Annuals, Deciduous, Evergreen, Ground covers, Perennials, Shrubs
Thought of as drought-tolerant shrubs in much of the West, this huge genus—the largest in the mint family—includes many species of shrubs and perennials that need moderate to regular water. In recent years, scores of new species and selections have appeared in Western nurseries, many tender varieties that are even being offered as annuals in cold-winter climates. All sages have square stems and whorls of two-lipped flowers, either distinctly spaced along flower stalks or so tightly crowded that they look like one dense spike; some species have branched inflorescences. Flower colors range from white and yellow through salmon and pink to scarlet and pure red, from pale lavender to true blue and darkest purple. A few sages have fragrant blossoms. Many have aromatic foliage.
Nurseries in the West offer nearly 100 species as well as dozens of selections and hybrids. Names are often confused; S. x jamensis varieties are often assigned to S. greggii; and S. nemorosa varieties are often interchanged with S. x superba and S. x sylvestris varieties.Salvia apiana
Evergreen shrub, from Southern California and Baja California. Coarse plant to 3–5 ft. tall and wide. Aromatic, woolly silvery gray leaves are elliptical, 3–4 in. long. In spring, lavender-tinged white flowers appear in whorls along unbranched, sometimes pinkish stems to 2 ft. long. Attractive at night; reflects moon and garden lighting. To keep neat, shear lightly after flowering. Drought-tolerant.
Biennial or short-lived perennial. From southern Europe and northwestern Africa. Soft, scallop-edged, silky-haired, silvery white leaves grow 6–10 in. long and form a low foliage rosette to 2 ft. wide. In summer, many-branched, 3–4-ft. flowering stems bear 1 1/4-in.-long, hooded white flowers (sometimes tinged pink or yellow) with silvery calyxes. Cut to the ground when flowers fade. Makes a handsome focal point for the front of a border. Protect from slugs and snails. ‘Hobbit’s Foot’ grows into a 1-ft. mound with furry basal leaves.Salvia aurea
Dense grower to 3–4 ft. tall and wide; becomes sparse and woody with age. Young plants are thickly covered with elliptical, woolly gray-green leaves to 1 1/4 in. long. Carried on 2–4-in. stems are whorls of interesting inch-long flowers in bright yellow aging to rusty brown; they emerge from brown, papery calyxes that persist long after blossoms fall. Main bloom is in winter, early spring; sporadic through fall. Drought tolerant.Salvia azurea grandiflora
Shrubby perennial, native from Colorado and Texas east to Michigan and Georgia. Slender, vertical, usually unbranched stems to 5 ft. form a 2–3-ft.-wide clump. Plant is lax, needs support. Smooth or hairy, medium green to deep green, narrow leaves to 4 in. long. Pure azure blue flowers with a white-blotched lower lip on spikes to 1 ft. long; blooms summer to frost. Not always permanent in wet winters.
Shrubby perennial, from northeastern Mexico. Grows to 1 1/2–2 ft. tall, spreading indefinitely by creeping rhizomes. Thin, hairy, purplish stems; oval, glossy dark green leaves to 1 1/2 in. long, edged with fine hairs resembling eyelashes. Inch-long scarlet flowers on stems that lengthen to about 1 ft. as the season goes on. Blooms from spring to frost, nearly all year in mild-winter climates. If confined, makes a good groundcover in partial shade.Salvia brandegeei
Evergreen shrub, native to Santa Rosa Island and coastal Baja California. Sprawling plant to 4–5 ft. tall and 5–7 ft. wide. Linear, scalloped, 3–4-in.-long leaves are shiny, rough-textured dark green above, woolly white beneath. Tight, widely spaced whorls of 1/2-in., pale lavender, broad-lipped flowers appear on stems to 10 in. long; persistent violet-gray calyxes. Early spring bloom. Shorten branches by one-third during or right after bloom. Long-lasting cut flowers. Drought-tolerant.Salvia buchananii
This shrubby perennial is thought to be native to Mexico. Rounded growth to 1–2 ft. tall and wide, with widely spaced, glossy dark green, oval leaves to 2 in. long. Lax, 8–12-in. stems support drooping, 2-in., brilliant magenta flowers. Blooms in summer and fall, and sporadically in other seasons in milder part of the range. Sets no seed; propagate from cuttings. Handsome in containers; winter it indoors in cold climates.Salvia chamaedryoides
Perennial, from eastern Mexico. Rounded plant to 1–2 ft. tall and spreading 2–3 ft. or more by underground runners. Silvery, 3/4-in.-long leaves; brilliant true blue, 1-in. flowers on stems to 8 in. long. Heaviest bloom comes in late spring and fall, with intermittent flowering during the rest of the growing season. Deadhead to encourage rebloom. Elegant front-of-border plant. Drought-tolerant but blooms longer and better with more water.
Perennial, from the cloud forests of Chiapas, Mexico. Many 1 1/2–2-ft. stems form a relaxed clump 3–4 ft. or more wide; growth is taller and laxer in shade. Evergreen, elliptical, glossy dark green leaves up to 3 in. long. Deep hot pink, 3/4-in. flowers in widely spaced whorls on stems to 1 ft. long; blooms from early summer through winter in frost-free areas or greenhouse. Reseeds freely. Succeeds with moderate water but appreciates frequent wetting of leaves. Good groundcover for dryish shade; good in containers.
Evergreen shrub, from Southern California and northern Baja California. Rounded, arching growth to 3–5 ft. tall and 5–8 ft. wide. Wrinkled, toothed gray-green leaves to 2 in. long are elliptical or lance-shaped, deliciously fragrant. Foliage makes a refreshing tea and is also used as a preservative in potpourri. Fragrant, inch-long, pale lavender to violet-blue flowers in widely spaced whorls along 1/2 –2-ft. stems. Blooms in early summer; remove faded spikes to encourage rebloom. Drought-tolerant.
Shrubby perennial, from the mountains of Coahuila, Mexico. Grows to 2 1/2 ft. tall and wide. Many slender, upward-sweeping woody branches, sparsely clothed with evergreen, 1-in., linear olive green leaves. Deep violet, 1-in. flowers appear on 3–5-in. stems from early summer to frost, all year in mild-winter climates; heaviest bloom in early summer and fall. Cut back to about 8 in. from the ground in late winter. Moderate water.Salvia coccinea
Usually grown as annual in all zones. From Mexico; naturalized and weedy in Hawaii. Bushy, upright; to 2–3 ft. high and 2 1/2 ft. wide. Dark green, hairy, oval to heart-shaped leaves. In summer, slender stems to 1 ft. long carry many 3/4–1-in. flowers with a broad lower lip. Colors range from bright red through orange-red to pink and white, including many bicolors. Widely used as a bedding plant and border filler. Stems are brittle; shelter from the wind. Deadhead to encourage rebloom. If plant lives over, cut back to 4–6 in. when new spring growth begins, then fertilize. By end of second season, the plant will be woody and in decline. Reseeds copiously. Good seed-grown selections include scarlet ‘Lady in Red’ and ‘Spanish Dancer’; salmon ‘Brenthurst’ (‘Lady in Pink’); ‘Coral Nymph’, near white with coral lower lip; and pure white ‘Snow Nymph’.Salvia dorrii
Evergreen shrub, native to high deserts from Washington and Idaho south to California and Arizona. May have a rounded habit or form a spreading mat; grows to 1–3 ft. tall and 2–4 ft. wide. Branches are densely clothed in gray, linear or spoon-shaped, 1/4–1 1/4-in. leaves. Blooms in late spring; each 1–2-ft.-long stem bears three to five widely spaced whorls of light to deep blue, 1-in. flowers with deep blue bracts and calyxes. Needs sandy soil and perfect drainage. Drought-tolerant. Good in dry desert gardens.Salvia elegans
Perennial, native to southern Mexico and Guatemala. In the wild, this species is variable in habit, bloom time, and leaf fragrance. The most commonly grown form, ‘Scarlet Pineapple’, grows upright to 3–4 ft. tall and wide, with branching, brittle stems; in part shade, growth is lush and needs support. Densely hairy, bright green leaves to 4 in. long are broadly oval with a pointed tip. Foliage has a strong aroma of ripe pineapple; used in cool drinks and fruit salads. Slender, bright red flowers in loose clusters of 8 to 12 are carried on 6–8-in. stems. In mild-winter areas or indoors, blooms from late fall through spring; elsewhere, it is cut off by frost.
Hybrid ‘Frieda Dixon’ is similar but has pinkish red flowers. ‘Golden Delicious’ grows just 1–3 ft. tall, with yellow-green foliage that makes for an eye-catching contrast with the fire-engine-red flowers; long bloom period. ‘Honey Melon Sage’ grows half as tall as the species and spreads rapidly to form a dense groundcover; it has slightly smaller blooms and smaller, more rounded leaves that smell something like ripe honeydew melon. Blooms from early summer through fall (shear off faded flower stems two or three times a season to produce a new crop). ‘Tangerine’ (‘Scarlet Tangerine’) grows 3 ft. tall and wide, has scarlet flowers.
Usually grown as annuals. Native to southern New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. Upright growth to 3–4 ft. tall and half as wide. Narrowly lance-shaped leaves to 3 in. long are smooth above, woolly white below. Tall, densely packed spikes of 3/4–1-in. flowers on stems 6–12 in. long, late spring to frost. Blossom color varies from deep violet-blue to white; cuplike calyxes are covered with white hairs, often have a blue or violet tinge. Many strains are sold for bedding and container use; typically have heavier bloom, better branching, and a more compact habit.Salvia greggii
Evergreen or deciduous shrub, native to southwest Texas and north-central Mexico. Rounded plant, branching from the base; typically grows to 1–4 ft. tall and wide. Slender, hairy stems are closely set with glossy green leaves that vary in shape from rounded to linear. Blooms throughout summer and fall, bearing 1/4–1-in. flowers on 3–6-in. stems, in colors ranging from deep purplish red through true red to various rose and pink shades to white. (Varieties sold as S. greggii with flowers in shades of orange, orange-red, or yellow actually belong with S. x jamensis.) To keep plants tidy and free blooming, prune and remove dead flower stems frequently. Before new spring growth begins, shorten and shape plants, removing dead wood. Good low hedge. Replace plants every 4 or 5 years, when they become woody and unproductive. Drought-tolerant but does best with moderate water. Full sun or partial shade (be sure to give some shade in hottest climates).
A few of the best selections are pure white ‘Alba’; deep red ‘Furman’s Red’; ‘Purple Pastel’; ‘Ultra Violet’, with magenta-purple flowers; and hot pink ‘Wild Thing’. The Heatwave series, which grows 2–3 ft. tall and wide, was bred in Australia for compact growth, long flowering, and drought tolerance.Salvia guaranitica
Perennial, often grown as an annual in colder climates; from South America. Upright, branching plant to 4–5 ft. tall and nearly as wide. Spreads by short underground runners; roots form tubers resembling small sausages. Narrowly heart-shaped, sparsely hairy, mint green leaves to 5 in. long. Blooms from early summer to frost. The most common form bears 2-in. cobalt blue blossoms, carried several to each foot-long stem; calyxes are bright green, turning purplish on sunny side. Needs support. Where it grows as a perennial, it gets woody by season’s end—but that wood dies during winter and must be cut back to the ground. Elegant container plant. Can be demolished by Mexican giant whitefly. Tolerates partial shade, especially in hottest climates. ‘Argentine Skies’ has light blue flowers. ‘Black and Blue’ bears blossoms that are deep blue with dark purplish blue calyxes.Salvia involucrata
Grows to 5–6 ft. tall and wide, often in one season. Oval, minutely toothed, 5–6-in.-long, rich green leaves with purple undersides and midribs. Foot-long stems hold numerous clusters of three purplish red, 2-in. flowers enclosed by a pair of bright purplish rose bracts that fall just as flowers open. Blooms from mid- or late summer to midautumn. Good cut flowers. Usually evergreen in mild-winter climates. Does best with afternoon shade.Salvia leucantha
Evergreen shrub, from central and eastern Mexico. Vigorous, upright, velvety plant to 3–4 ft. tall and 3–6 ft. or more wide; sprawls in bloom. Lance-shaped to linear leaves are dark grayish green above, whitish below. Stems to 1 ft. long bear whorls of 3/4–1 1/4-in. white flowers with purple calyxes. Bloom period runs from fall through spring in mild-winter areas, stops with frost in colder climates. To limit plant size and renew flowering stems, cut back close to the ground before spring growth begins or at end of bloom cycle; where the growing season is especially long, cut back again in early to midsummer. Also limit watering to every 2 or 3 weeks and remove blossoms as soon as they fade.
