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Stately Salvias

Possibly no family of flowering plants is better adapted to Texas growing conditions than the salvias. Resistant to disease and pests, this family of plants can provide color in almost every region with minimum care and attention. Salvias are available as annual or perennials, tall or small plants, sun-lovers or shade-denizens. There is a salvia for almost any spot in the garden.

If you look at the profile of a salvia flower, you will notice that it is a perfect fit for the hummingbird’s head. Salvias are favorite food plants for hummers whose long sipping-straw beak fits perfectly into the cupped flowers. Although rumor has it that hummingbirds prefer red flowers, they really prefer salvias — red, blue, purple, or pink.

Many of the salvias have fragrant leaves and/or flowers. The common name "sage" points to that scent. Depending on variety, salvias provide fragrance in the garden and indoors as cut flowers.

Several varieties of salvia are native to Texas. Other varieties, while not natives, are very well adapted and will flourish in your garden. In the past few years, more and more landscapes, particularly public landscapes have utilized the sturdy Salvia greggii as a full-sun tolerant plant. As a result, we may think of salvias as plants that need full sun, but there are many varieties that will do well, and appreciate, some shade. A browse through the different varieties available in your garden center will surely reward you with plants that you will love to ignore!

NATIVE SALVIAS:

Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea var. grandiflora)— This is one of the varieties that will appreciate a little shade. Growing naturally in both woods and prairies, the Pitcher sage makes a tall background plant with lovely blue flowers with white centers. It is easy to grow from seed and is a perennial that grows throughout the state in almost any kind of soil that is well-drained. Its best display is in the fall.

Tropical sage (S. coccinea) Also known as Scarlet sage, this bright red (or pink or orange or white) variety is another salvia that is adapted to most soils and can grow in part shade or full sun. It is perennial in the southern part of the state and an annual in colder regions. Hardy in Zone 8. It works best in areas where the soil is poor. Over-fertilization turns this lovely flower into a rank weed. Keeping it pinched back will make it more manageable and attractive.

Engelmann’s sage (S. engelmannii) This variety has purple-blue flowers that stay fairly low to the ground. Growing to about 1 1/2 feet tall, this native grows from central Texas north to Denton. It is not particular about soils and will take part shade or full sun.

Texas sage (S. texana) grows in most of the state and looks similar to Engelmann sage except its flowers are deep purple. It also remains small and blooms most profusely in the spring.

Mealy Blue sage (S. farinacea ) Now available in nurseries in blue, purple and white, this variety is a Texas native that blooms throughout the growing season in alkaline soils throughout the state. You can find is growing beside the road in many parts of the state, and it looks lovely in garden beds. Growing 2-3 feet tall, this is a good perennial in most areas.

Cedar sage (S. roemeriana) This variety produces bright red flowers in shady areas. The plant is small, growing usually to about a foot tall, and blooms through most of the spring and summer. It is a good plant for growing under trees, and takes its name from the "cedars" of central Texas where it is native. Hardy in Zone 8.

Gregg salvia (S. greggii) Also known as cherry sage and autumn sage, this variety is the most widely planted of the salvias. It is available in new colors every year: red, white, pink, raspberry, orange, coral, and probably more by now. The plant grows to a 2-3 foot bush and blooms from spring to frost. It will take part shade or full sun, and demands little in terms of soil, water, or care, thus making it an ideal plant for city landscaping. This variety is perennial throughout the state except in the High Plains of west Texas where it is grown either as an annual or in pots that can be brought in during freezing weather.

Mountain sage (S. regla) A native of the Chisos Mountains in far west Texas, this tall salvia has bright red or orange blossoms in the fall. It is a favorite of hummingbirds as they head south for the winter. It is adapted to desert conditions, but cannot take very cold temperatures.

Big Red sage (S. penstemonoides) Once thought to be extinct, this native has large magenta blooms on tall flower spikes. Its evergreen foliage stays low. It grows in sun or part sun and blooms from June through September. It is hardy to Zone 7.

ADAPTED SALVIAS

Culinary sage (S. officinalis) Perhaps the most widely known sage, the culinary varieties don’t enjoy the parts of Texas where humidity is a problem. Although the plants will usually grow for a year or two, they often succumb to hot, humid summers. There are multi-colored varieties to add variety to the garden and all are tasty and fragrant.

Pineapple sage (S. elegans) Another variety often used as a culinary herb, pineapple sage leaves have the wonderful fragrance of fresh pineapple. It is delicious as a tea or added to other herbs in drinks, fruit salads, or other dishes. The bright red flowers are most profuse in the fall. The plant grows to about 2-3 feet tall

Mexican Bush sage (S. leucantha) One of the most popular salvias, this one has purple flowers accented with white. It grows to four feet tall with grayish green foliage. The long velvety flower spikes bloom in summer and fall.

Majestic sage (S. guaranitica) Also known as Big Blue sage or Big Purple sage, this is a big bushy plant growing to 5 feet tall and flowering profusely throughout the summer. It likes some shade in the afternoon. In Central Texas it dies to the ground in the winter but comes back quickly. In colder climates it will be a fast-growing annual. This is a favorite food plant of hummingbirds.

Indigo spires (S. longispicatax farinacea ‘Indigo Spires’) This hybrid has deep blue bloom spikes up to 18" long. It is a profuse bloomer and is perennial in Zone 8 and annual in colder zones.

Nuevo Leon (S. greggii x lycioides ‘Nuevo Leon’) Another hybrid, this sage has a lacy, draping form with royal purple blooms. It takes full sun or part shade and blooms from spring until frost. It will be perennial in Zone 7 and above.

Purple Leaf Sage (S. blepharophylla) An import from Mexico, this variety has deep purple on the undersides of the leaves. Its flowers are red and it blooms throughout the spring and summer. Perennial in Zone 8, the plant grows to 2-3 feet tall in shade or part sun.

Lyre-Leaf sage (S. lyrata) If you’re looking for a well-adapted ground cover that will thrive in part sun, this is it. It readily re-seeds itself and is cold hardy to Zone 5. The leaves resemble ajuga and the flowers are blue in the spring. The plant grows to about a foot in height.

San Luis sage (S. microphylla) is evergreen in Zone 8 and above. It has bright red flowers that appear from spring until frost. Growing 2-3 feet tall, this sage is a hummingbird favorite.

Smooth Leaf Sage (S. miniata) is a tender perennial generally grown as an annual in all but deep South Texas. Bright red flowers are produced on sturdy, fast-growing plants from spring until frost. It is a good shade plant that will grow to 3-4 feet tall and produce an upright tropical-looking plant.

Bicolor sage (S. sinaloensis) Bronze colored foliage and royal blue blooms are a dazzling combination on this low mounded sage. A native of Mexico, it grows to about 18’ in height and blooms from spring to fall. It prefer some shade, particularly in the afternoon. Perennial in Zone 8 and above.

Bog sage (S. uliginosa) Unlike most salvias, this variety loves wet feet. Native to South America, this sage produces sky blue flowers on tall mint-looking plants. It is perennial in Zone 8 and above.

homegrown, po box 913, georgetown, tx 78627, judy@homegrowntexas.com