Show your tough love for sage when you prune – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Show your tough love for sage when you prune – Santa Cruz Sentinel

This corrugated sage (S. corrugata) needed some tough pruning.

We want our gardens to look good and pleasing to the eye whenever possible, but occasions arise when our gardens need a tough love. Now, late winter, is one of those occasions, especially for salvia.

Salvias, also called sage, are excellent garden plants in a large and diverse family. There are approximately 1,000 species, almost all of which are native to one of three distinct regions: Central and South America, Central Asia and the Mediterranean Basin, and East Asia. There are a few species native to the United States.

Salvias are popular garden plants because the genus has many shapes, sizes and flower colors to choose from; The plants are easy to grow, with few problems with pests and diseases; They are drought tolerant. Many salvia flowers have different shades of red.

Salvias require pruning, which is best done on an annual schedule. If your garden has a lot of salvias, as mine does, it’s easy to skip a pruning session or two. As often happens, procrastination only postpones the task and does not eliminate the need for it.

When salvia is not maintained with regular pruning, it grows too wide and produces fewer flowers. It is worth making the effort of regular pruning to control the size and shape of the plant and stimulate flowering.

There are two broad categories of sage plants: woody perennials and deciduous, soft-stemmed plants.

Common species in the woody group include culinary or purple sage (S. officinalis), autumn sage (S. greggii), Germander’s sage (S. chamaedryoides), Texas sage (S. coccinea), and little sage (S. microphylla). The best times to prune wood sage plants are said to be slightly after the flowers fade (usually late spring or early fall) and more heavily just as new growth appears at the base of the plant (late winter or early spring).

Popular plants in the soft-stemmed category include: Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha), pineapple sage (S. elegans), Brazilian sage (S. guaranitica), Waverly sage (S. waverly), and gentian sage (S. patens). . ). These plants, which flower on new growth, should be cut back “to the ground” after the flowers fade or as new growth appears in early spring.

When sage plants have grown for two or three years without regular pruning, as they may in my own garden, it’s time for renewal pruning, also called catch-up time.

According to some consultants, sage pruning involves careful planning and time-consuming cutting of individual stems, but when managing 40 or 50 overgrown plants, the most practical tool is the electric trimmer, which is used with great love.

We also cut back hoe plants that had sprawled out to form a large clump, moved larger plants that were encroaching on the path and repotted several low-growing blue-flowered germander sage plants to form a border for this large group of sage plants.

Time will tell, but I expect these plants to quickly recover from this difficult pruning and respond with a wonderful new season of growth and bloom. They are already producing new shoots.

If you’re managing only a few sage plants, you can prune individual stems and get a more attractive result, but your plants are also likely to respond with a new season of growth and an abundance of flowers. Try a little tough love!

Tom Carwin is president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and a lifelong Master Gardener at UC Santa Cruz. Visit for more information; Send feedback to

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