How To Grow Salvia
by David Salman, High Country Gardens Founder
The genus Salvia, or Sage, is a huge group of ornamental annuals and perennials that are found growing in the wild across the globe.
Old-World species, or those native to Europe, Africa, and Asia, are essential nectar sources for honeybees and bumblebees, while North American Native species are commonly pollinated by hummingbirds and bumblebees.
These two groups are both easy to grow, but do have slightly different cultivation needs. Read on to learn more about caring for these must-have perennials.
Where To Grow Salvia
Old World Salvia
- Cultivars like Salvia nemorosa, Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’, ‘Little Night’, ‘Marcus’, ‘Rose Marvel’, Salvia daghestanica, and many, many others are excellent choices for planting across most of the US.
- They are generally very cold hardy and especially useful for planting into clay soils where native Salvia don’t do well.
- Most all of the Old World species and cultivars are typically deciduous perennials that die back to the ground each winter.
Native Salvia and Their Cultivars
- These plants, including Salvia greggii, Salvia azurea, Salvia arizonica, and others, are best used in milder climates (check winter hardiness zones for individual varieties). They like well-drained loam or sandy soils and generally don’t do well in clay. All these plants are excellent for container gardens or in the ground.
- They are essential hummingbird and bumblebee nectar sources, and they do well in the western US, Texas, and surrounding states, as well as the mid-Atlantic states.
- They can be either deciduous perennials that die back to the ground in winter, or grow be small-to-medium woody shrubs.
To choose the right Salvia for your garden, see our guide: Planting Nectar-Rich Salvia
- Mulching is very beneficial in dry climates.
- Mulch should NOT be used on Old World Salvia in moister climates. Where slugs are a problem, mulching attracts these pests, and they will eat Salvia foliage
- Salvias can be mulched with a variety of mulch types. Coarse compost, small bark chips, pecan shells, pine needles, small gravel, and other common mulch materials are fine
- A one-inch thick layer of mulch for newly transplanted plants is adequately deep. Be sure to leave a gap 2-3 inches from the crown of the plant for proper air circulation and to avoid rot.
- Both Old World and native Salvia are low-water plants once established.
- For all species, regular watering is important during the first growing season to get the plants established.
- Native Salvias are especially appreciative of regular, deep watering for a full growing season after transplanting. Keeping them too dry that first summer often leads to winter death because the plants weren’t able to establish a vigorous root system and crown (the structure that connects the roots and branches) during the growing season.
Grow Salvia In Your Garden
Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ (Meadow Sage) blooms prolifically with deep purple-blue flowers. It is an outstanding perennial with excellent cold hardiness, vigor, and to...Learn MoreMay Night Salvia May Night Meadow Sage Salvia sylvestris May NightAs low as $11.99 Sale $9.59Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Our Cold Hardy Rainbow Salvia Collection is an exciting array of Sage varieties featuring purple, red, pink, and coral flowers that bloom from summer through fall. The flowers look d...Learn MoreCold Hardy Rainbow Salvia Collection Cold Hardy Rainbow Salvia Collection Salvia Collection$100.99 Sale $95.94Sale Price I Save 5%Per Collection of 9
Salvia sylvestris ‚Blue Hill‚ is a superb selection grown for its late spring display of clear blue flowers held over sturdy compact mounds of green foliage. It is extrem...Learn MoreBlue Hill Salvia Blue Hill Meadow Sage Salvia sylvestris Blue Hill$11.99 Sale $10.79Sale Price I Save 10%Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Salvia nemorosa ‚Rose Marvel‚ (Meadow Sage) adds stunning spikes of large magenta-pink flowers to the summer garden. It’s a garden workhorse, reblooming without nee...Learn MoreRose Marvel Salvia Rose Marvel Meadow Sage Salvia nemorosa Rose Marvel$12.99 Sale $11.69Sale Price I Save 10%Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Salvia ‚FlowerKisser® Dark Shadows‚ (Sage) is a stunning hybrid Texas bush sage with dark purple flowers and sweetly aromatic foliage; a favorite nectar source for hu...Learn MoreFlowerKisser® Dark Shadows Salvia FlowerKisser® 'Dark Shadows' Sage Salvia x 'WWG01'$13.99 Sale $11.89Sale Price I Save 15%Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
Pruning & Winter Care For Established Salvia Plants
How To Prune Old World Salvia
- These Salvias are deciduous. Leave their frost-killed foliage on the plants over the winter months. Many beneficial insects use the old foliage and stems as protective cover over the winter.
- Cut them back to an inch or two above ground in early to mid-spring.
How To Prune Native Salvia
These plants are variable in how they like to be pruned.
Salvia greggii cultivars and hybrids, such as like Raspberry Delight®, 'FlowerKisser® Royal Rose', 'FlowerKisser® Dark Shadows', 'FlowerKisser® Coral-Pink', ‘Furman’s Red’, ‘Cold Hardy Pink’, ‘Ultra Violet’, and other shrubby sages:
- NEVER cut back shrubby sages in the fall. This often results in winter die-back.
- Leave them standing over the winter and prune moderately in mid-spring when the new foliage begins to push from the woody stems.
- Trim back to just above green leaves to shape the plants and remove old flowering stems. Thin out dead or weak branches in the center of the plant.
Other native Salvias, including Salvia azurea, Salvia reptans 'Autumn Sapphire®', ‘Maraschino’, Salvia uliginosa, ‘Limelight.’ and others:
- These Salvias are deciduous. As with Old World Salvias, leave their stems standing over the winter months.
- Prune them back 2 or 3 inches above the crown in mid-spring, when the new foliage begins to push from the base of the plant.
Evergreen native species, like Salvia dorrii and Salvia pachyphylla:
- These Salvias hold their foliage over the winter
- Only trim in mid-spring to remove any winter-killed branch tips.
- Deadhead after flowering is finished.
When growing native Salvia in colder regions at the edge of their cold hardiness (zones 5 & 6), extra winter protection will prevent winter-kill of young plants. These native Salva take a couple of growing seasons to mature and reach their full cold hardiness. To prevent winter-kill:
- DO NOT cut them back in the fall.
- Provide some insulation over the crown and lower branches. I recommend using long pine needles or clean straw to cover the plant under a foot-deep pile of these insulating materials in late fall. Uncover the plant(s) in early to mid-spring. Then after the new growth pushes from the stems, prune as needed.
Watch: How To Prune Native Salvia With David Salman
- Salvia plants need very little fertilizer, and they will not do well when fertilized frequently with chemical fertilizers.
- Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. When applied in spring, they encourage aphids to feed on the young growth, and in late summer and fall, high nitrogen levels delay hardening off for winter, and can result in freeze damage or death come next spring.
- Instead, keep their soil healthy and well-drained by fertilizing with natural or organic soil builders.
- Top-dress with Yum Yum Mix and Soil Mender Mineral Boost Fertilizer once a year in mid-to-late fall, or mid-spring as the plants begin to show new growth. Both of these soil amendments are slow-acting nutrient sources for the soil's microbial population to support healthy sage plants.
Deer and Rabbit Resistance
- Salvias are a good garden choice where deer and rabbits are a problem. Their resinous, aromatic foliage is full of bitter oils that repel browsing animals.
- However, plants fresh from the greenhouse should be sprayed with rabbit/deer repellent for a few months after transplanting to allow the plant’s foliage to become bitter as it matures.
The Legacy of David Salman | High Country Gardens founder David Salman was a pioneer of waterwise gardening, passionate plant explorer, and charismatic storyteller. His commitment to cultivating a palette of beautiful waterwise plants transformed gardening in the American West.
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