This award-winning perennial's lavender flowers are lovely in cottage gardens and as border plants.
By mid- to early summer, tall, graceful spires of small, lavender-blue flowers start to appear in the garden, carried on silvery-gray stems with gray-green foliage. Perovskia atriplicifolia, commonly known as Russian sage, is a handsome shrubby or herbaceous perennial that blooms into the fall.
Like other members of the mint family, its leaves are aromatic when crushed, and the plants have the square stems found in many of its relatives. Despite its name, it’s not a type of sage.
Russian sage is easy to grow and cold hardy to USDA zones 5 to 9. It grows best in warm climates and performs even when the humidity is high. The plants also tolerate clay or average soils, as long as the drainage is good, but they need full sun to produce lots of flowers and sturdy stems that won’t flop over as they grow taller.
Because of its ability to withstand periods of drought, Russian sage is a good choice for xeriscaping. It’s also rabbit and deer resistant, and seldom has problems with pests or diseases.
Mature plants can reach 3 to 5 feet in height with a spread of 2 to 4 feet. Since Russian sage grows as clumps, space the plants about 3 feet apart, or 3 feet away from other plants in the garden, to give them room to spread.
Thanks to its low maintenance and showy, tubular flowers, Russian sage is a past recipient of the Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year Award.
Try using this nearly carefree plant in your perennial border, where it will bloom for a long period of time. Its long wands, studded with blooms, give the plants an airy, cottage garden feel, and its blue color contrasts nicely with pink roses, begonias, phlox, lemon yellow lantanas, coreopsis, marigolds, purple English lavender, silvery lamb’s ear or artemisia. It’s also lovely planted alongside yellow rudbeckias and ornamental grasses.
Because Russian sage is a finely textured plant, use it in masses and its colors will stand out. Viewed from a distance, the flower spikes will look like a soft, blue haze. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees are often drawn to them.
If the stems of your plants start to lean over—which they’re prone to do if they’re not getting adequate sunlight—stake them as needed. The next spring, prune them to six to eight inches above the ground to encourage new growth. The dried flowers are pretty in indoor arrangements.
If you prefer not to cut the plants back, let the faded flowers remain, and they’ll add interest and color to the winter landscape.