Now that the fall season is in full swing, we’re both focusing on end-of-year vegetable/ornamental gardening or (literally) putting our gardens to bed and planning for the next spring season. I would like to offer focus to one of my favorite plant groups to help stock our planning diaries: salvias. No, not the familiar drought tolerant and tall Cenizo, or “Texas Sage” bushes (botanical name Leucophyllum) that proffer lavender-colored blossoms after a rain, but the low-slung and often tender-branched perennial plants that offer a variety of leaf texture and flower color.
Salvia is a large genus of the Mint Plant Family (Lamiaceae), with an estimated 900 species found globally and over 500 species native to the New World (i.e. North, Central and South America). Some of the characteristics of Salvia species are consistent and bold flower colors, manageable growing height, outstanding leaf texture and (sometimes) pleasant vegetative fragrance.
A commonly available species is Mealyblue Sage (S. farinacea). This perennial has a sprawling growth habit, reaching 2-ft tall and producing velvety purple flowers on floral spikes reaching 1-ft beyond its canopy. Mealyblue Sage will bloom sporadically from spring to fall and is drought tolerant. There are two outstanding varieties discovered by AgriLife Extension Horticulturist Greg Grant that are popular favorites: variety ‘Henry Duelberg’, with bright-purple flowers and wider lance-shaped leaves, and variety ‘Augusta Duelberg’, offer ing more compact spike of flowers that are white. One species hybrid that performs well in containers is variety ‘Evolution Violet’, exhibiting powder-white to purple flower buds and offering compact open-faced light-purple flowers.
Another salvia we might see at nurseries is Greg’s Sage (Salvia greggii). Greg’s Sage forms a compact 3-ft tall by 2-ft wide shrub that can be managed in full sun and is drought tolerant. Make sure to plant this species in a well-draining soil. It produces thin, almost waxy leaves up to 1/4-inch wide and 1-ich long on brittle woody stems. The beauty of this shrub lies in its ability to bloom from spring through first frost. Flower color expressed on tube-shaped flowers range from red, pink, orange, and white to magenta. Another salvia commonly found at local nurseries is Tropical Sage (S. coccinea). Tropical Sage can be managed in part-shade to full sun areas of the garden. Like Greg’s Sage, it can bloom on and off from spring to first frost. This species exhibits larger leaves, up to 1-inch wide and is less drought tolerant. The plant has more of an upright growth, and in flower can reach 3-ft tall. Floral colors range from tubular red, pink to white.
There is success in the horticulture industry hybridizing montane Mexican Salvia species, bred for their compact size, shortened floral tube and potential for diversity of flower color. Black Currant Sage (S. microphylla) has been hybridized to bring a few beauties to the market such as variety ‘Fancy Dancer’, offering variegated pink flowers and exhibiting a delicate petticoat; ‘Elk Lemon Light’, shining like a beacon with spikes of bright yellow flowers; and ‘California Sunset’, exhibiting soothing salmon-colored flowers. Species like this series are great choice for container gardens. Additional varieties you may consider for future garden or container plantings are larger, tubular-shaped flowers from hybrids ‘Rockin’ Deep Purple’ (dark purple floral tube up to 2-inches in length) or ‘Embers Wish’ (softer red color with robust floral tube similar to Rockin’ Deep Purple). These two hybrids can be considered annuals as they are frost tender.