other cultivars of this species except they are held on purple stems that provide an added element of texture. Caradonna reaches 18-30 inches tall, bearing flowers on sturdy stems during the summer months. It was discovered in Uchte, Germany, by Beate Zillmer of Zillmer Pflanzen and is suitable for production in USDA Zones 4-9. In the landscape, it is often used in borders and cut flower gardens where there is full sun to partial shade. The flowers will attract bees, butterflies and birds.


Caradonna is propagated by vegetative tip cuttings in the spring and early summer or by seed any time of the year. Cuttings already in bloom will take longer to root and have a lower survival rate than purely vegetative starting materials. During the summer heat, once the cuttings are in the plug flat, they will often sit for a long time without initiating roots, turn yellow and, many times, plant death will occur. For the most successful vegetative propagation, harvest the cuttings before flowering occurs or produce stock plants under conditions that do not promote flowering. Stock plants should be produced under short-day conditions or with 10-12 hours of light per day. To maintain short-day conditions, it is often necessary to pull black cloth over the crop daily, providing a dark period for a minimum of 12 hours.

It is easy to propagate Caradonna from seed. Germination will occur in about 7-10 days in temperatures of 68-72° F. Placing the plug flats in a germination chamber will most likely improve the germination rate and the time to germinate, but is not necessary to successfully produce this salvia from seed. At seeding, I recommend lightly covering the seed with vermiculite or the same media the plug trays are filled with. It will take 4-6 weeks for the plug to reach a transplantable size.


Salvias perform best in a well-drained media with a pH between 5.8 and 6.2. When providing irrigation, water thoroughly and let plants dry out between waterings. Over-watering often leads to root and crown rots. Salvias are light to moderate feeders, requiring only modest amounts of fertility. Generally, when planting salvias, I incorporate a controlled-release fertilizer into the growing media at a rate equivalent to 3_4 pounds of nitrogen per yard of growing medium. Another method to deliver fertility to this crop would be using a constant liquid fertilizer program, delivering 50 parts per million (ppm) nitrate to the crop at each watering.

There are relatively few diseases and insects affecting the production of salvias, and seldom does significant plant injury or losses occur. As mentioned earlier, crown and root rots may occur, especially when grown under wet conditions. I have also seen Botrytis outbreaks in the foliage. Á Usually, the Botrytis is observed in situations in which there is a dense plant canopy, little air movement and water on the leaves for long durations. Aphids, two-spotted spider mites, thrips and whiteflies are the most common insects that may be observed feeding on Caradonna.

Of these insects, the two-spotted spider mite is usually the most cumbersome and difficult to control. Unless regular scouting occurs, the presence of spider mites often goes undetected until significant amounts of plant injury occur. At first glance, the injury to the leaves might be confused with a nutritional deficiency, as from a distance the leaves appear to be turning yellow. Looking more closely, you will observe the damaged leaves are stippled with small, yellowish to silvery-gray speckles. Spider mites are usually found feeding on the undersides of the leaves.

Controlling spider mites is not easy. Because it is difficult to deliver the chemicals to the lower leaf surfaces where they are feeding, there are several life stages present at any time, and they quickly build resistance to pesticides. I have found success by rotating chemical classes at every application, tank-mixing ovicides such as Hexygon and Ovation with adulticides such as Avid and Floramite, and by ensuring good coverage of the sprays to the crop. As always, be sure to follow the chemical labels for rates, application frequency and the total number of applications allowed per crop.

Controlling plant height may be required while producing Caradonna in a container. Before using chemicals to reduce stem elongation, it is usually beneficial to provide adequate space between each plant, which will reduce the competition between plants for light and prevent the plants from growing taller. If chemical plant growth regulators are required, B-Nine has shown the most effectiveness. In the Midwest, I would recommend beginning with an application rate of 2,500 ppm and applying it 2-3 times at weekly intervals. In other locations, it might be necessary to apply the weekly applications beginning with a higher rate. Regardless of location, I have found that it is better to apply lower rates of growth regulators more frequently instead of a single application at a higher rate.


