The Spectacular Salvia

Salvia sylvestris Balyricose 'Lyrical Rose'

Salvia sylvestris Balyricose 'Lyrical Rose'

The genus Salvia (Sage) contains some of our most beautiful ornamental flowers. And Salvia species are found on every continent, save Australia and Antarctica. Naturally, with such a huge range worldwide, their variability is immense and they provide us gardeners with a wealth of choices for our gardens.

Gardening in a USDA zone 6 climate, I like to divide the cold hardy Salvia into two primary groups; the US natives and the Old World varieties found in Europe and western Asia. From these two groups, we have an outstanding range of plant types and flower colors.

Salvia May Night

An Old World Salvia, Salvia May Night

The Old World Salvia include some of the very best, most durable, longest-lived perennials. The hybrid nemerosa-types flower in numerous shades of blue and pink. They include ‘May Night’, ‘Caradonna’, dwarf ‘Marcus’, Lyrical Rose European Sage and the gorgeous ‘Blue Hill’. The syslvestris hybrids do especially well in heavy clay soils, yet grow with ease in all but the most sandy of soils.

Salvia Cold Hardy Pink

Then there are all the Salvia species native to North America. It is from the Western US that we find our most beautiful native species. But the challenging aspect for some of these native Salvia has been to find cold hardy ones that can be grown north of their native desert haunts. This has been an area of keen interest for me and I have been working for many years breeding and selecting for beauty and cold hardiness. Salvia greggii ‘Furman’s Red’ and Salvia greggii ‘Cold Hardy Pink’ are top picks. Salvia hybrids between S. greggii and other Salvia species from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona have resulted in some outstanding selections such as ‘Maraschino’, ‘Raspberry Delight’, ‘Ultra Violet’ and ‘Burgundy Seduction’.

I heartily recommend planting Salvia pachyphylla and Salvia dorrii in arid western gardens. These two evergreen species are native to California and the Great Basin of UT, OR and NV. Not widely known outside of the native plant gardening community, these two species are especially nice with their silver leaves and showy blue/purple flowers. But they are not for planting in areas that get more than 12 to 16 inches of annual precipitation. They are true Westerners.

Salvia reptans Autumn Sapphire

Western native Salvia reptans Autumn Sapphire, photo courtesy of Plant Select.

Two other species of Salvia that have proven themselves to be outstanding early fall bloomers with excellent cold hardiness are Salvia azurea and Salvia reptans Autumn Sapphire . These two blue-flowered species stand out in the fall garden with their finely textured foliage. I’ve found that the hummingbirds eagerly seek out these two, in spite of not having brightly colored pink, red or orange flowers that hummers generally prefer.

Salvia | Sage >> View All

  • Amistad Friendship Sage Salvia Amistad


    Sale: $10.79

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

  • Blue Flame Giant Purple Sage Salvia pachyphylla Blue Flame

    Starting at $8.99

    Sale: $8.54

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

  • Cold Hardy Pink Texas Sage Salvia greggii Cold Hardy Pink

    Starting at $10.99

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

  • Furman's Red Texas Sage Salvia greggii Furman's Red

    Starting at $10.49

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

  • Ultra Violet Hybrid Sage Salvia Ultra Violet

    Starting at $9.99

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

  • West Texas Grass Sage Salvia reptans


    Sale: $8.99

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.

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4 thoughts on “The Spectacular Salvia”

  • D Curtis

    After considerable research, I planted ‘Furman’s Red’ and 'Ultra Violet’ in the Glorieta, NM area last year. Both were established by the end of the growing season, but neither lived through the winter, which wasn't even as cold as many winters. Apparently, they're not quite as cold hardy as we'd like them to be.

    • David Salman

      'Furman's Red' and 'Ultra Violet' will be sufficiently cold hardy for your area IF you can give them extra winter protection for the 1st two winters. Our native southwestern Salvia will not achieve their full cold hardiness until the plants have matured and the crown has bulked up for at least two growing seasons.

      I would recommend a late spring/early summer planting in a protected spot, ideally against a south or west facing wall, not our in the open away from heat absorbing buildings. Then in mid-fall, place a chicken wire cylinder around the plants and fill them with pine needles. Remove the wire/pine needles in early May. Do this for two winters and your plants should make it through winters to come without protection.

      Salvia 'Raspberry Delight' has also been found to be exceptionally cold hardy. It will be available again next spring 2014.

  • Bill Shorb
    Bill Shorb 05/15/13 at 7:56 am

    Good article! Are any of the salvia mentioned suitable for Houston, Texas? I am growing May Night here. Was thinking of trying Maraschino and Reptans. What do you think? Anything else?


    • David Salman

      I would recommend Salvia 'Maraschino' for the Houston area, but not Salvia reptans. Salvia reptans would get too much water and likely rot out. Also recommended would be 'Red Velvet'.

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