With close to 1,000 species worldwide, salvias are members of the mint family which also includes rosemary, thyme, lavender, and basil. Ornamental salvias are also a relative of common sage, the culinary herb used for cooking. Most varieties are native to hot, dry climates and can be grown as perennials. John Whittlesey, author of The Plant Lover's Guide to Salvias, says, "Hardy perennial salvias bring strong color and form to the early summer border." Salvias are a favorite of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Their drought-resistant nature and low maintenance make them a perfect choice for an easy-care garden.

On this page: Salvia Basics | How To Plant | Care | Design Tips | Pictures | FAQs

SALVIA BASICS

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha). Photo by: sasimoto / Shutterstock.

Zones:

Most varieties can be used as perennials in zones 5-9, with some varieties cold hardy to zone 4 or heat tolerant to zone 10.

Height/Spread:

Varieties 1 to 6 feet tall & wide, with most averaging 2 to 3 feet.

Exposure:

Full sun, 6 hours of sunlight a day is needed to promote flowering. There are varieties that will also tolerate partial shade.

Bloom Time:

As a rule, salvias bloom late spring to fall, with some starting a little earlier and others like S. leucantha blooming later.

Colors and characteristics:

Flower spikes bloom in shades of blue, dark purple, lavender, red, pink, white and a rare yellow. The stems are square and have narrow, velvety green leaves.

Salvia types:

Some salvias are considered annuals and others perennials. Among the perennials, there are old-world types that come from Europe and Asia, as well as American natives that come from the western half of the U.S. In addition, some salvias are classified as woody-stemmed shrubs, some are deciduous plants that die to the ground during winter, and others are evergreen.

Toxicity:

Salvia is not poisonous to dogs, cats, or horses; however, if ingested in large quantities it can cause temporary stomach upset.

HOW TO PLANT

When to plant:

Potted salvias can be purchased and planted in spring or fall. (Learn more about the benefits of fall planting). Seeds should be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date, and seedlings put out after all threat of frost has passed.

Where to plant:

Picking the right spot for your salvia can make a difference in how well the plant grows and flowers. Most salvias will be happiest in a sunny spot with good drainage. Use them along your home's foundation or as part of mixed perennial borders. They can also be grown in containers. Salvias are especially nice for growing along paths because of the way they spill over and soften the edges.

Soil:

Salvia plants don't need rich soil, but they must have good drainage. If your soil is heavy, plant "proud", or slightly higher than the surrounding grade. In pots, a mixture of ordinary garden soil mixed with perlite allows water to drain rapidly. Whether in the garden or in a pot, a mulch of wood chips or small, rough-edged rock is highly recommended to not only protect the roots, but to help keep the soil temperature and moisture consistent.

Spacing:

Salvias don’t like to be crowded. When planting in groups or amongst other plants, determine the spacing based on their mature size. Space them far enough apart to ensure good air circulation.

SALVIA CARE

Water:

Most varieties of salvia are drought tolerant once established, but they'll look better with occasional water.

Pruning:

Deadheading is important to encourage repeat blooming. However, if you are looking to harvest seed, leave a few flowerheads to dry naturally on the plant. Collect the seedpods and shake out into a bag or jar.

Fertilizer:

Most salvias are light feeders and only occasionally need fertilizer. A light application of a balanced fertilizer or compost in early spring can be sufficient.

Diseases and pests:

No serious disease or pest problems affect salvia plants. Deer also tend to steer clear from salvias and other sages, as they don’t like plants with a strong scent.

Flopping:

There are a variety of reasons salvias flop, including too much water, from rain or irrigation, not enough sun, or too much fertilizer. If your salvia plant has become leggy and flopped over you can either provide support for the plant with stakes or deadhead the flowers and let new ones grow in. Many gardeners think flopping is a sign that it is time to prune or divide their salvia.

DESIGN TIPS

A red salvia growing in a container. Photo by: Tim Elliott | Dreamstime.

