Salvia (Salvia spp.)

Salvias are small to tall shrubby annuals or perennials (30cm-3m in height) widely grown in gardens for their long-lasting, colourful flowers and tolerance of heat and drought. Salvias – often called sage – are found across the world in a wide range of climate zones with around 900 species identified and now many named varieties.

As well as bearing attractive flowers, many salvias have highly fragrant leaves. In flower, all salvias are attractive to beneficial insects including bees and also to small, nectar-feeding birds. Salvias can be grown in the ground in well-drained soil or in containers. They can also be grown as low, informal hedges.

Some salvias grow year-round, others flower from spring to autumn and may die back in late autumn or winter especially in cold zones. Some however flower in autumn and winter and are tolerant of cold conditions.

Look for a selection of plants at your local hardware and garden centres. Salvias are also sold by specialist perennial nurseries and online. Here are a few to consider:

  • Salvia elegans ‘Pineapple Sage’ has pineapple-scented, grey-green leaves and red flowers. It is a herbaceous perennial that will grow 1m x 1m in full sun to part shade.
  • Salvia leucantha ‘Mexican Sage’ is a favourite in cottage-style garden due to its purple-blue flowers borne on erect spikes from winter through to spring. It can be used as an informal hedge or as a back border plant.
  • Salvia ‘African Skies‘ is a hardy, low maintenance shrub that is known for its beautiful blue flowers in spring and autumn. It has a strong, upright growth habit.
  • Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Bloom’ has vibrant cobalt blue flowers set in a contrasting black calyx (stems) and deep green, anise-scented leaves. Flowering in spring, it will make a perfect border for your cottage style garden.
  • Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ flowers from early summer until the frosts of winter. It has large deep green leaves which are beautifully offset by its stunning lime-green and purple flowers. Growing to around 1.2m x 1.2m it has a stunning display loved by birds and bees.
  • Salvia coccinea ‘Scarlett Sage’ has blood red flowers and mid-green scalloped edge leaves, grown around the world as a summer annual. Growing to around 1.5m tall it will tolerant hot and humid conditions.
  • Salvia farinacea ‘Mealy Sage’ is often seen in annual flower displays with tall spikes of blue or white flowers up against fragrant grey-green foliage through spring. This annual makes a great border.
  • Salvia corrugata is named for its corrugated leaves and electric blue flowers from late winter through summer. A hardy plant which can grow to 1.2m, it is an eye catching addition to any mix border.

Growing conditions

Aspect Salvia needs a bright, sunny location with sun for all or most of the day, with protection from strong winds and frost.

Soil Most salvias do best with good drainage but are otherwise not very fussy about soil. If you want to improve the soil mix in homemade compost and organic manure and/or Seasol Super Compost before planting. In areas with poor drainage, grow plants in raised garden beds (raised at least 30cm), in large containers use a premium potting mix such as Seasol Advance Potting Mix or select bog sage (Salvia uliginosa), a blue-flowered salvia that likes moist soil.

Climate Salvias grow in a wide range of climates from cool to subtropical reflecting their broad distribution across the globe. Shelter plants in cold areas. Some salvias are not tolerant of cold or frost.

How to grow and look after salvias for beautiful blooms
How to grow and look after salvias for beautiful blooms

General care

Watering Once established, most salvias are drought hardy. Water more frequently if plants are in hot, dry or exposed conditions or growing in containers.

Feeding and mulching Feed throughout the seasons using a complete fertiliser for flowering plants such as Seasol plus Nutrients Roses & Flowers. Supplement feeding with a liquid fertiliser such as PowerFeed PRO SERIES for Roses & Flowers  every 2 to 4 weeks. Plants in containers can be liquid fed every 2 to 4 weeks while they are growing and flowering. Apply PowerFeed PRO SERIES Roses & Flowers or PowerFeed All Purpose including Natives. Regular applications of Seasol also assist drought hardiness and disease resistance.

Mulch with fine gravel or organic mulch such sugarcane, lucerne or pea straw.

Pruning Cut back plants that are lanky or have finished flowering to encourage more compact growth and repeat flowering.

Watch out Salvias have few pest problems, but the leaves may occasionally be attacked by caterpillars. They can be removed by hand or use an environmental spray such as EarthCare Natural Pyrethrum insect spray. When spraying the foliage follow the directions on the back of the pack and spray both sides of the foliage. Repeat applications maybe needed for further control. Remember not to spray when beneficial insects and bees are around.

Plants in highly humid locations or that are not well drained may die back. Varieties that are not cold tolerant may dieback in winter (take cuttings in autumn to replant in spring after frosts have passed). Plants growing in too much shade may be lanky or develop mildew.