Crave some non-stop purple in your garden? Then plant Salvia farinacea. Also known as mealy sage or mealycup sage, this plant is packed with flower power. Plants start sending up flower shoots in spring, and the show doesn’t stop until cold weather arrives. Better still, like many salvia, mealycup sage blooms lure butterflies to the garden, adding to the colorful scenery.
Salvia farinacea earns its common names, mealy sage or mealycup sage, from the fact that upper stems and the little cup that cradles the flower have a white powdery coating. The word “mealy” literally means “covered with powdery meal,” while the botanical name “farinacea” comes from the Latin word that means flour or meal.
In the garden, Salvia farinacea is hardy in Zones 8 to 10. In all other zones, treat this bloomer as an annual. The plants do withstand light freezes, and in areas where mealy sage is hardy, plants can maintain a strong garden presence for up to five years.
Salvia farinacea grows 12 to 48 inches tall, reaching the greater heights in warmest zones. Plant spread varies from 12 to 24 inches. Mealycup sage grows best in full sun, although it does benefit from afternoon shade in hottest areas like the Deep South, Florida, Texas and the Desert Southwest.
Plants grow strongest in soils that have even moisture and drain well. Drainage is especially important in winter in areas where Salvia farinacea is a perennial. Mealy sage adapts well to containers and rewards with non-stop flowers. Fill pots with a commercial soilless mix developed for use in containers.
This salvia is a favorite plant for cutting gardens and cottage gardens. The flower spikes add vertical interest to bouquets and last seven to 14 days in a vase. Salvia farinacea blooms also dry well. Simply bundle stems together and hang upside down to air dry. Include mealycup sage in wildlife or butterfly gardens because of its attraction to pollinators.
When growing Salvia farinacea as a bedding plant, set out seedlings after all danger of frost has passed. Mealy sage makes a terrific addition to any planting bed. Many gardeners rely on it to create a back-of-the-border hedge that’s always filled with flowers.
Planted with the slivery leaves of dusty miller, the purple flowers of Salvia farinacea paint a striking scene. Or pair it with melampodium for an eye-pleasing purple-yellow combination that won’t stop blooming until frost.
Snip spent flower stems from plants as the blooms fade. Toward the end of the season in colder zones, let faded flowers remain in place so plants set seed. Birds like goldfinches will visit plants and cling to stems to feast on seeds. Look for varieties of Salvia farinacea with different colored flowers, including deeper purple, white, violet and bicolor blends.