Salvia brings color and fragrance to garden borders, patio pots, meadows, wildflower patches, or challenging, dry areas. These tough plants come in a massive range of colors and sizes, with some perfect as groundcovers and others growing 10 feet tall or more.
In the right conditions, this versatile plant can provide compact greenery and pockets of color from early spring to late fall, with minimum fuss and care required. Some bloom all summer, others bloom during the winter.
If you’re looking for something reliable and colorful, there’s a salvia perfect for you.
What is Salvia?
Salvia is a genus that encompasses about 900 plant species, many native to North America. These plants belong to the Lamiaceae family, which includes herbs such as mint, basil, rosemary, oregano, lavender, and thyme.
Ornamental salvia is a close cousin of common sage (Salvia officinalis) and is part of the same genus.
These plants come in varying sizes that suit an array of purposes, from small herbaceous annuals, to shrubs, short-lived perennials, and large, shrub-like perennials.
In some USDA Hardiness Zones, the red, violet, pink, blue, yellow, and white blooms can persist throughout the year.
If you’re looking for a filler plant for the garden to attract pollinators and add depth to borders, ornamental Salvia could be the answer. Let’s check out some fantastic types.
10 Must Grow Ornamental Salvias
There are hundreds of salvias to choose from, so narrowing it down can be a challenge. Here are just a few of our favorites:
1. Pitcher Sage
Native to Central and Eastern North America, pitcher sage (S. azurea) has tiered sky-blue flowers from summer to fall and greyish-green foliage.
Also known as blue sage, this herbaceous perennial has a bushy growth habit. If conditions are right it can grow 30-36 inches tall and wide.
Comfortable in borders, meadows, and prairie gardens, it’s also showy enough to act as a specimen. Pitcher sage is best propagated from seed or division.
Hardy in Zones 5-9
2. Cleveland Sage
Native to California, Cleveland sage (S. clevelandii) offers the gardener wonderful scented blooms, a plus when wanting to attract pollinators. This salvia’s floral display is lavender blue on arching stems of emerald green.
This compact grower provides constant blooms all summer when deadheaded to encourage more growth. It can be cut back to control spread if required.
The height, when fully established, can be between 30-36 inches with a spread of 60-98 inches.
This species is good for soil stabilization and is drought tolerant. Best propagated from seed, grow it in full shade or partial shade in Zones 9-11
3. Scarlet Sage
Scarlet sage (S. coccinea) is relatively well known throughout the Americas, from the southeast, midwest and northern regions of the States, to Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Brazil, and the Caribbean.
Otherwise referred to as scarlet, Texas, or blood sage, it displays red, trumpet-shaped, small flowers on green foliage. It provides an abundance of speckled color to borders, garden backdrops, and desert gardens.
Predominantly a summer shower, it’s happiest in heat and full sun. It can tolerate some shade and may benefit from a bit of afternoon shade if you’re growing in a Zone that reaches extreme temperatures.
The plant reaches a height up to 24-36 inches and spreads approximately 12-24 inches.
Best propagated from seed, it will self-seed in warmer winter climates. It can also be multiplied by division. Treat as an annual or perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11.
Grab some seeds from Outsidepride at Amazon.
4. Fruit-Scented Sage
Native to Central America, Honduras, fruit-scented sage (S. dorisiana) is better suited to regions with moderate temperature fluctuations.
A semi-evergreen of magnificent lime green-toned foliage with woody-type stems and bright pink blooms, it stands out with a fruity scent that can last throughout the growing season.
It grows between 36-60 inches tall and can spread the same.
This salvia is an ideal companion under trees, as a border filler plant, or in large containers in a shaded position. More temperamental than other varieties, it is frost tender and does not favor windy positions or extreme heat. Keep it in Zones 9-11.
Best propagated through softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings.
5. Pineapple Sage
Native to Mexico and Guatemala, pineapple sage (S. elegans) produces bright green and scarlet foliage with a slightly fuzzy consistency. Flowers are bold red, trumpet-shaped on upright branches. A favorite of hummingbirds and beneficial pollinating insects.
Edible and ideal for adding leaves and flowers to herbal teas or cold drinks in the summer to add a hint of pineapple, it’s a great addition to the herb garden or vegetable plot in ones 8-11, or as an annual elsewhere.
Perennial subshrub with rapid growth tendencies in the right conditions. Height at maturity 48-60 inches and spread.
This species adores full sun positions with consistent moisture but well-drained soil. It’s content to temperatures as low as 20°F.
Best propagated early in the season from softwood cuttings in the spring, or from semi-hardwood cuttings in the fall.
6. ‘Snow Hill’ (Scneehugel Sage)
Salvia x sylvestris is a hybrid ornamental salvia that incorporates some of the best characteristics of salvia, suiting it to an array of zones and conditions.
The difference here is the white fountain-type blooms on carpet forming light green foliage. Making it low-growing and compact, reaching approximately 24 inches tall and wide. Ideal for ground cover or companion planting with taller plants.
