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How to Grow: Salvia
full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Mid summer to fall in colors such as red, pink, salmon, blue, purple and white
Mature Height x Spread
1 to 3 feet x 1 to 2 feet
attracts beneficials, attracts hummingbirds
I used to think of annual salvias as those over used flowers with spiky stems and fire engine red blooms. However, with newer varieties featuring blue, purple, salmon, white, burgundy and pink colored flowers, I’m giving them a fresh look. Unlike perennial salvias that will bloom off and on in summer, these plants are bred to bloom their heads off all summer. Salvias are a mainstay in the annual flower garden providing vivid colors on moderate-sized plants. They are versatile, too. They grow well in containers and can be used as a cut flower. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden adding more visual interest.
Where, When and How to Plant
Start salvia seed indoors under grow lights 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date, or purchase transplants in local garden centers. Plant salvias in a full to part sun location on well-drained, fertile soil after all danger of frost has passed. The more sun they receive, the more flowers will be produced. Space plants about 8 to 12 inches apart in beds and containers.
Keep salvia plants well watered and weeded. Consider mulching around the base of plants to keep the soil moisture constant. Pinch out the top few inches of the young plant’s main stem after planting to encourage more branching and, eventually, more flowering. Fertilize every 3 weeks with an organic plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Newer types are self-cleaning and don’t have to be deadheaded to keep blooming. On older varieties, remove the spent flowers to keep the plants blooming and looking tidy. Watch for spider mites, aphids and whiteflies on plants and spray insecticidal soap to control them. Avoid planting in poorly drained soils as this can lead to root rot.
Companion Planting and Design
Bright colored salvias look stunning plant en mass in all one color or a combination of colors. They also combine nicely with a variety of different flowers in the garden, such as coreopsis, petunias and dwarf cosmos. Salvias can add some height to containers combined with cascading plants, such as calibrachoa. They even can add color to an evergreen shrub border when grown as a bed of colorful salvias in front of the shrubs.
The ‘Sizzler Series’ features a broad range of bright and pastel colored varieties as well as some bicolors. The ‘Firecracker Series’ features dwarf, compact plants. The ‘Lighthouse Series’ features 2 to 3 foot tall plants that don’t need deadheading. The ‘Salsa Series’ feature 18-inch tall plants with flower colors such as lavender, white, red, pink, rose and bi-colors.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.