‘Midnight’ (‘Purple Velvet’), considered by many to be the best-looking form, has purple flowers and calyxes. ‘Santa Barbara’ has similar flowers but is a compact grower to just 2 1/2 ft. high and 3–4 ft. wide. ‘Waverly’ is a hybrid that grows to 5 ft. tall, with white flowers. It is hardy only to about 25°F (–4°C).Salvia leucophylla
Evergreen shrub, native to Coast Ranges of Southern California. Graceful plant to 3–5 ft. tall with equal or greater width; arching branches have upturned tips, root where they touch soil. Stems and foliage are thickly covered with fine white hairs. Wrinkled, oblong to lance-shaped leaves are apple green when they emerge, turn whiter as days get hotter. In spring, each 6–8-in. stem carries three to five tightly packed whorls of 1-in., pinkish purple flowers with gray calyxes. Good bank cover. Drought-tolerant.
‘Point Sal Spreader’ (often sold as ‘Point Sal’) is prostrate, 1–2 1/2 ft. tall and 10–12 ft. wide; has broader, grayer leaves than the species. ‘Figueroa’, to 3–4 ft. tall and twice as wide, is especially silvery; tolerates drought, heat, and cold.Salvia mellifera
Evergreen shrub, native to coastal California and Baja California. Grows to 3–6 ft. tall and 3–5 ft. or more wide; upright to spreading. Oblong to lance-shaped, deeply veined, aromatic leaves; olive-tinged dark green above, woolly gray beneath. In late spring, bears tightly packed whorls of whitish or lavender-tinged flowers less than 1/2 in. long on 8–16-in.-long stems. Not spectacular-looking, but butterflies and bees love it. Good cover for dry banks. Drought-tolerant. Will stand some shade.
‘Green Carpet’ grows to 30 in. high and 6 ft. wide, with blue flowers. ‘Terra Seca’ is an extra-tough variety that grows to 2 ft. high and more than 6 ft. wide.
Shrubby perennial, from central Mexico. Robust, erect growth to 10 ft. or taller and 3–5 ft. wide. Leaves to 6 in. long are typically elongated oval or heart shaped; they may be medium green and smooth above, fuzzy beneath, or gray to gray green and densely hairy on both sides. Pleasant pine fragrance. Tightly spaced whorls of 1–2 1/2-in. flowers on 12–20-in.-long stems; blossoms are dark blue or violet with green or reddish purple calyxes. Blooms from early fall through spring in mild-winter climates; stops with hard frost elsewhere.Salvia microphylla
Evergreen shrub, from southeastern Arizona through southern Mexico, with many local variant forms.
‘Belize Form’ (5 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide) is long-blooming but more tender, with bright green leaves and brilliant red flowers. ‘Berzerkeley’ (2 ft. tall and 3–4 ft. wide) bears glowing pinkish red blossoms. ‘Hot Lips’ is upright, to about 1 1/2–2 ft. tall, with striking flowers that vary from fire engine red to white to red-and-white bicolors throughout the growing season. ‘San Carlos Festival’ (2–3 ft. tall and 4–6 ft. wide) has pink flowers.
Hybrids with S. greggii include vigorous ‘Maraschino’, 3–4 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide, with bright cherry red flowers; and purplish pink ‘Plum Wine’, 3–4 ft. tall and 2 1/2–3 1/2 ft. wide. S. m. microphylla (S. grahamii) is a tough, dense, wiry-looking plant to 3–4 ft. tall and 3–6 ft. wide. Triangular to oval, tooth-edged leaves are dark green, 1/2–1 in. long. Rosy red, 1-in. flowers have a small, hooded upper lip and three-lobed lower lip. Blooms most heavily in late spring and fall, sporadically at other times of year. S. m. neurepia grows to 3–5 ft. tall and wide. More open-branched plant than S. m. microphylla, with brilliant red, very long-blooming flowers.