  • The variety of flower colors, sizes, and long bloom times make salvias perfect additions to perennial borders, even when used outside their hardiness ranges as annuals.
  • Salvias play well with plants having bolder foliage and larger flowers.
  • Some salvias, such as S. leucantha, are late-blooming and make a glorious autumn display, extending the season of garden enjoyment.
  • In containers, low-growing salvias serve as fillers or drape over the pot edge, taller types can be a centerpiece.
  • Plant salvias with pleasant-scented foliage near the edge of a path or patio to enjoy the fragrance.
  • Salvias are magnets for butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators and a perfect addition to wildlife gardens.

OTHER USES:

  • Flowers may be used as a garnish or may be added to fruit cocktails or salads.
  • Leaves may be added to salads or to hot or iced teas.
  • Dried leaves may be added to potpourris.

SALVIA PICTURES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Tom Carnes / Shutterstock.

Salvia greggii
(Autumn sage or Texas sage)
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Zones: 6-9
Height/Spread: 2 to 3 feet tall & wide
Bloom Time: June to October
Bloom Color: Varieties in red, pink, orange, purple, or white
Exposure: Full sun
Water: Regular, drought tolerant
Soil: Well-drained, average

This fast-growing, evergreen shrub is a popular garden plant in the Southwest.

Photo by: Gurcharan Singh / Shutterstock.

Salvia leucantha ‘Midnight’
(Mexican bush sage)
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Zones: 8-10
Height/Spread: 3 to 4 feet tall, 4 to 6 feet wide
Bloom Time: August to frost
Bloom Color: Purple
Exposure: Full sun, will tolerate some afternoon shade
Water: Regular watering, but will tolerate some drought
Soil: Rich, evenly moist, well-drained

Although Mexican bush sage typically has white flowers held in purple calyces, ‘Midnight’ is entirely purple.

Photo by: Erik E. Cardona / Shutterstock.

Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’
(May Night wood sage)
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Zones: 4-8
Height/Spread: 1.5 feet to 2 feet tall, 1 to 1.5 feet wide
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Color: Purple
Exposure: Full sun
Water: Regular, drought resistant
Soil: Average, sandy, tolerates clay

Recognized as Perennial Plant of the Year in 1997, May Night is a prolific bloomer. Deadheading and some extra watering can produce a second bloom.

Photo by: Peter Turner Photography / Shutterstock.

Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’
(Meadow sage)
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Zones: 4-9
Height/Spread: 1 to 2 feet tall & wide
Bloom Time: June to September
Bloom Color: Blue-violet
Exposure: Full sun, afternoon shade in hot summer climates
Water: Regular water, weekly or more in extreme conditions
Soil: Average dry to medium, well-drained

Plant Delights, a mail order nursery in N.C., describes ‘Caradonna’ as one of the finest and most tolerant of their hot, humid climate. Deadheading will produce continued bloom.

Photo by: Peter Turner Photography / Shutterstock.

Salvia clevelandii
(Cleveland sage)
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Zones: 8-11, annual in colder zones
Height/Spread: 3 to 5 feet tall, 2 to 4 feet wide
Bloom Time: July to October
Bloom Color: Blue
Exposure: Full sun, tolerates very light shade
Water: Dry to regular watering, will tolerate drought
Soil: Dry to medium moisture, well-drained

Las Pilitas, a nursery specializing in California natives, calls this fast-growing sage one of the best wildlife plants they grow. Common cultivars are 'Winnifred Gilman' and 'Allen Chickering'.

Photo by: enrouteksm / Shutterstock.

Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’
(Mountain sage)
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Zones: 6-10
Height/Spread: 2 to 3 feet tall & wide
Bloom Time: Spring, fall
Bloom Color: Two-toned, red and white
Exposure: Full sun
Water: Once established, only needs water during extreme heat
Soil: Fast-draining

This easy-to-grow salvia from Mexico and southeastern Arizona is drought and deer tolerant.

Photo by: Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.

Salvia leucophylla
(Purple sage)
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Zones: 7-10
Height/Spread: 3 to 5 feet tall, 6 to 8 feet wide
Bloom Time: April through July
Bloom Color: Light purple
Exposure: Full sun
Water: Drought tolerant once established
Soil: Tolerates clay

A California native, this evergreen salvia has soft grey foliage and a pleasing scent.

