Skip to main content

NC State Extension

Salvias for the Sage Gardener

'Mexican Bush Sage'Photo by Robert E. Lyons

‘Salvia farinacea’ Mealy-cup sage
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Salvias are a staple in many gardens, with good reason. Consisting of dozens of species and cultivars, and encompassing annuals and perennials as well as herbs, you are certain to find one that is perfect for your garden.

Most gardeners are familiar with scarlet sage, Salvia splendens. This annual bedding plant prefers full sun, but will perform in partial shade. Provide is with well-drained soil and consistent moisture. While most commonly available in a deep red color, newer cultivars give gardeners a choice of lavender, blue and white blooms. The big selling point of scarlet sage is its long blooming season, from late spring through the first frost.

Mealycup sage, Salvia farinacea, is another of the annual salvias, unless you’re in the eastern part of the state, where it may be winter-hardy.It reaches a height of 2 to 3 feet with blue, purple or white flower spikes. ‘Victoria Blue’, ‘Strata’ and ‘Empire Purple’ are some of the newer varieties.

Garden sage, Salvia officinalis, is the choice for herb gardens, with fragrant leaves that can be used fresh or dried for seasoning meats. Many varieties are available, with foliage ranging from gray-green to purple to variegated forms. Garden sage prefers full sun and well-drained soil, but is rather drought tolerant once established. It is winter-hardy through most of the state. Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, is a nice companion, with a scent that lives up to its name.

'Mealycup Sage'Photo by Robert E. Lyons

‘Salvia Leucantha’
Mexican bush sage Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, is a tender perennial that reaches 3 to 4 feet and is also drought tolerant. Flower spikes are long, with purple and white blooms in late summer. Plant in full sun as a specimen or accent plant.

The hybrid perennial salvias, Salvia x superba, are the best choice if you want perennials and live in the Piedmont or mountain region. Many excellent varieties are available, including ‘May Night’, ‘East Friesland’, ‘Blue Queen’ and ‘Rose Queen’.

The JC Raulston Arboretum currently displays more than 20 different salvias. Compare their great diversity in the enormous Perennial Border and within the adjacent annual trials area.

Paul McKenzie