Russian Sage Plants
Meet one of the perennial garden’s most fuss-free beauties: Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). This non-native perennial flower puts on a spectacular show from summer through fall. Stems add interest to winter in regions where the snow flies. Consider drought-tolerant Russian sage for a low-maintenance, high glamour addition to your perennial gardens.
When Russian sage is in bloom, it’s the kind of plant that makes people slow down, look twice, and wonder, “What is that?” Its flowers create a purple haze, and when viewed up close, they become even more fascinating. Fuzzy and purple, the blooms are arranged along long, silver-white stems. The color contrast is artful and soothing, especially when it bursts into flower among midsummer’s bolder-hued bloomers, like bee balm, purple coneflower and blazing star.
Despite its name, Russian sage is not related to the botanical sages, like Salvia coccinea, Salvia greggii or ‘May Night’ Salvia. It’s also not related to the favored herb for poultry, Salvia officinalis. Rather, Russian sage is a member of the mint family, and like most mint relatives, it has square stems.
Those stems boast an eye-catching silver-gray hue that’s accented with gray-green leaves that are almost ferny in appearance. When bruised, leaves and stems have a distinct sagey fragrance. It’s one of the reasons—along with the fuzzy flowers—that deer and rabbits leave it alone. It provides just too perfumey a bite for these critters to nibble.
Unlike most mints, Russian sage doesn’t require moist soil to thrive—quite the opposite. It’s drought tolerant. This perennial flower prefers light, alkaline, even somewhat dry soil. Plants can grow in average, well-drained soil, but their preference is a sharply drained, droughty spot. Winter drainage is essential. Soils that stay waterlogged in winter are sure to kill Russian sage. Although Russian sage is hardy in Zones 4 to 9, plants don’t perform well in high humidity, so they tend to thrive more in Texas, the Desert Southwest and the Mountainous West, as opposed to the Deep South.
Several Russian sage varieties are available on the market. The straight species grows 3 to 5 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide. ‘Little Spire’ Russian sage is a smaller version, reaching a tidy 18 to 24 inches tall and wide. ‘Blue Spire’ Russian sage tends to grow more upright than the species with stems that reach 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.
Russian sage spreads by self-sowing if conditions are right and also by rhizomes. In some situations, gardeners report this perennial flower as being invasive. It is not, however, reported or recorded as such in the National Invasive Species database. In the garden, keep an eye out for spreading stems. Pull and clip them as you spot them.