Container Gardening

Versatile Salvias Add Color and Can Be Used Anywhere

By Darren Sherriff


“Black and Blue”

Salvia guaranitica is a perennial that will grow 5 to 6 feet tall, spreading into a large patch through its adventurous roots. Works well as a backdrop for your flowerbed. The flowers can be up to 9 inches long in various shades of blue, including a true blue, which is fairly rare in the flower world. Zoned 7-10, flowering begins in mid summer and continues until frost. Growing best in moist, well-drained soil, it is drought tolerant and will benefit from a little afternoon shade. The absolute best cultivar of this species would have to be Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’.

Salvia splendens is a native of Brazil that is typically grown as a warm weather annual bedding plant here in the U.S. This particular species has been a garden standard, reliably blooming over a long period of time. As time goes on, more and more varieties are being developed, giving us a wider range of colors, including white, salmon and purple, as well as the traditional flaming red. With varying heights from about 8 inches to nearly 3 ft, there is something in this species to fit every application. Some of the outstanding characteristics of Salvia splendens, like many of the others, it is deer and rabbit resistant and it is considered non-invasive, but will self-seed some, usually not becoming a problem. Seeds are the easiest form of propagation.

Salvia leucantha

Salvia leucantha commonly called Mexican bush sage, is an evergreen shrubby perennial (Zones 8-10) that is native to Central America and Mexico. Average heights of 4-6 feet make this one of the larger species of Salvia. Typically, you will find the cultivar ‘Santa Barbara’ that has white flowers protruding from a purple sepal, the part that protects the flower before it opens, which makes a magnificent contrast of colors. There are some newer ones out that are purple on purple, such as ‘Midnight’ and ‘Purple Velvet’ which has a more pinkish purple flower coming from the purple sepal. Salvia leucantha can be grown in full sun to light shade and is somewhat drought tolerant, but does better with regular irrigation. The somewhat rampant growth rate can be controlled by judicious watering practices, but could impede the flowers. It will remain evergreen to 25 degrees and root hardy to 18 degrees, possibly even lower with a good mulching.

Salvia officinalis is the most common of all salvias, especially if you do a lot of cooking. Also known as the culinary sage, it is a perennial (Zone 4-11), evergreen shrub with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue flowers with a purplish sepal. This sage has been revered for centuries for its medicinal as well as culinary uses. The Ancient Egyptians used it as a fertility drug, in Germany; sage tea is used as a gargle for inflammations of the mouth and throat. Some studies have even shown that sage can help boost memory in young and healthy adults. Salvia officinalis can be grown from seeds, but the best way to grow a high-quality plant is with cuttings from an established plant.

There are many interesting cultivars of this species, some of which are as follows:

  • ‘Alba’, a white flowering cultivar
  • ‘Berggarten’, a cultivar with large leaves, which sadly, rarely blooms, but this does extend the usefulness of the leaves
  • ‘Extrakta’, has leaves with higher oil concentrations
  • ‘Purpurascens’ (‘Purpurea’), a purple-leafed cultivar
  • ‘Tricolor’, a cultivar with white, purple and green variegated leaves

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