Salvia Chamaedryoides: How To Grow Germander Sage

Salvia chamaedryoides, more commonly known as Germander sage, Mexican blue sage or blue oak sage, is a versatile ornamental shrub with the most vibrant, true blue flowers that will catch the eye of any gardener.

It is native to the Chihuahuan Desert, 7000ft high above sea level in the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexico. That’s one pretty extreme environment, so how can this perennial salvia grow in our gardens? Don’t be put off by its arid origins!  

Salvia chamaedryoides has adapted to a full range of climate zones, making its home across Europe and North America, and especially California.  It’s easy to grow and will attract a multitude of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds to your garden. What’s not to like?

Good Products For Growing Salvia Chamaedryoides:

Quick Care Guide

Salvia chamaedryoides
Salvia chamaedryoides is a wonderful butterfly and bee attractant. Source: TJ Gehling
Common NameGermander sage, Mexican blue sage, blue oak sage
Scientific NameSalvia chamaedryoides 
FamilyLamiaceae
Height & Spread12-18in tall, 3-4ft wide
LightFull sun, partial shade
SoilWell drained, chalky, sandy, loam
WaterLow water needs, drought tolerant
Pests & DiseasesAphids, spider mites, slugs, snails, powdery mildew

All About Germander Sage

Big germander sage plant
Germander sage can be a lovely border plant for a food garden. Source: cultivar413

The botanical name for Germander Sage is Salvia chamaedryoides.  Bit of a tongue twister, so to help we’ve broken it down for you; SAL-vee-uh, kam-ay-dry-OY-deez.  Chamae comes from the Greek word chamai, meaning ‘dwarfness’ or ‘on the ground’ reflecting the low growth habit of this shrub.

Salvia is the largest genus in the mint family, Lamiaceae, with almost 1000 different species of herbaceous annuals and perennials, woody herbs, ornamental shrubs or sub-shrubs. Salvia chamaedryoides is typical of the genus.  It is an evergreen, ornamental woody shrub or ground cover, with small rounded silver grey/green aromatic foliage half an inch in length.

Both leaves and stems have a silvery downy appearance and fuzzy texture.  Small showy blue flowers with wide lips appear on terminal spikes, flowering from early summer until mid-fall in hotter climates and from late summer to early fall in more temperate zones. It grows in compact low mounds 12 to 18 inches tall and 3 to 4 feet wide, branching outwards from a spreading rootstock.

Originating in Mexico, it was introduced to Europe in the 1800’s, finding its way back across the Atlantic to North America in the 1980’s. It is popular in drought-resistant xeriscape gardens in California.  The vivid blue flowers provide radiance to an otherwise arid landscape, the flower color blue a well-known magnet to native pollinating insects, especially butterflies and hummingbirds.

Short of space? This plant grows well in pots. Just make sure you replicate its natural conditions with well-drained soil and located in full sun.  Large pots at least 3 gallons (10-20 liters) work best to get the most from the plant’s naturally spreading habit. Terracotta pots especially complement the striking color of the foliage and flowers.

Salvia chamaedryoides makes a great ground cover and although it spreads, its growth is not invasive.  As with pots, location and soil are key, so grow in well-drained soil in full sun and you will receive an abundance of flowering inflorescence all summer long.

Here’s a great gardening tip if your home is by the coast or you live somewhere hot and arid like California!  Search for garden plants with silvery grey/green foliage. These plants are often drought and salt tolerant, small in size and work well as low ground cover so perfect for hot California or windy UK coastal gardening.

Care

Salvia chamaedryoides flowers
Closeup view of the germander sage flowers. Source: Dick Culbert

When growing Salvia chamaedryoides, think about where the plant comes from: a high altitude desert in its native Mexico. Once you get the conditions right, aftercare is pretty straightforward, just add a little water and a haircut when needed and enjoy.

Light & Temperature

This plant should receive long hours of full sun but will tolerate some light shade. Salvia chamaedryoides is hardy down to USDA hardiness zones 8 and maybe 7 (5 to 15 ºF, -9 to -12ºC), if conditions are favorable.  In warmer USDA hardiness zones like zone 9 or 10, the plant can be semi-evergreen, losing some leaves over winter. It has been known to die right back to ground level after severe frosts and regrow from roots in spring, but this is not guaranteed.

In northern Europe, Salvia chamaedryoides is classified as deciduous and is hardy to USDA zone 8 or the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) equivalent, H4. In cold wet areas, plants will need winter protection of fleece or brought indoors if in pots.

Water & Humidity

In its natural habitat, Salvia chamaedryoides survives exposure to extreme temperatures and long summer droughts.  We can try and replicate these conditions in our gardens by maintaining a strict low water regime of approximately 1 inch a month. Do not water in fall/winter if plants are irrigated naturally through seasonal rainfall. 

Of course, if your plant is looking stressed by prolonged periods of drought, then supplementary water is recommended.  Water early in the morning or evening at the base of the plant using a watering can if in a pot, or with a soaker hose if watering multiple plants with the same environmental requirements.  Like most salvias, this plant does not like its feet sitting in cold wet ground.  This can cause multiple problems resulting in wilt and the plant dying.

Soil

Well-drained soil is a must for growing Germander Sage.  Soil should be moderately fertile, free-draining chalky, sandy, or loam with pH ranging from 6.1 (mildly acid) to 7.8 (mildly alkaline). When grown in pots, incorporate lots of horticultural grit or perlite to the compost to help with drainage. 

Fertilizer

Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer once a month in spring/summer and none at all over winter. A mulch of compost can be applied in late fall to protect roots from frost.

