By Skip Richter Sh
Salvias are among the most popular flowering plants in our Texas gardens. I admit in advance that I am biased in favor of this diverse genus, which includes more than 900 species and many additional hybridizations. Some sage plants, such as sage (Salvia officinalis) and Salvia hispanica, the source of chia seeds, are important in cooking.
We are blessed with many ornamental plants that provide beauty to the harsh Texas landscape, even in the sweltering heat. As an added bonus, many species are magnets for hummingbirds. Most salvias like full sun and well-drained soil, with some exceptions.
Magnificent salvia, commonly referred to as scarlet sage or red sage, is a popular annual bedding plant in garden centers. Plant breeders have expanded color options from the original red to white, pink, lavender, purple and salmon. Most varieties range in height from 10 inches to a foot.
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Salvia coccinea is commonly called scarlet sage or tropical sage. In warm winters, it may return as a perennial. It blooms well even in partial shade. Varieties such as Coral Nymph, Lady in Red, Forest Fire, and Summer Jewel feature showy blooms and more compact growth.
Two-color sage, Salvia sinaloensis, can be grouped to form a ground cover in sun to part shade. Neon blue flowers with a white spot on the lower lip are produced to a height of up to 18 inches rising above the plant’s bronzy-purple green foliage.
Mealy cup sage, Salvia farencia, is a perennial native to central and west Texas. Plants reach 2 feet or more tall and bear medium-sized blue or white flowers. Henry Dolberg (blue flowers) and Augusta Dolberg (white flowers) are two species found in a Texas cemetery that reach 3 feet in height.
Salvia greige, commonly known as greg’s salvia, cherry sage or autumn sage (a name I find misleading), forms a 2- to 4-foot-tall semi-evergreen shrub that blooms from spring to frost. Red is the most common bloom color, followed by white.
Crossings of Salvia greggii with other species have added new, more exciting cultivars with additional unique colors, including salmon, coral, burgundy, hot pink, mauve pink, light purple and raspberry red.
Salvia microphylla, commonly known as hot lips, bears white flowers with a crimson red outer edge, giving it a lipstick appearance. During hot weather, the flowers produced are usually all red or all white, but ‘hot lips’ flowers return on cooler fall days. This variety reaches 3 feet tall.
Salvia indigo spiers are a cross between our native Salvia farencia and Salvia longispicata. Indigo spiers grow to 4 or more feet high and wide and produce long spikes of violet-blue flowers. Its flexible growth habit makes it a bit unruly for small landscape areas.
Mystic Spiers have shorter internodes that produce a more compact plant with a stiffer growth habit of about 3 feet tall. The Misty is the latest improvement, coming in at just 18 inches in size, making it a perfect fit for a landscape bed or large container.
Anise sage or Brazilian sage (Salvia guaranitica) grows to 4 feet tall in an upright mound shape. It bears long, dark blue tubular flowers from late spring until frost. The plant does well in sun to bright shade. The black and blue cultivar bears dark blue flowers, while the Argentinean sky flowers are sky blue. Hummingbirds really love this species.
Some salvia plants wait until the nights get longer in late summer and fall to put on their blooming display. Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) produces a mass of upright, silvery-green stems with lance-shaped leaves that form a rounded mound 4 to 5 feet tall and covered with long purple and white flowers in the fall. An all-purple variant is also available. Santa Barbara is a shorter variety, reaching only about 3 feet tall.
Mountain sage (Salvia regla) is a 3- to 4-foot-tall, semi-woody plant that forms orange-red hummingbird-attracting flowers in fall. Give it well-drained soil and a location with morning sun and afternoon shade.
Salvia mexicana, or Mexican sage, forms an attractive 4- to 5-foot-tall plant with long, tubular, purple-blue flowers in the late season. Limelight has masses of striped green flowers that provide a striking contrast to the green foliage and dark purple flowers.
Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is often included in herb gardens where its pineapple-scented leaves can be used to make jelly or flavored iced tea. However, it deserves space elsewhere in the landscape. The 3- to 4-foot tall plants have an open, airy growth habit. In late summer through fall, long red blooms appear to delight hummingbirds.
These are just a few of the many wonderful species and cultivars of our area, and more seem to appear on the market every year. With so many to choose from, I hope you’ll consider including some exciting new sage plants in your landscape this year.
Robert “Skip” Richter is the Texas A&M AgriLife Horticulture Agent for Brazos County, 2619 Texas 21 W., Bryan, Texas 77803. For local gardening information and events, visit brazosmg.com. Gardening questions? Call Skip at 823-0129 or email email@example.com.