Planting Nectar Rich Salvia to Attract Pollinators to the Garden

Pipevine Butterfly with Salvia Raspberry DelightPipevine Butterfly with Salvia Raspberry Delight
Pipevine Butterfly with Salvia Raspberry Delight

By David Salman, Chief Horticulturalist

The genus Salvia, collectively referred to as Sage, is a huge group of flowering plants that are found growing in the wild across the globe, on every continent except Antarctica. As you'd expect from such a widely distributed group of plants, they are very diverse. And yet they all have in common the following characteristics:

  • They have showy flowers in a rainbow of colors.
  • Their aromatic foliage makes them very resistant to browsing deer and rabbits.
  • Their nectar-rich flowers attract a wide range of pollinators including honey and native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

By familiarizing yourself with this huge genus, you'll be able to find the right Salvia for your garden's growing conditions. I like to divide the genus into two large groups; Old World varieties and Native varieties.

Growing Old World Salvia

The most commonly planted Salvia originate from the ‘Old World’ of Europe and Asia. Many of these ‘Old World’ species and cultivars have been widely grown on both sides of the Atlantic for a long time and there are many great plants to choose from. From a pollinator perspective, this group of Salvia is very attractive to butterflies and all types of honey and native bees. As to flowers, these ‘Old World’ Sages bloom primarily in shades of blue, pink and white. They are generally well adapted to cold climates and a wide range of soils including clay.

My Favorite Old World Salvias

  • Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ – a robust grower with very dark blue flower spikes on a re-blooming plant. Shear after first bloom to stimulate another late summer display. One of the best perennials of the 20th century.
  • Salvia sylvestris ‘Caradonna’ - The tallest of the S. sylvestris hybrids with black flower stems and deep blue flowers. A favorite nectar source for our native bumblebees.
  • Salvia sylvestris 'Little Night' PPAF - a High Country Gardens exclusive, 'Little Night' is a dwarf seedlings of 'May Night'. This little gem has all the wonderful attributes of its larger grower parent but matures to a blooming height of only 12 to 14 inches. Perfect for small beds and narrow spaces.
  • Salvia sylvestris ‘Blue Hill’ – Beautiful clear blue flowers and a tidy rounded shape. Every plant looks better alongside ‘Blue Hill’

Companion Plants For Old World Salvias

Old World sages thrive in a wide range of soil types including clay and clay-loam soils which is a wonderful attribute for those of us who struggle to find clay tolerant plants. Here are some clay-loving companion plants that you can plant with Salvia.

Note: These Salvia grow in other soils equally well and can be paired with an infinite number of other plants that like loams and sandy soils. However, it seems we are always struggling to find clay lovers, so I like to call our attention to this fact.

Savlia pachyphlla Blue FlameSavlia pachyphlla Blue Flamehas blue flowers and pink brackts that attract hummingbirds.

Growing American Native Salvia

The western half of the United States, Mexico, Central America and South America are home to a wide range of tropical and temperate species that have been brought into cultivation. Most of them are very long blooming and will keep your garden full of hummingbirds (the primary pollinators of the native sages) all season long. Unlike their Old World cousins, most of the natives need ‘lean’ (not very fertile), fast draining soil and generally don't like clay.

My Favorite Native Salvia include:

  • Salvia Raspberry Delight® - a High Country Gardens Introduction that has proven to be one of the most cold hardy selections making it growable across much of the western US where winter temperatures are USDA zone 5 and warmer. Raspberry Delight blooms all summer with big raspberry-red flowers. And its foliage has a wonderful sweet herbal fragrance as well.
  • Salvia 'Cold Hardy Pink' - a good, cold hardy variety with fantastic bright pink flowers all summer long.
  • Saliva reptans Autumn Sapphire - a dwarf reptans species from West Texas that has proven to be USDA zone 5 cold hardy. S. reptans blooms for least six weeks from September into early October and provides hummingbirds with essential late season nectar as they fly south to their warm winter habitats.
  • Salvia 'Ultra Violet' - a fantastic, everblooming, cold hardy hybrid with violet-pink flowers.
  • Salvia ‘Maraschino’ – just like the cherry in your ‘Shirley Temple’, this brightly colored cultivar has excellent cold hardiness and does best with some afternoon shade. Hummingbirds by the dozens!
  • Salvia pachyphylla 'Blue Flame' - This a selected, large flowered form of the little known native species from the mountains of southern California. It blooms all summer with showy bright blue flowers poking out from showy bright violet-pink bracts. A hummingbird magnet!

