Selecting New Nectar-Rich Salvia for Your Spring Plantings

By David Salman

FlowerKisser™ Dark Shadows Sage (Salvia)
Nectar-rich FlowerKisser™ Dark Shadows Sage (Salvia) is a favorite of hummingbirds.

The genus Salvia, commonly known as Sages, includes a huge number of species from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.  As these plants are native to a huge part of the planet, it’s not a surprise that they are a highly variable group of annual and perennial plants adapted to a wide range of growing climates and conditions. And the Sages have an enthusiastic following among gardeners who enjoy their fantastic range of brightly colored flowers and all the wonderful pollinators that are attracted to the plants. Species native to the Western hemisphere (North and South America) are highly attractive to hummingbirds (who are also native to this same hemisphere).  Butterflies, bees and bumblebees are also attracted to the flowers and are key pollinators for Salvias from all parts of the world.

The Salvias are also aromatic, with their flowers and foliage scented with natural oils that repel browsing animals such as deer and rabbits. Thus they are an excellent choice in parts of the country where browsing animals are a problem.

In the garden, the sages are durable, non-fussy growers that grow well over a wide swath of the US. The European and Asian species are especially well adapted to clay soils, which is a blessing for those of us who garden in clay.

New varieties for Spring 2019

Everblooming FlowerKisser™ Coral Pink Sage (Salvia)
Everblooming FlowerKisser™ Coral Pink Sage (Salvia)

Non-stop color from late spring through hard frost in fall, FlowerKisser™ Coral-Pink is a flowering machine with its large, eye-catching coral-pink flowers.  This native selection is a medium sized shrub that I found growing in a neglected Santa Fe landscape that I often drive past on my way around town.  After watching its amazing performance in that hot, dry spot, I took some cuttings and planted them into my test beds where it grew and flowered robustly. Of course, the hummingbirds love it as it’s never out-of-flower. Grow it in well drained non-clay soil where it will get a full day of hot sun.

Salvia Dark Shadows contrasted with Blonde Ambition
Salvia Dark Shadows contrasted with Blonde Ambition

Dark violet-purple flowers cover this tall growing woody sage from mid-summer through the hard frosts in fall. A volunteer seedling of Raspberry Delight® that established itself in my home garden, Dark Shadows is a delight with its darkly colored flowers and the strong, sweetly aromatic scent of its foliage.  It’s a robust shrub maturing to a height of 3 ft. and width of 3 to 4 feet. The flowers are nectar-rich and highly attractive to the hummingbirds. Plant it in a well drained soil (no heavy clay) and give it a full day of hot sun.  Being a large grower, strengthen its branch structure with a modest annual pruning in mid-spring.

Recommended companion plants include Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), Goldenrod (Solidago) and Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia). Blonde Ambition Blue Grama grass (Bouteloua ‘Blonde Ambition’) makes an especially handsome ornamental grass companion. 

Bog Sage (Salvia uliginosa)
Bog Sage (Salvia uliginosa) is one of the rare flowers with sky-blue blooms.

Blue Spike sage is a lovely, unusually tall growing Salvia species that covers its tall flowers spikes with sky blue flowers from mid-summer through frost in the fall.  Native to the pampas lands of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, this easy-to-grow perennial is both cold hardy and highly adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. It grows in loam or clay soils and can be planted in wet soils next to ponds or streams or in drier conditions of a typical perennial bed. 

The plant spreads by underground stems (stolons) and can form a large sized specimen in wet soils. But the plant can also be grown in more arid conditions which slows it sideways spread if you don’t want it to get too wide.  It’s a past winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Recommended companion plants include other moisture loving perennials like Bee Balm (Monarda), Tall Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) and Obedient Plant (Physostegia). Ornamental grasses that are good neighbors include Prairie Switch grass (Panicum) and White Cloud Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).

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