Planting Russian Sage

Learn what you need to know to plant Russian sage successfully.
Blue Spire Brightens Fall Gardens

Blue Spire Brightens Fall Gardens

Perovskia atriplicifolia, or Blue Spire, is a woody based perennial of the mint family that features handsome, fern like, silvery green foliage topped by clouds of tiny blue flowers. Blooms mid summer to fall. The foliage is aromatic.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Perovskia atriplicifolia, or Blue Spire, is a woody based perennial of the mint family that features handsome, fern like, silvery green foliage topped by clouds of tiny blue flowers. Blooms mid summer to fall. The foliage is aromatic.

Turn heads toward your perennial gardens by planting Russian sage in the mix. This drought-tolerant perennial dresses up the summer and fall garden with a haze of purple flowers atop grey-green leaves on silver-white stems. It’s a looker from midsummer to fall frost. There are some tricks to planting Russian sage that will help the plant establish in your garden.

Start with your planting spot. Russian sage needs full sun to perform its best. Give it a little shade, and plants tend to flop open as stems stretch for sunlight. Choose a location with hot, intense sun, even as hot as the space between sidewalk and street or a strip along a driveway. Russian sage likes sun and heat.

When planting Russian sage, consider two things this beauty doesn’t like: high humidity and soil that stays soggy in winter. Choose a planting spot with well-drained average soil or alkaline, dry soil. Russian sage adapts well to either soil type. If soil is too fertile, plants tend to become loose and floppy. In this case, insert hoop stakes or use stakes and string to prop stems.

Look for containers of Russian sage at your favorite plant shopping spot. Although you can tackle planting Russian sage from early spring to six weeks before frost, the ideal time is in late spring. At this point, soil is warm and plants should start growing quickly. If you wind up planting Russian sage further into summer, be sure to keep soil moist as young plants establish.

Russian sage is drought-tolerant once established, but plants need water until root systems have had a chance to sink deeply into soil. It’s a good idea to water Russian sage during its first growing season to encourage a deep, extensive root system.

Transplanting established Russian sage can be tricky. Dig a large perimeter around the plant, taking as much soil and root system with you as you can. The plant will likely go into shock after transplanting and could take a few months to come out of it. The best time to move Russian sage is in early spring. Wait until soil is warm in coldest regions. Cut stems back by two-thirds prior to moving the plant. Keep the transplant well-watered until you see new growth; then gradually decrease water.

Planting Russian sage is even more fun when you incorporate it into a perennial garden design that features other plants with strong summer and fall colors. Russian sage blends beautifully with ornamental grasses, like switch grass (Panicum virgatum), purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis), feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora) and ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’).

Other great perennial partners for Russian sage include joe-pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) and goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’). Like all of these perennial flowers, Russian sage also attracts butterflies and a variety of pollinating insects. Use Russian sage as part of butterfly or wildlife gardens.

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