An early summer bloomer that will continue into summer if deadheaded, this salvia is content in full sun and dry soil as long as appropriate moisture is maintained.
Best propagated through softwood cuttings and division, it grows in Zones 3-8.
7. Whorled Sage
S. verticillata, commonly called whorled sage, is indigenous to Europe and Asia but is popular across the US in Zones 3-8.
A perennial that likes full sun, this species will tolerate some shade but not strong winds. It’s well suited to rock gardens, small city spaces, containers, meadow gardens, or larger border displays.
It’s easy to grow as it has low water needs and will continue to flower with lavender-like flowers if deadheaded.
Some cultivars have deep, dark flowers. With a beautiful wildflower appearance, this hardy salvia lives up to its name; ‘Purple Rain.’
The illuminating purple mini blooms flow in tiered clusters nestled against slim stems that tower over compact lower-lying green foliage. Growing between 12-24 inches by 12-24 inches spread.
Best propagated from basal stem cuttings or division.
8. Forsythia Sage
Native to Mexico, S. madrensis bears yellow blooms on upright long stems and deep green foliage. What makes it unique is that this perennial salvia can give the garden a lift in fall through to winter because that’s when it blooms.
The large size of 60-84 inches tall and 48-60 inches wide adds height to borders, hides fencing, and stabilizes sloping areas. This makes a fabulous addition to any cut flower garden and arrangement.
It prefers moderately moist soil that is free-draining, as well as partial shade. This species spreads via the root system and is best propagated through root cuttings.
This plant is evergreen in Zones 7-11. It might go dormant in Zones 7-8, however.
9. Hummingbird Sage
Native to southern and central California, this salvia with blossoms of burgundy to pink offers the gardener an option for shaded, dry areas. Blooms stand upright and tall, with bright green foliage.
Hummingbird sage (S. spathacea) is a perennial salvia, providing blooms all year round in the right conditions in Zones 8-11.
A slow spreader, it uses underground rhizomes to populate areas. This way of growing gives good ground cover and can assist with regenerating dry soil areas of the garden. It can be readily started by seed.
The mature height is between 12-36 inches by 36-60 inches wide.
10. Fuzzy Bolivian Sage
Native to west-central South America, Bolivia, S. oxyphora has fascinating blooms that stand out in fuchsia pink and furry in appearance and touch.
This perennial blooms during the summer and into fall. It’s tolerant to partial shade but prefers full sun. If you need a plant that can tolerate moderate water, this is a good choice.
Ideal for sensory gardens, kids play areas, containers, patios, and cut flower arrangements, it grows 48-72 inches tall and spreads between 36-48 inches.
It’s easiest to propagate through softwood cuttings and is hardy in Zones 8-10.
Whether growing from seed, cuttings, or division, there are many ways to propagate saliva. An array of seeds can be found at most nurseries and online retailers. Take leaf, softwood, or hardwood cuttings in the spring.
Division should be done in the fall or spring.
Caring for Salvia
Ornamental salvia is easy to grow and generally low maintenance. Most species are tough and tolerant to a wide range of conditions.
Because there are so many species, there are many different growing preferences. You can find types that grow well in alkaline, neutral, or acidic soil. Some need loamy soil; others prefer sand. There are even some that tolerate clay.
Some species prefer lots of moisture, and others are happiest in arid conditions.
Get to know your particular species and its requirements.
Salvia is a great companion plant to vegetable gardens as it repels cabbage moth (Mamestra brassicae) and carrot flies (Chamaepsila rosae).
Common Pest and Diseases
In the grand scheme, ornamental salvia plants don’t suffer from too many problems. They’re generally not bothered by rabbits and deer. In fact, not too many pests target these plants. Now and then, stressed plants might be targeted by:
Slugs and snails tend to be drawn to the fresh young leaves of salvia. A control program early on in the new growing season will reduce the risk of losing foliage.
Diseases can be a problem if the weather is too wet, if it’s towards the end of the growing season, or if it’s stressed. Monitoring the garden is always a good idea, as disease can spread rapidly. Look out for:
- Leaf Spot (Corynespora cassiicola)
- Powdery Mildew (Erysiphe spp. and Sphaerotheca spp.)
- Botrytis Blight (Botrytis cinerea)
- Root Rot
Prevention always starts with good garden hygiene. Clean your tools, make sure plants are spaced appropriately, and water at the soil level, not on the leaves.
Trim diseased areas of the salvia plant and deadhead spent blooms to encourage more growth. Dispose of diseased plants and debris.
All ornamental salvias benefit from airflow and can be pruned to maintain this. Dividing plants also helps to improve air circulation and reduce the risk of disease setting in.
If the salvia leaves wilt or curl, this can indicate a lack of moisture. It’s important to maintain watering regimes in the hotter months. If planted in containers, consider moving them to some shade in extreme heat.