Salvia stems are coated with white powdery stuff. Is it sick?

popny(L.A.,Calif.)August 24, 2007

I have two large salvias. (probably garden sage) which were full and beautiful. I bought them already fully grown about 2 years ago. Although there is new growth around the base, and growth at the top, the long stems are totally bare and covered with soft white fuzzy stuff. The stems are very woody and brittle.

Question#1: Is this the characteristic of the plant?

At first I thought it was 'whitefly' and attempted to remove the coating with dishwashing liquid, vinegar and water. Then I applied NEEM oil. As soon as the stems were dry the fuzz was back. I don't think it's whitefly. Could it be something else?

#3: Are Salvia's prone to any paticular diseases?

#4: I wish to cut them back,HARD?

Any advice would be hugely appreciated!


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Powdery mildew is rampant right now in LA with the morning fog and afternoon high temps, but this sounds different, as the steps you took should have at least temporarily washed it off. Without pics, its hard to say definitively, but many salvias do have a "fuzz".

I'd be careful about cutting back woody stems on a sage too hard without being totally certain what species of salvia it is.

Does it look like Salvia x 'Sensation Rose'?

Or Salvia officinalis?

    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 4:48PM
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CA Kate

Some Salvias actually have furry stems; S. officinalis, Culinary Sage, is one of them.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 5:41PM
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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

Are you familiar with mealybugs? They are breaking out on my guaraniticas and other tropical sages right now with the help of ants. The adult females develop into white fuzzy masses along stems. The older, bigger ones die off in place, and masses of small yellow eggs hatch underneath them.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 10:52PM
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Thanks to everyone!
Dicot, the photos were very helpful, (and beautiful!) but going by the leaves, mine are narrower and more pointed like a Lance. And Rich, I don't think it's mealybugs because there is NO movement and NO eggs etc. (Whew!) Westelle's suggestion stirred me into scouring every picture I could find of the plant, and in a photo on Rosewoman's (?) site I saw a close up of the stems on several of her Salvias and there I got my MAIN RELIEF: they have that same dusty character. (Notice I say 'DUSTY', now!). Also, the leaf growth pattern (circular) around the base is similar to mine which are not as broad as hers.
Now my remaining questions are.... ,you got it! The perrenial PRUNING dilemma. I'm also wondering if I have overwatered them. I recently renewed the bed with lots of compost, relocated the Salvias in the same bed, and added plenty of perlite to increase drainage. Then, I watered like crazy.
You guys are beautiful. Please don't leave me?
Truly, Popny

    Bookmark   August 25, 2007 at 5:22AM
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Maybe S. leucantha? Mine are very fuzzy. I don't water mine much at all (deep soaking every 3 weeks).


Here is a link that might be useful: S. leucantha pics on Google

    Bookmark   August 25, 2007 at 7:46PM
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Youreit, You're right! These are the Salvias I have. Thank you! I will pay more attention to the watering issue; I have them around Roses which need more water than they do. Perhaps I'll raise them up a bit or channel water away from them somehow, Any suggetions? Also, how do you PRUNE yours?

    Bookmark   August 26, 2007 at 6:26PM
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CA Kate

popny: I find that S. leucantha are very forgiving water-wise. I have many of these in a variety of situations and so far the only thing that has harmed any of them is not getting enough water.

I know, I know... leucanthas don't need a lot of water. Well, they do here in the Central Valley of California.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2007 at 7:51PM
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Westelle, OK! I think i'm in the zone now. I think I'm on the right path. Do you PRUNE yours
. Mine seem to need SOME kind of pruning. I've become very tentative. The 'brown' snappy stems can GO, right? The fuller, healthier, tho bare in the middle stems; will they benefit from any kind of pruning? Say, 1/3 down? to where I see new growth, or further down near the base?
S. Leucantha! I'll remember that!
thanks, Popny

    Bookmark   August 26, 2007 at 11:11PM
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It should actually be cut to the ground in late Feb. or early March, Popny. Any dead branches can be removed now, of course. I've never had to prune mine, due to it either dying back in winter or getting cut back in late winter. Not sure if the severe pruning would inhibit flowering this year or not.

It'll look better next year, after cutting back and all the new growth comes, don't worry! :)


    Bookmark   August 27, 2007 at 10:21AM
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CA Kate

This summer they might have benefited by some light pruning with removal of the spent blooms, but I have so many that it doesn't get done here and they still re-bloom. Yes, you can remove anything that's unattractive.

About Jan/ Feb. you'll start seeing new growth at the base of the plant. I'm not sure just where you're located, but if it never gets below 40º you can carefully (they're brittle) cut back all the old growth and leave only the new stuff. If it does get colder then you need to leave on all the top stuff until there is no more danger of evening cold temps.... or all the new stuff will turn black... and die. The plant will still grow new stuff later on, but it sure looks ugly for awhile.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2007 at 12:17PM
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S.LEUCANTHAS Look so much better and living. I did some pruning,: I decided to go little by little and they seem to like it. New green popping off of stems and growth at the bottom, nice smiles. I can't thank you al enough for your savvy, bedside manner and sheer knowledge!
for real, Popny

    Bookmark   September 2, 2007 at 4:34AM
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I have two small salvia also and they have been planted about two months now. They started grows nicely, then cooler weather set in. Now they also have a white powder which I think everyone is says in a fungus that is not harmful. I have included a picture with one of the leaves, I have wiped off the powder.
They get watered every day just a little to keep the ground moist
What should I do to improve their health

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 12:29PM
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can anyone identify this? It is on a couple of my container plants which were beautiful....

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 8:13PM
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