Rajesh-Jyothiswaran-_May-night-Salvia-TXCustomer Photo of Salvia 'May Night.'

Well Drained Soils Are Best

Typically, native Salvia prefer ‘lean’ (not very fertile), well-drained soils.  They will grow in dry clay conditions in arid climates but will rot out in clay soils where there is more than about 15 to 18” of precipitation annually.  I’ve been working on breeding and selecting for improved cold hardiness in the High Country Garden’s native Salvia introductions.

Favorite Salvia Companion Plants For The Hot West

Watch: Growing Salvia 

 

Shop Salvia Plants

  1. FlowerKisser™ Royal Rose Salvia with rose pink flowers, FlowerKisser™ Royal Rose Sage

    A new native hybrid sage, FlowerKisser™ ‘Royal Rose’ is enjoyed for its sumptuous deep rose pink flowers. This Salvia is an exceptionally long bloomer, attracting pollinating h...

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    FlowerKisser™ Royal Rose Salvia FlowerKisser™ Royal Rose Sage Salvia x 'WWG04'
    $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    A new native hybrid sage, FlowerKisser™ ‘Royal Rose’ is enjoyed for its sumptuous deep rose pink flowers. This Salvia is an exceptionally long bloomer, attracting pollinating hummingbirds and bumblebees from late spring through early fall. The foliage is delightfully aromatic, releasing a pleasing sweet herbal scent when brushed or touched. Discovered by HCG Chief Horticulturist David Salman, and available exclusively from High Country Gardens.
  2. Salvia greggii WWG003 FlowerKisser™ Coral-Pink Sage

    Flower Kisser™ Coral-Pink Salvia (Sage) has eye-catching non-stop coral-pink flowers, starting in late spring and continuing into the fall. A medium sized woody shrublet that l...

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    FlowerKisser™ Coral-Pink Salvia FlowerKisser™ Coral-Pink Sage Salvia greggii 'WWG003'
    $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Flower Kisser™ Coral-Pink Salvia (Sage) has eye-catching non-stop coral-pink flowers, starting in late spring and continuing into the fall. A medium sized woody shrublet that loves poor soils and hot, dry growing conditions.
  3. Pink Salvia sylvestris Balyricose, Salvia sylvestris Balyricose, Lyrical Rose European Sage

    22-24" x 18-20" wide. Balyricose is a new, showy pink-flowered meadow sage selected for its compact, well-branched habit and long-blooming period. Re-blooms when deadheaded. Rabbit a...

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    Lyrical Rose Salvia Lyrical Rose European Sage Salvia sylvestris Balyricose
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    22-24" x 18-20" wide. Balyricose is a new, showy pink-flowered meadow sage selected for its compact, well-branched habit and long-blooming period. Re-blooms when deadheaded. Rabbit and deer resistant, this beauty is excellent for attracting butterflies and honeybees. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  4. Salvia sylvestris Caradonna Photo Courtesy of Walters Gardens

    Caradonna’ is a beautiful Old World sage with tall, very dark purple flower stems and stunning blue-violet flowers. The plant has a strong vertical habit and is a superb nectar sou...

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    Caradonna Salvia Caradonna Meadow Sage Salvia sylvestris Caradonna
    Sale Price I Save 30%
    $10.99 Sale $7.69
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Caradonna’ is a beautiful Old World sage with tall, very dark purple flower stems and stunning blue-violet flowers. The plant has a strong vertical habit and is a superb nectar source for honeybees.

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Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.