Discover the wonderful world of salvias. This group of garden plants boasts a delightful mix of blooming beauties, including annual bedding types, perennials and desert natives. Culinary sage, revered for its role in poultry seasoning and stuffing, belongs to the salvia clan, as does the famous chia seed plant, Salvia hispanica.
One of the most famous salvias is culinary sage (Salvia officinalis). Sometimes called common sage or garden sage, this salvia brings flavorful leaves to garden and kitchen. Traditional garden sage unfurls pebbled gray-green leaves, but other varieties offer unusual leaf colors. Golden variegated sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’) has green leaves edged in gold, while ‘Tricolor’ sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’) sports leaves with grey green, cream, purple and pink hues.
California native sages include bee sage or sacred sage (Salvia apiana) and Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii). These native salvias produce beautiful plants and flowers that suit California’s droughty environment. As a matter of fact, these salvias curl up and die if they’re watered regularly once they’re established. For the most part, bee sage and Cleveland sage don’t need additional water, except in extreme drought.
Bee sage is so named because when it flowers, bees (and other pollinators) literally mob the plants. When you include bee sage in your landscape, you’ll be treated to a buzzing chorus once flowers appear. With Cleveland sage, the showpiece is again the blooms, which absolutely burst with fragrance. Place these plants upwind from outdoor seating areas to savor the rich perfume.
Do your homework when adding native salvias to your garden to make sure you’re getting a plant that fits your yard space. Some of these natives can grow quite large. Cleveland sage, for instance, reaches a mature size of 3 to 5 feet tall by 5 to 8 feet wide—it’s not the right salvia for a small suburban backyard. Bee sage reaches a size of 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, forming a substantial shrub.
Salvia plants thrive in full sun tucked into well-drained soil that’s on the lean side. Once plants are established, they don’t typically need additional moisture to thrive. Overwatering and soil that stays soggy in winter are probably the top reasons why salvias die in the landscape. When siting these drought-loving salvias, keep them in spots where automatic irrigation systems don’t reach.
The one exception to the no-extra-moisture rule are the annual bedding salvias. This group includes Salvia splendens (scarlet sage), Salvia farinacea (mealycup sage) and pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). These salvias benefit from consistent moisture and more so when grown in containers. Bedding salvias are usually smaller in size than the perennial types, but they don’t demand additional care for their flower power. Like other salvias, the bedding types also offer low-maintenance personalities.