The low-maintenance plants are sure to be a favorite among gardeners
Salvias (or sages, as they are known) make up the largest genus in the mint family. They are some of the most versatile, low-maintenance plants you can grow. With over 900 different species of sage to choose from, there is sure to be a favorite for your garden. With origins in geographical regions as diverse as Africa, Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean as well as North and South America, sage plants are so widely adapted that almost every gardener can find a few cultivars that suit their garden.
The name Salvia is derived from the Latin word “salver” (to heal), and many species in the genus have been used for their herbal and medicinal properties since ancient times. In modern times, many sage plants have become popular garden ornamentals. It attracts hummingbirds, seed-eating birds (especially goldfinches), nectar-seeking butterflies, and beneficial insects. In addition to providing food, salvia provides seasonal protection and cover for birds.
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Salvias can be evergreen or deciduous shrubs, or perennial, biennial or annual flowering plants. Many sage plants have fragrant leaves and most bloom from spring to late fall. The flowers emerge in spikes of beautiful tubular blossoms. They are mostly shades of blue or purple, however, different species also produce white, yellow, pink, red or even bi-colored flowers.
It averages 2-3 feet in height but can grow anywhere from 1 foot to 5 feet. All varieties have square stems, which is characteristic of plants from the mint family. Salvias also tolerate a wide range of soil types and many thrive in full sun, needing minimal water during hot, dry summers. These plants are also low maintenance and relatively free of diseases and pests.
Here are some of my favorites that can be found in our educational landscape at Cabral Ag Center (2101E. Earhart Rd., Stockton, 95206)
Salvia leucantha (Santa Barbara Mexican Bush Sage) It is a fast-growing shrub that can reach 3-5 feet tall and wide extending outward at the base. It has vertical spikes of velvety indigo blue flowers on arching branches.
Salvia apiana (white sage) It is a California native with smooth gray-white leaves that fade to pale pink flowers that form 3- to 4-foot-tall whorls in spring and summer. White sage contains essential oils and resins that are commonly used as incense. White Sage thrives in full sun.
Salvia spathasia (hummingbird sage) He is a California native. It has large tubular flowers that are deep red and are a hummingbird magnet. This California native blooms from March to May. It is an evergreen perennial with oblong, bright green leaves that can have a wrinkled appearance. Hummingbird sage grows one to three feet tall and up to three feet wide. This plant grows in full sun, but prefers partial shade.
Salvia microphylla (Mint Bush Sage ‘Hot Lips’) It is an evergreen shrub with unusual red and white flowers. It blooms prolifically during the hot summer months until frost. It is fast growing and can easily reach 3 feet tall and wide. Hot Lips thrive in full sun.
Salvia clevelandii (Cleveland sage) It is a popular woody shrub native to California that has aromatic gray-green foliage. Education Landscape has the cultivar ‘Winifred Gilman’, which has round clusters of intense violet flowers that appear from late spring through summer. It reaches three to four and a half feet in height, and usually grows twice as wide as it is tall. It prefers full sun or partial shade.
Salvia chamaedrioides (Germander sage) This magnificent evergreen sub-shrub has a small, spreading bushy habit and grows 12 to 18 inches tall and 3 to 4 feet wide and slowly spreads outward. It has small, narrow, half-inch-long, gray-green leaves and dark blue flowers that appear almost year-round. Salvia does best in full sun and very light shade in well-drained soil.
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Forest sage (East Friesland sage ‘Ostfriesland’) Blocks 18 inches tall to 24 inches wide. It has intense blue-violet flower spikes up to 18 inches long. Enjoys full sun but tolerates partial shade. Plants may repeat flowering throughout the summer, but need regular moisture to encourage this. Remove spent flower spikes to help prolong the flowering period. ‘Ostfriesland’ plants are sterile and do not set seed.
If you have a gardening question, please contact SJ Master Gardeners at (209) 953-6100. You can also visit our website ucanr.edu.sjmg.