Sages are great perennials in your border

Perennial borders are wonderful. Little or no annual planting, but some pruning and deadheading required from time to time to keep plants flowering. Sage advice is to include some sage plants, in your perennial flower bed. The true sages are Salvias, but Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia, is not a true sage, nor is it from Russia, but it is also a great plant for the border. It is a non-stop bloomer that is easy to care for, with fragrant blue flowers that can attract bees.

I dug up a small seedling several years ago from a garden club friend and since then have multiplied it a few times in my landscape and have dug a few gift plants for friends. It does go to seed and is easily propagated, but it is not uncontrollable or obnoxiously invasive. Since it can get 5 ft tall, near the back of the border may be the best spot. It requires well drained average soil, full sun and moderate water. It is drought and heat tolerant.

I am unsure which cultivar I have, but Russian sage cultivars include ‘Blue Mist’, which has light blue flowers, ‘Blue Haze’, ‘Blue Spire’, which have deep purple flowers, ‘Longin’ a lavender-blue, with stiff upright stems and a more formal appearance,  ‘Little Spire’, a dwarf variety (2ft. height), and ‘Filigran’, a cut leaf, lacier texture with more upright growth.

Salvias come in a wide palette of colors and sizes and have a long bloom season. I especially like the dark violet-purple, 30 inch tall, Salvia nemorosa‘Caradonna’ cultivar which blooms from May to October if deadheaded after the first bloom. It was awarded the most Outstanding New Perennial in 2000 by the International Hardy Plant Union. ‘Caradonna’ attracts butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds and is rabbit/deer-resistant as are most Salvias.  It is all the more striking when planted with yellow flowering companions such as the daylily, ‘Stella d’ora’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, or yarrow, Acheillea ‘Moonshine’.

Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' provides a purple addition to the perennial border. Photo by Lee Miller

I also like and have grown Salvia x sylvestris ‘May Night’ hybrid which is also indigo blue flowered with a height of 18 to 24 inches. It is increased by division as this is a sterile hybrid.

Salvia greggii, Autumn sage, is an American native that is mostly red blooming in the wild and comes in a variety of mostly red cultivars, but also in orange, pink, white, blue depending on the region it is from. The range of colors has been enhanced by breeding new cultivars. It is disease and insect free and drought tolerant.  It is a great plant for our drought prone area. I have to admit I was curious about how this Salvia acquired the name greggii. I found out that it was named by botanist, Asa Gray in 1870, in honor of Josiah Greg, a southwest explorer and naturalist who discovered it in Texas in the 1840’s. He died at age 44, falling off a horse in 1850, so honored he is, with this appreciated plant.

Salvia greggii should be lightly pruned periodically during the summer and it should be taken back to about a third of its size in February just before the growth season. This will keep the plant healthier looking going into spring.

Another species with several cultivars is Mexican sage, Salvia microphylla. ‘Hot Lips’ is a cultivar that is commonly planted and it is a large plant that gets 30 inches tall and sprawls 6 feet.

Salvia 'Hot Lips' is a colorful addition to the border. Photo by Lee Miller

It is adorned with stunning bicolor flowers with red tips and white lips. In spring, the first flowers are all red, then bicolor.

Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucanthea, which is a 40 inch tall bush with purple and white velvety flowers that blooms from late summer to fall. It is cold hardy in our zone and well worth having if you have room for it.

For a run down on the many kinds of Salvias available see: https://www.plantdelights.com/blogs/articles/perennial-salvia-plants , or   http://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/plant-inspiration/16-spectacular-salvias-to-grow/.  Here is to being sage and add some sages to your landscape for long flowering beauty with less watering.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/

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    Lee Miller

    Lee Miller is a University of Delaware graduate and retired fisheries biologist, he gardens on 10 acres and makes wine each year with the help of a cadre of friends. However, his first love is gardening and he grows various fruit trees, heirloom ... Read Full

    Marcy Sousa

    Marcy Sousa is the San Joaquin County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator. She is a Stockton native and enjoys teaching others about gardening. She has her bachelors from Stanislaus State in Permaculture. She has been with the program since 2007. Read Full

    Nadia Zane

    Nadia Zane is a UC Master Gardener, a landscape designer and Stockton native. She has a fondness for California native plants and sustainable landscaping, which she utilizes in her work for Native Beauty Garden Design. She is a member of the CA ... Read Full
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