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by David Salman

Fall is in the Air

Salvia reptans with Agastache Ava Salvia reptans West Texas form with Agastache Ava

I look forward to my gardens this time of the year. Many of my favorite native plants and ornamental grasses come into flower as the summer transitions to fall. Living and gardening at an elevation of nearly 7, 000 ft. here in Santa Fe, you can already feel a hint of fall in the air. Night temperatures are dropping into the lower 50's and the light is starting change as the sun moves toward its fall equinox pathway.

Favorite Salvia

Right now the various native Salvia (Sage) species and hybrids are in full color or will be coming into bloom in September. Some of my favorites include several Salvia greggii and greggii hybrids such as Salvia Raspberry Delight®, Salvia 'Ultra Violet', Salvia greggii 'Furman's Red'. Others such as Salvia reptans (West Texas form) and Salvia azurea (Prairie Sage) bring blue flowers into the fall mix. The hummingbirds and bumblebees also share my enthusiasm for all of these colorful sages.

Selecting for Cold Hardiness

Living in a USDA zone 6 climate, I've spent the last 20 years searching for cold hardiness in perennials like Salvia greggii. One of my earlier hybrid introductions, Salvia Raspberry Delight® has thus far proven to be one of the most cold hardy of this group. Several of my friends in the Denver area have reported that established plants of this hybrid have wintered that city's -10 to - 15° F winter temperatures, while other cold hardy Salvia greggii cultivars have succumbed to these sub-zero temperatures.

Raspberry Delight® is a cross between a pink Salvia microphyllus (a mountain dweller from Arizona) and Salvia greggii 'Furman's Red', this raspberry-red beauty blooms from early summer into the fall. But what I like best about the plant is the sweet herbal aroma of its foliage. I always plant it along walks and near doorways where I can brush my hands over the foliage as I walk by to release the refreshing scent.

Best Planting Sites in Cold Areas

Find a full sun location with well drained, infertile soil to plant Raspberry Delight® and all the other colorful, aromatic flowering native cultivars. In cold USDA zones 6 and 5b climates, site the plants against south and west facing side of walls or large rocks to provide some buffering against sudden temperature drops.

Providing Winter Protection

In USDA zones 6 and 5b, it is essential to give all the Salvia greggii and greggii hybrids protection from the extreme cold their first winter in the garden. (Salvia azurea and S. reptans don't need this extra bit of cold protection.) By the second winter, these plants will have matured enough to become fully cold hardy with little or no additional protection.

To provide this extra protection, I wait until hard frosts have knocked the leaves off the deciduous trees. I construct a temporary enclosure around each plant and  fill them with loosely packed, newly fallen leaves to provide winter insulation. These enclosures are easily made by placing a chicken wire cylinder around the plant or putting 4 bamboo stakes around the plant and circling them with burlap. The enclosure and the insulating leaves come off the plants in mid-spring after the danger of single digit temperatures has past.

Text and Photos By David Salman

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