Perennial, from eastern Europe and eastward to central Asia. Grows to 1 1/2–3 ft. tall, spreading 2–3 ft. wide by rhizomes. Forms a tight foliage rosette from which rise erect, branching flower stems. Wrinkled, dull green, finely toothed leaves are oval or lance-shaped. Lower leaves are stalked, to 4 in. long; upper ones are smaller, virtually stalkless, clasping flower stem. Sprawls if not supported. Stems 3–6 in. long hold 1/4–1/2-in. flowers in violet, purple, pink, or white, with persistent violet, purple, or green bracts. Blooms summer through fall if spent stems are removed.
‘Caradonna’ has violet blossoms. ‘Ostfriesland’ (‘East Friesland’) has intense violet-blue flowers. ‘Rosenwein’ has rose-hued blossoms. There are also several compact selections. ‘Marcus’ has intensely violet flowers on plants 12 in. high and 18 in. wide. Sensation series is about the same size; Sensation Rose is among the most popular, with pink flowers.
Shrubby perennial, from the Mediterranean region. Traditional culinary and medicinal sage. Grows to 1–3 ft. tall and 1–2 1/2 ft. wide; stems often root where they touch the soil. Aromatic, oval to oblong, wrinkled, 2–3-in. leaves are gray-green above, white and hairy beneath. Branching, 8–12-in. stems bear loose, spikelike clusters of 1/2-in. flowers in late spring, summer. Usual color is lavender-blue, but violet, red-violet, pink, and white forms exist. Delay pruning until new leaves begin to unfurl, then cut just above fresh growth; cutting into bare wood usually causes dieback. Replace plants when woody or leggy (every 3 or 4 years). Subject to root rot where drainage is less than perfect. Give afternoon shade in hottest climates.
‘Aurea’ (Golden sage). Has creamy gold variegation on green leaves.
‘Berggarten’ (‘Mountain Garden’). Compact; to 16 in. high. Denser growth, rounder leaves, fewer flowers than species; may be longer-lived.
‘Compacta’ (‘Nana’, ‘Minimus’). A half-size (or even smaller) version of the species, with narrower, closer-set leaves.
‘Icterina’. Gray-green leaves with golden border. Does not bloom.
‘Purpurascens’ (‘Red Sage’). Leaves flushed with red-violet when new, slowly mature to gray-green.
‘Tricolor’. Gray-green leaves with irregular cream border; new foliage is flushed with purplish pink.Salvia patens
Perennial, from central Mexico. Upright to 2–3 ft. or taller and 1–2 ft.wide. Spreads slowly by tuberous roots. Arrow-shaped, toothed, softly hairy leaves are bright green, 2–4 in. long. Pairs of brilliant blue, 2-in. blossoms on 6–15-in.-long stems; upper lip is hooded, lower one is flared and ruffled. Bloom peaks in early summer but repeats through fall if plant is fertilized and deadheaded. Best in mixed plantings; not showy enough for bedding.
Biennial or short-lived perennial, from southern Europe and southwestern and central Asia. Foliage clump to 2–3 ft. wide. Oval to lance-shaped, 1–1 1/2-ft.-long, toothed, dull grayish green leaves are wrinkled; unpleasant smelling when bruised. In late spring or early summer, produces much-branched 3–4-ft. flower stalks with 6–12-in. stems bearing whorls of two to six 1 1/4-in. flowers. Blossoms are typically lilac or lavender blue, with an arched upper lip and a cream-colored lower lip; large, aromatic, purplish or lilac-pink bracts remain showy for weeks after the flowers drop.Salvia sonomensis
Shrubby perennial, native to the dry foothills of California Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada. Mat-forming creeper grows to 8–12 in. high and spreads 3–4 ft. or more, rooting where branches touch the soil. Evergreen, rough, irregularly notched leaves are dull green or gray-green; they may be narrow and 3–4 in. long or much wider and shorter. Small (less than1/2 in.) lavender-blue flowers rise above foliage on leafless, 6-in. stems in late spring or early summer. Needs perfect drainage and gritty soil. Drought-tolerant. Best with some high shade in hottest climates.