Flowering Caradonna out of season is relatively easy, provided a few guidelines are followed. I recommend cooling (vernalizing) plugs or small containers of salvia for 6-9 weeks at 40° F. The cooling period enhances uniformity and reduces the time it takes to reach flowering. After cooling is achieved, provide photoperiods (day length) of 16 hours by extending the day if necessary, or use a 4-hour night interruption during the middle of the night, providing a minimum of 10 foot-candles of light at plant level. Caradonna is a long-day beneficial plant and will flower best under long days, regardless of the vernalization time. The time plants take to flower depends on the growing temperature after the plants are placed under long-day conditions. Plants grown at 64° F will flower in about eight weeks, while plants grown at 68° F will flower in as little as six weeks.


Caradonna has just recently been introduced to growers in this country and currently may be difficult to locate in the United States. It is listed in the catalogs of Blooming Nursery Inc., Cornelius, Ore.; Sunny Border Ohio, Jefferson, Ohio; and Walters Gardens Inc., Zeeland, Mich. For further availability, contact Darwin Plants, Hillegom, The Netherlands.

Paul Pilon

Paul Pilon is head grower at Sawyer Nursery, Hudsonville, Mich. He can be reached by E-mail at

One of my favorites is S. greggii, also known as autumn sage. This small, evergreen shrub produces flowers very early in spring and continues to flower profusely all summer long.

Find seeds for this variety from The Clayton Farm, available via Amazon.

S. Greggii Seeds

You’ll get a packet containing 30 seeds that will produce 1- to 2-foot-tall, loose shrubs that do well in zones 5b-10.

Another type beloved in Texas is Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha). This one can grow to 4 feet tall, displaying long purple and white flower spikes.

You can get a “starter plant” for this type online via Amazon.

S. Leucantha Starter Plant

This one does well in zones 8-11. You’ll get a plant described by the seller as well-rooted, in a 2 1/2-inch by 3 1/2-inch pot.

Frriendship sage (S. guaranitica ‘Amistad’) is a variety that does well in shady areas of my backyard in Central Texas, and that also flourishes in the upper midwest. At my house, this one freezes to the ground during cold spells, but is fast to regrow come springtime.

Small ‘Amistad’ plants are available via Amazon.

S. Guaranitica ‘Amistad’ Semidormant Starter Plant

Butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy the nectar from this plant.

Scarlet sage (S. splendens) is hardy to zone 5 and is often grown as an annual in areas further north. Get seeds for purple, red, or burgundy — or a mix — from Mountain Valley Seed Co., available via True Leaf Market.

S. Splendens Seeds – Sizzler Series

Plants grow about a foot tall and produce large flower spikes over dark green leaves.

Both the purple and white varieties of S. nemorosa do well in the northeast. You can get a live S. nemorosa ‘Snowhill’ plant from Uniquegardenus, available via Amazon.

S. Nemorosa ‘Snowhill’ Live Plant

You’ll get a one-gallon pot containing an organically grown plant.

Pacific Northwest gardeners might want to try S. microphylla ‘Hot Lips,’ available from The Clayton Farm via Amazon.

S. Microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ Seeds

You’ll get a packet of 30 seeds harvested in 2017.

And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention S. officinalis, which is common sage, the type that we cook with. Nature Hills offers it in 4½-inch containers.

Common Sage Plants

This plant grows to about 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Its flowers are purple-blue.

Get ‘em Growing

Where you plant your salvia will depend on the variety. Most like well-draining soils, so do keep that in mind. Average garden soil is fine for most varieties.

If transplanting from a nursery start, dig a hole twice as wide as the diameter of the pot, and the same depth. Remove the plant from the container and insert into the hole.

Photo by Gretchen Heber.

Backfill with removed soil and water well. “Add mulch around the planting area to hold in soil moisture and deter weeds,” says Richter.

If growing from seed, you can sow directly into the garden. Check the back of the seed packet — some varieties require light to germinate, and seeds should be spread on top of the soil.

S. guaranitica ‘Amistad.’ Photo by Gretchen Heber.

You can also start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost.

If you wish to divide existing perennial salvia plants, the best time to do so is in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins.

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