Salvias for Every Landscape
or ...Sage Advice....

For decades, gardeners in almost every state in the country have planted Salvias to brighten their gardens. As a teenager in Milwaukee, I remember planting the most common red annual variety of annual Salvia, carefully pinching the tops off to make more flower heads, watching the plants grow and set seed, then die at the first hard frost of Fall. I had no idea then that so many varieties of this genus existed, much less their potential in the landscape as perennials. I had to move to Florida before I discovered different varieties of Salvia, and was amazed to find that some species can grow to the dimensions of a small garage. On the other side of the size spectrum is the Florida native Salvia coccinea ,    a petite species growing to 2 feet, with dainty pink-white or red florets.

S. guaranitica

One of my favorites is a gorgeous perennial blue-flowered variety called S. guaranitica, which can easily grow to 4 feet in height. The species attracts winged wildlife of many sorts, especially bees and butterflies. The Forsythia Sage, S. madrensis, can grow to 6 feet tall by 8 feet across, and is topped off with foot-tall bright yellow flower stems favored by hummingbirds and butterflies alike. I often joke that our local hummingbirds are illiterate, unable to read the books which say the birds only feed on red flowers. I see hummingbirds feed on many flowers, from both herbaceous and woody species, with Salvia species near the top of the favorites list. 

Bog Sage
S. uliginosa
One of the the consistent aspects of growing either annual or perennial sages is they need some pruning and fertilizing care to keep them in good shape. Left to their own devices, these plants will grow into fairly rank and unkempt weeds. Routine trimming of stems and removal of old flower stems will keep them looking good.

Many of the landscape types will re-seed, or can be propagated by stem cuttings. These plants look best in clusters or grown as specimens, especially if used as a wildlife attractant.    

The larger perennial species and varieties can make quite a statement in the landscape, with plant sizes from petite to giant, and flowers colors from pink through azure blue and even burgundy. I visited San Marcos Growers in Santa Barbara years ago, marveling at the array of Salvia types that can grow in balmy southern California. I was stunned by the variety of flowers and plant sizes available, as well as the frenzy of hummingbirds staging their own gang wars, fighting over the best flowers for nectar. The effect of the flowers and plant textures was memorable, and I hope to add several species here at Pinecrest Gardens.   

Scarlet Sage
S. coccinea,
 in 2
color forms

With moderate care, some advance knowledge of the plant's ultimate size, and some thought on how to integrate the plant into a landscape, the Sage group can be a valuable and rewarding addition to a landscape. The only real restriction is sunlight: most of the species are sun-lovers, and intolerant of shade.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

S. greggii

Forsythia Sage
S. madrensis

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