Repotting

Germander sage flowers and foliage
Salvia chamaedryoides has silvery-green foliage with distinctive blue flowers. Source: peganum

Plants can become root bound when growing Salvia chamaedryoides in a pot with its spreading growth spilling over the edges.  When this happens it’s time to either go up in pot size or divide the plant into smaller sections. Repotting is best carried out in fall after flowering. 

Propagation

Below is a list of ways you can propagate new plants from germander sage in the garden. 

Mature garden plants around 3-4 years old are perfect for dividing.  Divide plants in fall after flowering. Carefully dig around the plant and lever the plant out of the ground without damaging the root ball. Gently shake off some of the soil to see where and how many divisions can be made. Divide the plant making sure each section has adequate roots.  Plant each section into pots or into their new homes in the garden and water in.

You can also take softwood cuttings in spring/early summer or semi-ripe cuttings in late summer early fall.  Use clean secateurs to cut stems 5-8 inches in length and remove the lower 2-3 inches of leaves.  Prepare small pots with a mix of 50:50 ratio of compost and perlite or horticultural grit to aid drainage.  Insert the cuttings evenly spaced around the edge of the pots up to the leaves and firm in to ensure good contact with the compost.  Stems can be dipped in rooting hormone if desired but this is not essential.  Water the cuttings and keep moist until roots have established and keep in dappled shade.  Semi-ripe cuttings will benefit from some bottom heat to stimulate root development.  When ready, separate the cuttings and plant one rooted cutting per pot to be planted into the garden when they have established a little more.

From seeds, sow outside directly into the soil after the last frost, or sow indoors in pots in early spring to be planted out later.  Keep compost moist until seedlings have established a good root system and place somewhere with plenty of sun. Seeds can be collected from dried flower heads left on the plant. Harvest and store in a cool, dry environment until spring.  Plants may also self-seed in the right conditions.  

Pruning

Sage germander is grown as an ornamental plant and therefore does not benefit from regular harvesting like culinary herb garden sages.  To maintain flowers over a longer period, deadhead any spent bloom regularly and trim back leggy flowering stems.  In frost-free areas, prune the entire plant back by almost half after the last flowers in fall. This will promote fuller growth the following spring and keep the plant looking tidy over winter.  In cooler regions where plants may be semi-evergreen or deciduous, lightly prune in early fall well before the first frost.  Repeat in spring when new shoots appear from the base and the risk of frost has passed. A common view is that short stems left behind will provide some frost protection. 

If you feel the plant is spreading too much, then fall is the perfect time for division.

Troubleshooting

Germander sage in garden bed
Germander sage in a garden bed. Source: peganum

‘Right plant, right place’, is the best way to describe how to troubleshoot this plant type.  If something goes wrong it’s almost guaranteed the plant is in the wrong location in the garden. Even the pest and disease list is short.  

Growing Problems

Common growing problems for these plants are usually due to overwatering, too much shade, or not enough drainage.  All are easily resolved by simply moving plants into full sun in well-drained soil or pots and only watering when the plant needs it.

Pests

Aphids (Aphidoidea) attack the young new growth on plants, feeding on the phloem sap and in effect dehydrating the plant. The resulting damage is distorted leaves and stems.  Aphids also carry a multitude of other plant diseases.  Use beneficial insects such as ladybug larvae to treat biologically. Or, spray with a good organic insecticidal soap or neem oil.  

With spider mites (Tetranychidae), the adults are reddish-brown, living in large colonies on the underside of leaves and thrive in hot, dry environments.  Evidence of spider mites on plants can be seen as a fine webbing between stems and plants rapidly showing signs of decline. Similar to aphids, they feed on plant juices causing leaves to yellow and drop off.  Avoid spraying with pesticides as spider mites have built up a resistance to many products on the market. Chemicals can also kill natural predators such as lacewings and ladybugs.  Remove and destroy the worst affected stems and entire plants if necessary, to prevent the spread to unaffected areas of the garden.  

Slugs and snails in cooler climates will feed on young shoots consuming them entirely.  They thrive in damp locations so keep areas around plants free of debris that may provide shelter during the day. Nematodes can be applied when soil temperatures and conditions are right.  Alternatively, use a flashlight and search and remove slugs and snails at night. A good organic snail and slug bait can also be useful!

Diseases

Powdery mildew in the garden affects plants, especially during hot, humid weather.  This fungal disease spreads by spores, covering leaves with a white growth resembling a dusting of flour that inhibits optimum photosynthesis.  Leaves turn yellow, dry up and die. Good garden hygiene is essential to avoid this disease. Remove infected foliage and relocate plants to full sun.  Use a fungicidal spray such as sulfur, neem oil, or potassium bicarbonate prior to or at first sight of disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

Salvia chamaedryoides patch
A patch of salvia chamaedryoides. Source: FarOutFlora

Q: What beneficial species does germander sage attract?

A: Gardening with germander sage will attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your garden throughout the flowering season, lured by their favorite blue bloom.

Q: What plants go well with Salvia chamaedryoides?

A: Planted in mass, it makes a striking blue display of flowers in the garden. Also, this sage works well against contrasting grey/green foliage plants such as spiky agaves and aloes, or in a more colorful border with other drought-tolerant flowering perennials such as achillea and desert marigold.


About the writer, Ann McCarron:

Hi, I’m Ann, also known as Mrs. Bloom!

I’m Irish, living and working in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I switched careers in 2010, leaving Public Affairs to study my long time passion, horticulture. I love working outdoors with people and plants, so working freelance in community and therapeutic horticulture is a dream come true.

I’ve been gardening all my life in one form or another, but my obsession for growing really kicked in when I got my first allotment. I love growing fruit and vegetables, but cut flowers is what gardening is all about for me. Being able to pick your own bouquet of flowers whenever you want is the best feeling ever.

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