Salvia clevelandii

Discover a California native that puts on a fragrant flower show.

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Salvia clevelandii  (03) Habit

Salvia clevelandii (03) Habit

Salvia clevelandii (03)

Savor the color and fragrance of Salvia clevelandii. This chaparral native stages a spectacular late spring-early summer show with whorls of flowers in shades of lavender. Also known as Cleveland sage, Jim sage and blue sage, Salvia clevelandii is a favorite among pollinators. When flower buds open, hummingbirds and bees start buzzing around plants.  

Salvia clevelandii is an ideal choice for a drought-prone setting. Plants are hardy in Zones 8 to 11 and remain evergreen year-round. Leaves are green or silvery on top and lighter beneath. Cleveland sage leaves have attractive veins that give the foliage a textural pattern that’s visually appealing. Even when plants aren’t in flower, they’re eye-catching in the landscape.  

Give Cleveland sage a spot in full sun with well-drained or heavy clay soil. This desert native won’t survive if it’s planted where irrigation systems provide a regular water supply. Readily available moisture is a kiss of death to Salvia clevelandii. When plants are watered after they’re established, they tend to develop leaf blights and ultimately root rot.  

Give Cleveland sage space to sprawl, and you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful wildlife plant. Salvia clevelandii grows 3 to 5 feet tall and 5 to 8 feet wide. It’s not a small sage for a typical suburban landscape, but it’s a beauty in a larger perennial garden or meadowscape where it can naturalize. Ground birds like quail take shelter beneath mature Cleveland sage shrubs as they spread.  

Flower stems stand 12 inches above leafy branches. Blooming stems form in spring, and first flowers open in late spring. The bloom fest lasts several weeks, effectively bridging spring to summer. Blossoms appear in whorls around flower stems, with one to three separate flower whorls forming on each stem.  

Blooms open in shades of purple and lavender, giving rise to the name blue sage. As flowers open, pollinators mob the plants, including hummingbirds, butterflies and all kinds of bees. Flowers have a strong fragrance, earning Salvia clevelandii the name fragrant sage. Many gardeners position this salvia upwind of garden seating areas to savor the perfumed blooms.  

With such an abundance of flowers, it seems natural to include fragrant sage in a cutting garden. Use care taking stems indoors. Many individuals report that in an enclosed setting, a single stem can be overpowering. The fragrance is that strong. Take a test drive with a single stem in a bud vase before cutting a big bouquet of Salvia clevelandii.  

Some gardeners prune plants after flowering to get a second flush of bloom. Other gardeners allow flowers to dry and set seed. Birds flock to Cleveland sage plants to gobble seed, and the dried flowers, though brown, are attractive in a naturalized landscape.  

Prune plants twice during the year to keep size manageable and reduce sprawling. First, remove one-third of growth from stem tips in fall.  Follow up with a second pruning in late winter, removing one-half of remaining stem length. New growth will appear in spring, followed by flowering stems.

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