This wonderful mint relative blooms for a long period of time in a wide spectrum of colors. The colors of salvias are diverse, as are the overall plant habits, which can vary greatly from short, low-growing plants to tall, sprawling plants. Salvias are also a great nectar source—if you plant them, pollinators (especially hummingbirds) will be sure to pay your garden a visit.
You will have an easy time finding a salvia to fit your needs, with its many colors to choose from and diverse bloom times. These plants put on a spectacular show with hundreds of blooms at a time. Generally, the hardiest species tend to have one major bloom session, with potential for a second flush if blooms are cut back. More tender perennial salvias tend to have a spread-out bloom period and bloom more sparsely overall. Some species have somewhat showy bracts, or modified leaves, that can persist after the blooms have finished, further adding to the floral display.
Salvia Care Must-Knows
Salvias can survive pretty harsh conditions but don't tolerate wet feet, so make sure you plant them in well-drained soil. Once salvias are established, they can stand up to long periods of drought. Usually, a supplemental watering is necessary only on hot summer days after long periods of little rain. Salvias also prefer full sun, where they will put on their best floral show. Anything less than full sun causes the plant to stretch and become floppy.
When planting your salvias, allow plenty of room for the plants to grow, because many become large and start to sprawl. After the initial bloom period and if the plant is becoming too large, you can cut it back by about half to encourage a smaller, more compact plant and a second round of blooms. Perennial salvias can also be dug up and divided to make more plants. This is best done in early spring right when plants emerge—just be careful not to damage tender new growth.
Since salvia is such a diverse family of plants, there is so much room for botanical improvement. Right now, work is being done to upgrade winter hardiness, to make plants more compact, and to improve disease resistance. Along with these improvements, researchers are working on bicolor forms of perennial salvias.
Garden Plans For Salvia
More Varieties for Salvia
Salvia greggii is shrubby at the base, with aromatic foliage all along the stems. Its loose spires of cherry red flowers are carried on 2- to 3-foot stems in late summer and fall. Zones 7-9.
'Black and Blue' sage
Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' blooms in late summer and fall with very deep blue flowers, with almost black calyces. The flowers are carried in spikes on shrubby stems that may reach 8 feet tall. Zones 7-10, though it's often treated as an annual.
Salvia azurea grows to 5 feet tall and bears wonderful spikes of sky-blue flowers in late summer and fall. Zones 5-9
Salvia sclarea is a short-lived perennial or biennial grown for its colorful bracts of pink, purple, white, or lilac. Plants readily self-seed, so once you plant it, you may find plants popping up throughout the garden. Plants grow up to 2 feet tall but may need staking or pinching to prevent them from falling over. Zones 4-9
Giant purple sage
Salvia pachyphylla is exceedingly tough and bears spikes of purple flowers throughout the summer. It can reach 4 feet tall. Zones 5-9
'Golden Delicious' pineapple sage
Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious' is a more compact version of pineapple sage with yellow-green foliage. This shrublike perennial is hardy in Zones 8-11 and grows well as an annual in colder Zones. Plants grow 3-4 feet tall and bear spikes with brilliant red blooms beginning in late summer.
'Hot Lips' sage
Flowering most prolifically in spring and fall, salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips' features bicolor blooms of white and red on compact shrubby plants. Zones 8-11
Salvia spathacea, a hummingbird favorite, is aptly named. The magenta flowers of this sage attract hundreds of the tiny birds over the course of a season. Plants grow about 1 foot tall. Zones 8-10
'May Night' hybrid sage
Salvia x sylvestris 'May Night' carries dense spikes of large, two-lipped, deep indigo blue flowers on 1-1/2- to 2-foot stems. Increase by division as this is a sterile hybrid. Zones 5-9
Salvia farinacea is usually treated as an annual in northern climates. It is upright and bushy, its 2-foot stems coated with a white meal. Dense spikes of blue or white flowers bloom from summer into fall. Zones 8-11
Mexican bush sage
Salvia leucantha bears fuzzy purple flowers in late summer and fall. It grows 3 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 8-10. It's often grown as an annual in cold-winter climates.
Salvia elegans is an outstanding hummingbird and butterfly plant because it produces tubular red flowers late in the growing season. Its name comes from the pineapple scent given off by the medium-green foliage. It is a shrubby plant that grows 3-5 feet tall. It is hardy in Zones 8-11 but can be grown as an annual elsewhere.
Salvia nemorosa 'Plumosa' bears dense spikes of deep purple blooms throughout the summer. It grows 18 inches tall. Zones 3-8
'Point Sal Spreader' salvia
Salvia leucophylla 'Point Sal Spreader', also known as purple sage, grows 2 feet tall and spreads to 10 feet or so wide. Great for slopes, it is very drought-tolerant. Zones 8-10
Salvia involucrata is a shrubby Mexican native that develops purple-red flowers from midsummer to fall. It grows 5 feet tall and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Zones 7-11
Santa Rosa Island sage
Salvia brandegeei is an exceptionally drought-tolerant and long-lived sage. This plant has a shrublike form and grows 4-6 feet tall. It has dark green leaves and purple flowers. Zones 8-10
Salvia apiana is decorated with smooth white leaves and purple-tinged white flowers. This drought-tolerant, evergreen perennial grows 2-5 feet tall. Zones 8-10
Plant Salvia With:
Golden marguerite is a cheerful flower. Also known as golden chamomile, it produces a cloud of yellow daisies on feather gray-green foliage. Plants spread quickly, requiring division every two years or so. After their first flush of bloom, they can get rangy looking, so cut them back by about half to keep them neat and to encourage further bloom.
Easy to grow, always fresh, and always eye-catching, Shasta daisy is a longtime favorite. All cultivars produce white daisy flowers in various degrees of doubleness and size. The sturdy stems and long vase life make the flowers unbeatable for cutting. Shasta daisy thrives in well-drained, not overly rich soil. Taller sorts may need staking.
Daylilies are so easy to grow you'll often find them in ditches and fields, escapees from gardens. And yet they look so delicate, producing glorious trumpet-shape blooms in myriad colors. In fact, there are some 50,000 named hybrid cultivars in a range of flower sizes (the minis are very popular), forms, and plant heights. Some are fragrant. The flowers are borne on leafless stems. Although each bloom lasts but a single day, superior cultivars carry numerous buds on each scape so bloom time is long, especially if you deadhead daily. The strappy foliage may be evergreen or deciduous. Shown above: 'Little Grapette' daylily
Asters get their name from the Latin word for "star," and their flowers are indeed the superstars of the fall garden. Some types of this native plant can reach up to 6 feet with flowers in white and pinks but also, perhaps most strikingly, rich purples and showy lavenders. Not all asters are fall bloomers. Extend the season by growing some of the summer bloomers, as well. Some are naturally compact; tall types that grow more than 2 feet benefit from staking or an early season pinching or cutting back by about one-third in July (or so) to keep the plant more compact.