GV Gardeners: Salvia, every gardener’s favorite

Salvia cultivar “Teresa” maintains its global form and profusion of pinkish-white flowers nearly year around in the sage garden area at The Arid Garden, off Camino Encanto in Desert Hills I.

It is only a bit over a month away from the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere … and yet the Salvia blossoms continue to brighten the landscape. Grateful butterflies and hummingbirds still enjoy the sweetness of the brilliant flowers. Whether purple, white, magenta, rose, pink, or red, the small tubular flowers are a favorite of birds, butterflies, and gardeners alike. Starting in late spring, the bloom period extends until the first frost.

There are more than 900 varieties of salvia around the world. This member of the mint family is also called “Sage.” With so many colors and sizes, identification can become complex. Salvias have square stems, some have fragrant flowers, and many have aromatic foliage. Rabbits and quail are repelled by the pungent odor of some varieties.

Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) is a large shrub, native to California and thrives in the Sonoran Desert. If left untrimmed, it will reach 3 to 5 feet high and 5 to 8 feet wide. Both its gray-green foliage and violet-blue stacked flowers make it the most aromatic of all Salvias. This robust plant is drought tolerant and cold hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Removing spent flowers as they fade will encourage continued bloom. Smell this Sage before purchasing and be certain you like the odor. Its nearly overwhelming scent will greet you from down the block or across the street, so be sure you enjoy it!

Perhaps the most used Salvia in our area is Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii). With glossy green leaves, it matures at 1 to 4 feet high and wide, blooming continually from late spring through autumn. Its flowers can be any color from white, pink, or purple, to the very popular magenta red. With light trimming and removal of dead flower stems, Autumn Sage will remain tidy and free blooming for an extended time. It can be cut back to within a few inches of the ground in early spring to rejuvenate foliage and flower growth.

Another eye-popping Salvia bush is Purple Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha). This shrub grows to 6 feet high and wide. It needs extra water in spring and summer for the best appearance. Long spikes of velvety, bright purple blossoms rise over the gray foliage and are very attractive to hummingbirds. A tiny purple-flashing Costa flying around a Mexican Sage adds even more bright color to the landscape.

Germander Sage (Salvia chamaedryoides) is among the smallest Sages. It matures at 1 to 2 feet high but will spread at least 2 to 3 feet by underground runners. Its silvery leaves and brilliant blue flowers make for a colorful groundcover. This little Sage looks great nestled into a rock garden.

There are many hybrids of Salvia, so next time a spot opens up in your landscape, why not choose one you prefer. Visiting butterflies and hummingbirds will be forever appreciative!

Mary Kidnocker is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who lives in the Green Valley area. Her articles are featured weekly.