why salvia

ala8southDecember 30, 2007

The only experience I have had with salvia thus far has been a wild variety with red blooms that was all around (and I do mean ALL around) our old home and a black and blue that I grew this year and loved, tho not nearly so much as the hummingbirds did. Had a magazine for awhile, believe it was Taunton's fine Gardening, that had a picture of a Mexican Bush Sage....pardon me while I wipe the drool off my face...on the cover. Couldn't find anywhere in the magazine that it gave a specific variety name for that plant. Am I correct that their are several varieties of Mexican Bush Sage? This one appeared almost a raspberry sort of color. And I WANT IT! Any thought on what it might be?

And why do you folks grow salvia? I'm being forced to change over some of my garden to make it more low maintenance. Will I be on the right track planting more salvia? I do want to draw in more hummers, and know they like them. Do the salvias tend to be invasive? Please be patient with my ignorance.

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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

Members on the Salvia forums will be able to tell you which salvias are easy, low maintenance and which require more fussing. You will draw more results if you specify your location (at least USDA zone), soil type, and exposure. Are you familiar with your garden's microclimate?

Much of the fascination with Salvias comes from the fact that there are 900 species, many which are garden-worthy subjects. They are found in many climates, so some will be better choices for the hot, arid southwest, some will do well in the mountains, others in the plains, others in the subtropical southeast, and finally others in the northeast and northwest. Part of the fun is collectively figuring out which will work well in what areas, and which can be coaxed into providing surprises with a little attention and care.

I do not know of a raspberry-red leucantha, but there is an all purple form called Midnight.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 9:37PM
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Yeah, Rich, had just been thinking it was silly of me not to give that info and had come back to the computer to post it. I'm in zone 8b, the garden is full sun, and is a rather small garden area. As with virtually every garden around here, it is acid soil with some pockets of clay, but mostly pretty good soil. Those species that get 6' wide+ are out...that space has already been taken up with other plants. I'm mostly looking for something that will get only around 4-5 feet wide.

I had looked up the Mexican bush sage when I saw the picture, and have been confused that I couldn't find anything with that color. Is there a salvia with that raspberry red color? I see a mulberry being mentioned on this forum, could that be it? I looked at some pictures on the Internet, but the clusters on the plant in the magazine photo seemed much longer and fuller. I'd be interested in finding something good for cutting as well.

I had no clue there were that many species, that's amazing! Can't believe I've been missing out on this!

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 10:26PM
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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

For red-purple sages of medium size, you should look into S. greggiis and hybrids, along with microphyllas. Also, there is S. chiapensis, S. involucrata x Mulberry Jam.

I am assuming you are in Alabama, which has a humid, subtropical climate, not an arid California one.

Leucantas are about the best for fresh cut flowers, and S. farinacea x Indigo Spires is good for dried flowers as well.

Check out Robin Middleton's site if you want to see some really smashing sage images.

Here is a link that might be useful: Robin's Sages

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 11:14PM
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I think I found the Fine Gardening issue you were referring to, Ala!

I grow Salvias because they don't ask for much, yet they provide a LOT of beauty. I love the foliage scent of some of them, too. And there's something for everyone and every place. :)


    Bookmark   December 31, 2007 at 8:46AM
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YES Brenda that's it! What IS it?
Yes, Rich I'm in hot humid Alabama. I do like the idea of having scented foliage. And I'm looking for long bloom time since it is a small yard. I can have that with all those you recommended, right? So, I have the black and blue already, would one of those you listed give an earlier bloom time to help spread out the hummingbird attraction? Hm, it has just occurred to me that the yard is kind of short on spring blooming stuff to attract hummers early. Looking up pics of your recommendations now.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2007 at 11:05AM
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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

The sage on the cover of Fine Gardening is the all purple form called Midnight, with the color shifted towards the red. If the image was taken towards sunrise or sunset, this would account for the shift. Midday sun gives the bluest pictures.

The article in the magazine by David Salman is probably worth reading. He owns High Country Gardens, and sells some unique sages. Lots of people order from him.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2007 at 11:32AM
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I have hummingbirds almost year round because of the sages in my yard. I especially reccomend Salvia elegans. Here's an article from Bird Watchers Digest...


Salvia splendens, a native of Brazil, is marvelously useful, and it was in my mother's salvia garden that I met my first hummingbird, a male rubythroat. Vast trays of salvia are displayed in nurseries, discount centers, and supermarkets around the country each spring. These plants are easy to find and even easier to grow. Horticulturists have outdone themselves in developing varieties to fit every nook and cranny around the yard. Several varieties get no larger than six inches, whereas others may grow to be three feet tall. Salvias are grown as annuals in most places, but they can become small shrubs in frost-free regions.

