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How to Grow: Perennial Salvia
full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Summer in colors such as blue, purple, rose, and white
Mature Height x Spread
1 to 3 feet x 1 to 2 feet
Attracts beneficial, attract hummingbirds, deer resistant, drought tolerant
Salvia is a broad group of annual and perennial plants that are mainstays in the flower garden. While most gardeners are familiar with annual salvias, and we cover those in the annuals chapter of this book, there are perennial salvias as well. Some of these perennials are hardy throughout our region and some are even native to North America. Perennial salvias are upright plants that produce colorful flower spikes from summer into fall. Although not as floriferous as the annual versions, varieties of perennial salvia make a statement in the garden, especially when grown in groups. Culinary sage herb is also in this family. Some of these have attractive flowers and foliage to make nice additions as edible landscape plants in the garden.
Where, When and How to Plant
Select salvias hardy for your area. You can start salvia from seed sown indoors, under grow lights 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. You can also purchase salvia transplants from the local garden center or obtain divisions from a friend’s garden. Plant from spring to early fall in full or part sun, in well drained, fertile, compost amended soil. Space plants 1 to 2 feet apart.
Salvia roots don’t like to dry out so water salvia deeply to promote deep root growth. Mulch salvias annually to maintain the soil moisture conditions to prevent weed growth. Fertilize in spring with compost and a small handful of an organic plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Keep plants deadheaded to encourage more flowering throughout the summer. Once the plants get large, divide salvia in spring, digging up the whole clump and separating out wedge-sized sections to replant or give a way. For marginally hardy salvias, mulch the plants in late fall with bark mulch to protect them in winter. Cut back all salvias to the ground in fall after a frost.
Companion Planting and Design
Combine perennial salvias with a variety of low-growing, summer flowering perennials such as yarrow, catmint, sedum, rudbeckia, coreopsis, and daisies. For the best visual display, plant salvia in groups of at least 3 plants. You can also plant salvias in containers, but they will need to be protected in a warm location, such as a basement or garage, in winter.
Look for varieties that are hardy in your area. A popular USDA zone 4 hardy species is Salvia nemorosa. It has many hardy varieties to choose from such as “May Night”, with its deep blue-violet colored flowers. “East Friesland” has deep purple flowers on compact 1-foot tall plants. “Rose Queen” has rose-colored flowers and “Snow Hill” features white flowers. “Tricolor” is a variety of Salvia officinalis or culinary sage. It features yellow, green and red colored leaves. Salvia verticillata features “Purple Rain” and “White Rain” with 2 to 3 feet tall plants with vivid flowers.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.