The Ultimate Guide to Growing Salvias

Author: Chris Cuddy  Date Posted:17 February 2024 

Mastering Salvias: A Guide to Cultivation, Care, and Color Discover the beauty and simplicity of growing salvias. From garden design to care tips, learn everything you need to embrace these vibrant perennials in your garden.

The Ultimate Guide to Growing Salvias

Introduction to Salvias

Salvias remain firm perennial favorites for their easy cultivation, long flowering period and ability to withstand dry and cold. We offer salvias from North America, Mexico and South Africa.

Why Salvias are Perennial Favorites

These fabulous, floriferous plants have risen in popularity in recent years and with good reason.

The Rising Popularity of Salvias

There is a huge variety available varying in form and colour, most are undemanding, flower for months on end and need very little water to thrive. They also provide ample food for many birds, bees and other insects. They sound like the perfect garden plant – and if you don't have any in your garden, perhaps now is the time to start. 

Diversity and Distribution of Salvias

Species and Cultivars

Salvias are a wonderful and diverse group of plants with almost 1000 species recorded and many more hybrids and cultivars on offer. While about half the number of species are from Central America, the rest are distributed through Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean and both Southern and Northern Africa. If you have a spot in your garden, there is probably a salvia that will grow there.

The Best Known Salvia: Sage

The best known salvia is probably the humble herb Sage botanically known as Saliva officinalis. I find sage to be short lived in that garden so pot cultivation is best with this one to ensure longevity.  

Growing Salvias in Your Garden

Varieties and Their Heights

Salvias vary in height and some species only growing about 30cm high and others growing over 3m high and wide in the case of some of the tropical species.

Creative Uses of Salvias in the Garden

Salvias are good plant partners and can be mixed in with other plants or mass planted on their own.  In my garden I have used salvias in different ways in different part of the garden –

Recommended Plant Partners for Salvias

I have combined the soft pink and relatively low growing form of Salvia Angel Wings with the soft blue of catmint to great effect. I have partnered the bright hot pink of Salvia San Carlos Festival with the similarly bright Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit'. For a bolder look I have used the contrasting deep purple Salvia nemorosa cultivars with the bright yellow flowering Phlomis russeliana. I have the taller Salvias Anthony Parker and Meigans Magic planted behing the Rose Sally Holmes, the blue salvia flowers are a fabulous foil for the white/soft peach flowers of the rose.  I have used the Salvia leucantha White Velour and Pink Velour sages on mass to line the path leading from the lawn down the garden path making a stunning autumn show.  A brief list of suitable plant partners are Achillea, Agastache, Alliums, Echinacea, Gaura, Penstemon, Roses, Rudbeckea, Santolina, and Stachys. Salvias also look fabulous with ornamental grasses such as Calamagrostis Karl Foester and Miscanthus “Adagio'.

Care and Cultivation

Ideal Soil and Sun Conditions

Generally salvias are happy in any well drained garden soil in full sun.

Watering and Drought Tolerance

Most are tolerant of periods of dry, especially the S. microphylla and greggii types.

Color Varieties and Flowering Seasons

These are much more suited to the average garden as they tend to be smaller and more compact and many varieties flower from Spring through to late Autumn. These plants come in just about every colour from white (S. White Hot), through soft yellow (S. Iced Lemon), orange (S. Tangerine, Pumpkin and Sensation), crimson (S Silas Dyson, Margaret Arnold), red S. Royal Bumble), pink (S. Raspberry Royal, S, Angel Wings, San Carlos Festival), purple (S. Superior Purple, Christine Yeo). There are pure blue flowers and these derive from the species Salvia chamaedryoides including the cultivar S. Marine Blue. There are also varieties that flower in winter such as the larger Salvia karwinskii cultivars and hybrids which add colour to what can be a more monochrome time of the year. 

Pruning and Maintenance

Pruning Techniques Based on Leaf Size

Salvias sometimes need a prune to help them stay tidy and compact. The leaf size can be a good guide as to how they should be pruned. The small leaved forms can be cut back by a third to a half if actively growing and are getting too large or untidy.

Seasonal Pruning Advice

If you get frosts like me, wait until spring when the main risk of frost is gone before pruining.  Herbaceaous types like Salvia nemorosa can be pruned in summer after their first flowering, which may lead to another flush of flowers in Autumn. They can then be pruned to the basal foliage over winter.  The large leaved and taller forms should be pruned after flowering, this may be autumn, winter or spring. In frosty areas, they can be pruned at the start of winter and then mulched or left until spring when the main frost risk has passed. 

Propagation of Salvias

Propagating from Seed

Salvias are easy to propagate and it is a great way to share these generous plants with gardening friends. The herbaceous, rosette forming species such as Salvia sclarea turkestanica are easily propagated from seed.

Propagating from Cuttings

The shrubby varieties are fairly easy to propagate by cuttings. Salvias root readily from tip cuttings. Select strong growths about 5-10cm long and remove the the bottom set or two of leaves and if your cutting has flowers or buds, then remove these by pinching out. Dip your cutting your in preferred rooting medium, this can be a commercial preparation or honey. Place in a pot with a good propagation medium. This can be seed raising mix, a 50/50% mix of course sand and coir peat. Cover the pot with Keep in a bright, warm spot, out of direct sunlight and in warm weather, roots will appear in a few weeks.

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