The array of salvia colors is impressive. Red is a beacon to all hummingbirds and it has proven to be the most effective color for attracting them. These plants aren't picky about their soil, but they like lots of sun and good drainage. One bed with half a dozen red salvias, or better yet, a dozen, will pull birds in for weeks. When the blossoms have finished and the plant is looking a bit ratty, snip off the spent flowerheads and another couple of blossom sets will spring forth.

The salvia family is large and extremely useful for attracting hummingbirds. South American anise sage (S. guaranitica), with its indigo blue flowers and aromatic foliage, is an excellent choice for many locales. Anise sage is drought tolerant, yet can thrive in a rainy environment as long as water drains from the roots promptly. It performs as well in partial shade as it does in full sun. And it can be grown as a perennial as far north as the Carolinas. Farther north it might need to be replaced every season.

Another good all-around salvia is tropical or Texas sage (S. coccinea). Native to South America, it has become naturalized in many parts of the Deep South. A lovely red form is marketed under the name "Lady in Red," and there are several nice pink ones. Essentially, this plant is a weed, but an easygoing one. Grown as an annual, it produces a bountiful number of seeds. New plants sprout up all over the garden in southern climes.

Several other members of the salvia clan are widely useful. Mexican native pineapple sage (S. elegans) works well in California and the Southern states, but the brilliant red blossoms appear after most migratory hummingbirds have departed more northerly haunts. Autumn sage (S. greggii), comes from southwest Texas and adjacent Mexico. Numerous color varieties guarantee a blaze of glory from spring to early fall. Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha) makes a splash of purple in early spring and again in the late summer, just when migrating hummingbirds need their nectar most.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2007 at 2:39PM
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The earliest blooming sages are the greggii's and microphylla they bloom in spring and fall not so much in the summer. Not too tall and hummingbirds love them.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2007 at 7:30PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Here, Temecula, CA, S. greggii flowers in summer and throughout the fall. In fact, our greggs are still blooming, though diminished from a month ago. They usually stop when we get serious frost.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2007 at 8:19PM
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I really appreciate everyone being so helpful! I feel like I've stepped into a whole different garden world where I just don't know a thing about anything! ha

Okay, following what everyone is saying here, and what I'm looking up as a result of that, it does sound like the greggiis will most likely be what I'm looking for. But a couple more questions.

One of the spots I am looking to fill really only gets about 5 hours of direct sun a day. Will salvia work there? I want something there up to 5 foot tall and could be that wide. It's right outside a window and thought it would be awesome to draw hummers in that close for viewing. Also, I noticed that many species have recommendations for wind protection. The spot I was considering for the greggii or the mulberry jam is full sun, but does get an occassional strong gust of wind during exceptionally strong thunderstorms. Would I be better off planning for some support for those species in that location?

    Bookmark   December 31, 2007 at 10:47PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Greggs grow to about 2-3 ft tall and about the same width, at least here. I have no idea what they look like in nature. I'm most familiar with native Calif. salvias and S. leucantha and S. greggii. Most of these need lots of sun. 5 hrs a day is marginal. They will survive, but they won't look as full as they do with more sun.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2008 at 3:43AM
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If you are looking for a tall bush sage next to the house microphylla Neurepia might work. Richard sent me a rooted cutting last year and in a single season it grew just shy of 6 feet and was by far the tallest microphylla I've ever grown. I'm not sure how soon it begins to bloom in the spring but I expect it will by June. It was a steady medium bloomer for me all summer and its leaves have a sweet fruity scent.

The easiest way to get early salvia bloom is to grow out a bunch of coccinea from seed in the spring - here I start flats on March.

And if greeting spring hummingbirds is your thing you should consider an off-topic plant - Lonicera sempervirons "Alabama Crimson". This Coral Honeysuckle is an everblooming selection which down your way should be blooming in April and it will continue to bloom in flushes to at least Christmas. Mine still has a few flowers this morning.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2008 at 9:25AM
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Ah Wardda, I hadn't thought about that! I just planted a Coral Honeysuckle this past year. It is doing well. Even made it through the herbicide drift. It does still have a handful of blooms on it. Would like one other plant to go along with that for early spring hummers, tho. My yard is one of only two in our young subdivision that has flowers attractive to hummers it seems. We had a dozen monster, ancient azaleas at our old house so I'd never thought about what to have in spring before. Now we move from a shaded yard to a full sun yard and it has thrown me off! Any problems with Neurepia becoming invasive?

    Bookmark   January 1, 2008 at 10:45AM
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