Plant type: Herbaceous perennial or subshrub, depending on the species
Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 to 11 for many; can be grown as annuals anywhere
Tender sages can range in size from knee-high to well over eye level. Some species flower from spring through fall, while others delay their bloom to the very end of the growing season—their spectacular display makes them worth the wait! The bushy clumps produce green, spoon-shaped, lance-shaped, or triangular leaves that are often aromatic.
How to use it: Planted singly or in groups, compact sage species make superb, long-blooming additions to beds, borders, and container plantings. They’re great partners for lavenders (Lavandula spp.), yarrows (Achillea spp.), and other drought-tolerant plants. Taller sages can also grow well in large containers, but they really need the space of a bed or border to show off to best advantage. Even where they’re not winter-hardy, sages make great annual color accents. Enjoy them in the cutting garden, as well.
Culture: Tender sages typically thrive in average, well-drained soil with full sun to light shade; afternoon shade is often ideal in hot climates. Pinch off faded flowers to promote rebloom. Where the plants aren’t hardy, bring potted specimens indoors before frost, or take cuttings in late summer and keep under lights or on a sunny windowsill for the winter. Wait until all danger of frost has passed to set plants outdoors in spring.
Special notes: Sages are practically guaranteed to bring hummingbirds to your garden, and they’re popular with bees and butterflies too! Many are also drought-tolerant.
Selected species: S. coccinea (Texas sage). Upright, bushy, 18- to 36-inch-tall plants with deep green leaves and red, pink, or white flowers from early summer to frost. A hummingbird magnet! Herbaceous perennial in USDA Zones 9 to 11, but usually grown as an annual. May self-sow.
S. farinacea (mealy-cup sage). Dense, well-branched, two-foot-tall clumps of medium-green leaves, with abundant, slender spikes of purple-blue flowers from early summer through fall. 'Victoria' is deep blue; 'Evolution' is purple-blue. Herbaceous perennial in USDA Zones 8 to 11 but usually grown as an annual. May self-sow.
S. greggii (Gregg sage. autumn sage). Typically one to two feet tall with woody stem bases, Gregg sage has small, bright to deep green leaves that can be evergreen or semi-evergreen in mild areas. The bushy clumps bear loose spikes of red, purple, pink, coral, or yellow flowers through the frost-free season. Subshrub or perennial in USDA Zones 7 to 10.
S. guaranitica (Brazilian sage). Upright clumps usually grow four to five feet tall but may reach toeight feet in mild climates. Also known as anise sage, due to the scent of its rich green, heart-shaped leaves. Spikes of large, intensely blue flowers appear from mid- or late summer into fall. Can grow well in partial shade as well as sun. 'Argentine Skies' has light blue blooms, while the flowers of ‘Black and Blue’ are deep blue with near-black bases. Perennial in USDA Zones 7 to 11.
S. involucrata (rosebud sage). Bushy clumps of lightly fuzzy, medium green leaves typically reach three to five feet tall. From mid- or late summer into fall, distinctive, rounded, deep pink buds open into bright pink flowers. ‘Bethellii’ has vivid fuchsia-pink flowers on 4- to 6-foot-tall stems. Perennial in USDA Zones 8 to 11.
S. leucantha (Mexican bush sage). Upright, three- to five-foot-tall clumps of slender, grayish green leaves that are fuzzy underneath. This late bloomer produces flower spikes from early or midfall to frost, with purple or white blossoms that have fuzzy purple bases. ‘Santa Barbara’ is only two feet tall. Evergreen subshrub in USDA Zone 10 and south.
S. madrensis (forsythia sage). This giant-sized sage stretches up to 8 to 10 feet tall in warm climates; in cooler areas, the thick stems can reach five to six feet tall by the end of the growing season. Distinctive for its long spikes of bright yellow blooms from mid- to late fall over heart-shaped green leaves. 'Red Neck Girl' also offers deep red stems. Perennial in USDA Zones 7 to 11.
S. uliginosa (bog sage). Four- to six-foot-tall stems carry light green leaves and are topped with spikes of true blue flowers from late summer well into fall. Unlike most other sages, this species can thrive in moist or even wet soil, although it also grows well (and spreads less vigorously) in average, well-drained soil. Perennial in USDA Zones 6 to 11.