OK to cut back Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'

bossjim1March 3, 2007

This salvia is still actively growing and I need to move it. When I do, I know I will need to cut it back some . It's about 3ft. tall. Will it be OK to do it now?



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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

How much you cut it back depends on the amount of root pruning you do on digging it up. You will need to get a fair amount of fine roots to keep it going. I'd replant it into soil enriched with some finished compost to relieve stress.

The fewer fine roots you dig up, the more you will have to cut back.

Does your shrub have multiple stems coming from the base, or are there only a few? Removing some of the older of the multiple stems will be a good way to prune the bush. It will be trickier to trim back a bush with a few leaders. Make sure you have some active nodes with green buds or foliage at the base of the plant in any case.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 12:14PM
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Rich, the plant only has 1 leader(trunk). About 5 in. up from the ground, it forks into many stems. There are green leaves, down to these forks. The plant is about 3 ft. tall and has a diameter of about 3 ft. at the top, so, can I prune it back, say 1 ft., which will still leave lots of green foliage?

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 1:16PM
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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

That sounds good to me. When it reestablishes, see if you can get some basal shoots. This may happen naturally.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 4:15PM
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Thanks, Rich.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 4:46PM
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ramazz(8a VA)

I have a related question. I have my 'Hot Lips' in a pot but would like to try it in the yard this year. Mine also has a single trunk. Can I plant it deeper so that the lowest branches are underground, or should I keep the soil level the same as it is in the pot?


    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 6:46PM
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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

If you can drop about 4 of the lowest branches to the ground so they can layer themselves and root without breaking, planting deeper won't be necessary. Perhaps you can just plant it just deeper enough to do the layering.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 10:47PM
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I have had hot lips for 2 yrs and may take it out this year. It grows really well but I get almost all white flowers most of the blooming season. Only during cool weather do I get any red at all. It has grown so large so quickly as to be a weed in my garden. I might take some cuttings and replace the big plants but I am not as happy with it as most of you are. If it were red at all I might like it better. It is a hot lips as in the spring it has the two tone flowers, it just goes white too quickly.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 8:12PM
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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

How hot and dry is your garden? I find that when I repot or refertilize, I can bring back the red flowers to nearly solid red. I am in USDA Zone 7b and get a lot of hot humid summers.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 12:57PM
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I guess that is the pattern with this microphylla. Several friends and I have noticed the same thing: red in April, bicolored in May and some of June, and then all white and then back again in fall. Robin mentioned a while back that he thought Hot Lips had the best white he'd seen among the bush sages, I agree.

Layering should become easier as June turns into July. By then some of the stems will be so heavy they will drop over on their own. There will still be plenty of time for these stems to develop their own roots and be winter hardy. When possible I bury a whole long woody stem in a trench and often the following spring a number of new plants will appear along it. My plants aren't well grown enough yet for layering.

I moved quite a few 4 year bush sages this spring, although most were moved before they were in full growth and in much cooler weather. They wilted a bit but after a couple of waterings they completely recovered. The root balls were quite large, probably two feet across, and that probably helped. To date I've never lost one to transplant shock - knock on wood.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 2:49PM
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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

I have several Hot Lips in a flower bed at an office in SOuthern California (Orange County, near the ocean where it really doesn't get very hot (85 or so max), generally has cool nights (in the 60s) and the flowers turn all white in mid summer, so perhaps heat is not the only factor changing the flower color. Perhaps day length is a factor, too? Mine grow as many-stemmed shrubs, and I cut them back to a foot or so tall several times each year because they have only a limited amount of space. After cutting back, they grow many stems and produce a nice wave of flowers, then continue flowering and getting taller. Eventually, after perhaps 5 months. maybe more (I don't really keep records) they start becoming too tall, looking ratty, and I cut them back. They are very resilient to cutting back, and I wouldn't worry about cutting them back too far. I normally leave very few leaves on them after cutting. although there are a large number of nodes left where leaves emerge. I think normally I cut mine back twice each year, once in winter and once in mid-summer. Keep in mind that my spot never sees frost and they actively grow all year long. I think if I had a shorter season I might cut back only once, sometime in the late winter when the tops had frozen or when I know what type of winter damage I would see that year.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 4:00PM
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That is what I do, just once in spring. I sure it is a good idea even here to cut the ones back that have begun to flag in mid summer so they can be bushy for the big fall show. It is really hard to do since most of the microphylla et al continue to flower all summer here and there is the issue of food for fledgling hummingbirds. They are very forgiving plants and seem to shrug off gardeners mistakes - a great quality.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2008 at 8:38AM
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we bought a Hot Lips las spring at a plant fair, it bloomed beautifully all summer and into late fall. WE have it in a pot.
It has lost all of it's leaves, and still looks dormit, almost dead loooking. we never did prune it. we are thinking of transferring it to our garden. Should it have new growth at this time, or still looking dormit. we live in Tacoma, wa and had a cold winter.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 11:36AM
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I not for sure what you would term a cold winter.I see your
winter temps can be 35 or so. We had 17 for three days this winter. My S. microphylla "Hotlips" has been growing the past few weeks. But it will take longer for it to return in Tacoma because your warm up is not as quick as ours. We have been in the 60's & 70's for a month today it is going to be 84. So things are much different here. Can you can bring it indoors in a sunny window this would get in to break dormancy earlier. Prune it down until you see green on the
inside of the stem that will also help you determine if it is still alive.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 2:20PM
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Will Hot Lips Salvia grow in middle TN.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 11:45PM
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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

I'd say yes, depending on the soil and if you give it drainage.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 1:34AM
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My Hot Lips sage is beautiful - at least 2 X 2. However, the lower part of the branches do not have leaves. I see your comments about hard pruning, but can I cut the whole plant all the way to ground level or would that kill it. Also, I would like to divide it and move half of it. Can I just cut it in half and move half?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2014 at 10:50AM
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It's best to consider this plant more of a shrub than a die-back perennial. If happy in its location and fully hardy, it will develop a very woody framework just like any other shrub ( in fact, in most places where it is fully hardy it is described as an evergreen shrub).

Given that, pruning back to the ground is a little severe. And certainly not something you'd want to attempt at this time of year. I'd say you can cut back by half but wait until spring and the plant is starting to push new growth to do so. It should fill in with some foliage on the lower branches as well.

And since it is so shrublike with generally a single growth point from the root crown, it doesn't lend itself to division. But it does layer very easily to generate more plants.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2014 at 3:59PM
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