Photo by: Skyprayer2005 / Shutterstock.

Salvia elegans
(Pineapple sage)
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Zones: 8-10
Height/Spread: 3 to 4 feet tall, 2 to 3 feet wide
Bloom Time: August to frost
Bloom Color: Red
Exposure: Full sun, tolerates light afternoon shade
Water: Regular watering, but will tolerate some drought
Soil: Rich, evenly moist, well-drained

This variety has aromatic foliage that smells like pineapple. Plants will spread by underground runners to form colonies.

Photo by: All-America Selections.

Salvia farinacea ‘Evolution’
(Mealycup sage)
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Zones: 8-10
Height/Spread: 1 to 3 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide
Bloom Time: May to frost
Bloom Color: Violet blue (cultivars available in various shades of blue, purple, lavender, white, and bicolor)
Exposure: Full sun to part shade
Water: Regular watering, but will tolerate some drought
Soil: Rich, evenly moist, well-drained

Recognized as an All-America Selections winner in 2006, 'Evolution' has a long blooming season and is a perfect choice for meadow-style or cottage-style gardens. Also good for cut flowers.

Photo by: Garden World Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.

Salvia x sylvestris Snow Hill
(Wood sage)

Zones: 4-8
Height/Spread: 1 to 1.5 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide
Bloom Time: May to June, will re-bloom if cut back
Bloom Color: White
Exposure: Full sun
Water: Tolerates drought, regular watering promotes re-blooming
Soil: Average, well-drained

Snow Hill was the first white salvia and is a compact variety. It makes a long-lasting cut flower. Plants may spread rapidly in optimum growing conditions.

Photo by: All-America Selections.

Salvia coccinea Summer Jewel Red
(Scarlet sage)
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Zones: 8-10, annual in colder zones
Height/Spread: 1 to 1.5 feet tall & wide (dwarf variety)
Bloom Time: Late spring to early fall
Bloom Color: Red flowers
Exposure: Full sun
Water: Regular, drought tolerant
Soil: Well-drained

Recognized as an All-America Selections winner in 2011, this dwarf salvia makes a superior bedding plant.

Photo by: guentermanaus / Shutterstock.

Salvia 'Amistad'
(Friendship sage)
Buy now on Amazon

Zones: 8-10, annual in colder zones
Height/Spread: 3 to 5 feet tall, 4 to 6 feet wide
Bloom Time: Mid-summer to early fall
Bloom Color: Violet-purple
Exposure: Full sun or morning sun with afternoon shade
Water: Average water needs
Soil: Well-drained, rich

This hybrid sage, discovered in Argentina, is an excellent choice for coastal California, as well as western Washington and Oregon. Likely to also do well along the Gulf Coast and in Florida.

Photo by: HHelene / Shutterstock.

Salvia patens
(Gentian sage)

Zones: 8-10, annual in colder zones
Height/Spread: 1.5 to 3 feet tall & wide
Bloom Time: Summer to fall
Bloom Color: Cobalt blue flowers (shown), also available in lavender, white and bicolor.
Exposure: Full sun to part shade
Water: Average water needs
Soil: Well-drained, rich

A deciduous sage that spreads slowly by tuberous roots, this plant won the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from RHS.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Will salvias grow in shade?

Most salvias prefer full sun, but there are a few types that will do well in filtered shade. Here are some options:

  • Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’
  • Salvia romeriana ‘Hot Trumpets’
  • Salvia pratensis (meadow sage)
  • Salvia glutinosa (sticky sage)
  • Salvia reflexa (lanceleaf sage)

Are salvias invasive?

Generally speaking, salvias do not have a reputation of being invasive. However, certain species can be a problem in specific regions. Here are ones to be aware of:

  • Salvia aethiopis (Mediterranean sage) has been reported as invasive in parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
  • Salvia sclarea (clary sage) and Salvia pratensis are classified as invasive in parts of Washington state.
  • Salvia glutinosa and Salvia reflexa have been reported as invasive in parts of New York.

Related:
Native Plants
Pacific Northwest Plant Picks

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