This Brazil native is usually grown as an annual. The traditional bright scarlet bedding sage now comes in a range of colors, from vivid true red through salmon and pink to purple shades. White forms are also available. Plants vary in size from compact 1-ft. dwarfs to 3–4-ft. kinds. Leaves are bright green, heart shaped, 2–4 in. long. Blooms late spring or summer through fall (all year in mild-winter areas); 4–12-in. stems bear 2-in. flowers from 1-in. calyxes of the same color. Can be ravaged by Mexican giant whitefly. Give afternoon shade in hottest climates.Salvia uliginosa
Perennial, from moist lowlands in South America. Upright, dense grower to 4–6 ft. tall and 3–4 ft. wide, spreading aggressively by rhizomes. Smooth green leaves are lance-shaped, toothed; they reach 3 1/2 in. long near the plant’s base, decrease in size toward the top. Branched inflorescence with 5–6-in. stems carries whorls of 1/2-in., intensely blue flowers with a white throat and wide lower lip. Blooms summer through fall. To restrain spread, give only moderate water or confine roots by planting in a 15-gal. nursery can sunk in the ground to the rim.
Plants sold under this name are hybrids involving S. greggii, S. microphylla, an unknown yellow-flowered species, and possibly other sages; they are found wild in Mexico. The habit of these evergreen shrubs varies from upright to horizontal, but plants are usually under 3 ft. tall, with fairly open branching; stems often root where they touch soil. Glossy green, oval to elliptical, toothed leaves 3/4–1 1/4 in. long. Stems are 3–6 in. long and bear 1–3/4-in. flowers in many colors: violet, wine red, orange red, hot pink, coral, salmon, yellow, white, and bicolors. Best in moderate climates without extreme temperature swings. Drought-tolerant but perform best with moderate water. Good houseplants for sunny spot.Salvia x sylvestris
Perennial. Like its parent S. nemorosa but more compact, with stems that are less leafy. Oblong to lance-shaped, medium green, scalloped leaves are wrinkled, softly hairy. Typically unbranched or few-branched flowering stems to 6–8 in. long, set with pinkish violet, 1/2-in. blossoms. Blooms summer through fall if faded flowers are removed.
‘Blauhugel’ (‘Blue Hill’). Grows to 2 ft.; has medium blue flowers.
‘Blue Queen’. Grows to 18 in. high and wide.
‘Mainacht’ (‘May Night’). Grows to 2–2 1/2 ft., bears 3/4-in. indigo flowers with green bracts (purplish at base), begins blooming in midspring.
‘Rosakonigen’ (‘Rose Queen’). Grows to 2 ft. high, with purplish pink flowers and crimson bracts.
‘Schneehugel’ (‘Snow Hill’). Bears pure white blossoms with green bracts on a 2-ft. plant.
‘Viola Klose’. Grows to 18 in. high and wide; has lavender-blue flowers.Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’
This evergreen perennial groundcover is a drought-tolerant hybrid between S. leucophylla and S. sonomensis. Grows to 1–1 1/2 ft. tall and spreads 4–6 ft. wide, with narrow, soft-looking, gray-green leaves. Whorled spikes of lavender-blue flowers are held above the foliage from spring into summer. Good on slopes or spilling over a rock wall. Little to moderate water; avoid overhead irrigation, which encourages powdery mildew.Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’
This shrubby perennial can build up to a sprawling 6–7 ft. by 10 ft., but is easily kept to 3–4 ft. tall and 2–3 ft. wide with support and selective pruning. Soft, silky, oval to oblong leaves (to 6 in. long near base of plant, shorter higher up) have a grayish sheen above, are white and woolly beneath. Narrow, twisted spikes of closely spaced, Í-in., violet-blue flowers can reach 3 ft. or longer. Blooms from early summer to frost (almost all year in mildest climates). Indigo calyxes are colorful long after blossoms fall. Excellent cut flowers. Top growth is damaged by frost.Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’
This shrubby perennial grows to 3 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide. It is a hybrid of S. guaranitica, with leaves of a yellower green; brilliant royal purple flowers with violet-black calyxes. Blooms from summer until frost in colder climates, nearly all year in mild-winter regions (where it is evergreen).
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