LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
There are quite a few perennials out there that perform well in the summertime here in Louisiana, but none more so than salvias. There are so many great salvias available today for sensational, consistent color all summer — and fall — long.
Salvias (Salvia officinalis) are also known as sage, a common herb most of us know for its savory flavor. Another member of this group is rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus), another common herb. Both have fragrant foliage often used in cooking, and both have beautiful purple blooms. Some have white blooms.
When speaking of salvias, white and purple blooms are most common, but new varieties come in shades of orange, red and blue. If you are trying to achieve a patriotic red, white and blue garden, salvias can make it happen for you.
Most salvia varieties are prized for their extended bloom, vibrant colors, and fragrant foliage and flowers in addition to their nectar production. Salvias display a wide range of heights, flower colors and growth habits. Many varieties are upright, but trailing varieties are available too.
Heights can vary among varieties, with some growing 8 to 12 inches while others grow several feet tall — upwards of 5 to 6 feet. Salvias can be used in the landscape in mass plantings, as borders, in containers and as accent or focal plantings. Some varieties even make good cut flowers.
Varieties that grow in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 10 are an excellent choice for landscapes in Louisiana for their reliable color and flower production. Their nectar makes them fan favorites for pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.
Salvias have vigorous growth and excellent flower production. Most varieties prefer full sun, but they can tolerate partial sun. Blooms will be most proficient in full sun. Plant in a well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Once established, most salvias are drought tolerant.
Little care is required to grow salvias. However, waterlogged soils and overwatering can lead to increased susceptibility to fungal diseases. Plant in the early spring after the last threat of frost. Established plants can be divided when new growth begins in early spring.
To keep flowers going all summer long and into the fall, remove faded blooms to encourage new flower production. Springtime fertilizer and occasional water-soluble fertilizer feedings in the summer will help encourage flowers and keep the foliage healthy and green.
Many varieties of salvia display continuous blooms on tall stems with average growing heights up to 30 to 40 inches with a spread of 24 to 30 inches. Salvias make an excellent selection in both the landscape as well as in container plantings.
Tall, upright growth habit salvias look best at the back of landscape beds for their height. You can use lower-growing varieties as border plants. Make a dramatic impact in your landscape with a mass planting of one cultivar.
Plants can drop lower leaves when stressed or without water for extended periods. To revive, remove the upper third of the plants with a quick trimming, and plants will fill back out nicely. You can also trim to shape or decrease size any time throughout the growing season; this will encourage new branches and create a more compact habit with even more flowers.
Some great varieties include the Evolution series, which is a Louisiana Super Plant program selection. This series comes in both violet and white bloom colors. The Wish series is another great choice. These include Wendy’s Wish, Ember’s Wish and Love and Wishes. The Skyscraper series is a new series that includes Skyscraper Dark Purple, Skyscraper Pink and Skyscraper Orange.
Not all varieties are carried at local nurseries, but many are. Get your hands on as many as you can and start your own collection.
A few more varieties grown and evaluated at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station are White Flame, Black and Bloom, Van Remsen, Blue Ensign, Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes, Mystic Blue, Big Blue, Rockin’ Deep Purple, Unplugged So Blue, Rebel Child, Roman Red, Purple and Bloom, Amistad, Amante, San Carlos Festival and Limelight.
Evolution salvia is a Louisiana Super Plant that comes in both white and purple. LSU AgCenter file photo
Salvias come in a wide range of colors, such as this hot pink. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Salvias are prized for their extended bloom, vibrant colors, and fragrant foliage and flowers in addition to their nectar production. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Salvias have vigorous growth and excellent flower production. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter