How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Salvia Flowers
Are you committed to growing salvia this season, but aren't quite sure where to start? These hardy plants can be a great addition to any garden, and can survive a variety of different climates. In this article, gardening expert Natalie Leiker walks through everything you need to know about adding salvia to your garden, including planting, care, and maintenance.
Salvia can be a great addition to any landscape border or cottage garden, and can even thrive in a patio planter! There are many types of salvia, annual, perennial, and even herbs that are referred to as salvia. Perennial types of salvia bloom in shades of blues, purples, pinks, and white, and provide a striking contrast when planted with other flowering perennials or ornamental grasses.
Salvia is also fairly easy to grow, drought tolerant, and can grow in low quality soil, making it a great plant for more rugged climates. It’s also deer and pest resistant, making it a great option for keeping away unwanted pests in your garden.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know when it comes to Salvia and its care. From planting to ending the growing season, we’ll discuss how to maintain and keep your Salvia plants healthy for many seasons to come. Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in!
Salvia Plant Overview
Plant type Herbaceous Perennial
Species Nemorosa, Sylvestris, Pratensis
Maintenance Low to Moderate
Exposure Full sun
Watering Requirements Low to Moderate
Soil Fertile, well-draining loam
Size 12 – 36”
Growth Rate Low to moderate
Hardiness Zone USDA 4-8
What is Salvia?
Salvia, commonly referred to as woodland sage, violet sage, or balkan clary, is an herbaceous perennial that is in the Lamiaceae family. The Lamiaceae family is also referred to as “the mint family” and is the largest family of the plant order Lamiales.
The Lamiaceae family consists of over 200 genera of plants and more than 7000 species. Most species in this family are well known throughout the world, and are widely popular due to their fragrant leaves, attractive flowers, and medicinal purposes.
Salvia is considered perennial in USDA zones 4 – 8 and thrives in warm weather. There are many varieties and all provide strikingly vivid flowers that can tolerate drought, heat, and require minimal maintenance once established.
Salvia attracts bees and other pollinators, and it is deer and rabbit resistant. It’s also a commonly seen plant worldwide as is most often used in landscape borders and cottage gardens.
Salvia is native to Europe and West Asia. Long known for its medicinal and culinary purposes, it is prevalent worldwide in landscapes and gardens.
There are many cultivars and varieties of perennial salvia we commonly see. The most common species are Salvia officinalis, nemorosa, sylvestris, pratensis, and superba.
Salvia nemorosa is an herbaceous perennial that forms 1-3’ clumps of dark green to grayish foliage. It has a generous bloom season that usually begins in early summer and ends in late fall. These unique flowers grow in upright, spikey looking racemes that typically display shades of purple, but can also be found in white.
Once established, older growth will become woody. These woody stems will aid the plant in winter and wind protection.
Once the plant becomes well established, it will begin to form small clumps of new growth that will spread or be divided to grow new plants. Most varieties grow in dense clumped forms of grayish green foliage that are known for their herbal scent.
How To Grow
Salvia is very easy-going and requires minimal maintenance once established. They do best in warmer climates, and with the proper care can provide vivid blooms all season. They require full sun, well draining soil, and little to no maintenance. Here are some tips to ensure new plants will thrive:
Salvia requires full sun to thrive and produce blooms consistently. This means that they will need to receive sun for at least 6-8 hours daily. This constant amount of sun will keep your Salvia producing consistent flowers all season long.
At higher altitudes or in warmer climates, it can grow in locations that receive less sunlight. However, they will still grow best in full sun in these climates.
Salvia should be planted in a location that will allow at least one foot of space on either side, and will do best when given up to 2 or 3 feet. It does not tend to spread, therefore it is a great addition to landscapes, cottage gardens, and even patio planters. If planting in a pot or patio container, ensure the plant will have at least one foot of room to grow.
It tends to grow best in south facing areas as these areas tend to receive the most sunlight. Before planting in my yard, I like to observe which areas receive sun at certain parts of the day to find the best location for my plants.
Be sure to water your well once plants are transplanted. For the first few weeks following transplanting they will benefit from frequent waterings, this will help the plants get established.
Remember that soaking your plants at a less frequent rate is better than a light watering every day. Be sure to let the soil dry out in between waterings to let the roots breathe and prevent disease. This plant is notorious for its ability to withstand periods of drought.
However, this does not mean you should actively keep salvia dry. It can handle brief dry spells, but will benefit from thorough consistent watering.
Salvia is not picky when it comes to soil, but they do best in well-draining, fertile, loamy soil. They can tolerate rocky, and sandy soils, but will struggle in too much clay.
Clay tends to hold moisture, and it does not like to stay wet for long periods of time. If you have a heavy clay soil, you might need to amend it before planting. Clay soils will benefit from being amended with matter such as: compost, manure, peat moss, and even mulch.
These will all aid in breaking up the heavy clay and allow more air and water flow into your soil. It can tolerate clay soils, however they will benefit if the clay is amended to create aeration and drainage.
Climate & Temperature
Salvia can be planted after the danger of frost has passed. They do best when planted in warm weather, and will benefit from being planted in spring. Planting them in spring or early summer will allow them enough time to get well established before the winter months arrive.
It’s a hardy perennial in USDA zones 4 – 8. They will grow well in cool summer climates and can even thrive in harsh summer conditions. This climate flexibility makes them a great option for many home gardeners around the world.
Salvia is not a heavy feeder, meaning it does not require much fertilizer. If you amend your soil with compost or some other form of organic matter upon planting, this will suffice as food for the first season. The seasons following should be met with at least one fertilization a season.
Salvia requires low to almost no maintenance once the plant is well established. Removing spent blooms and old leaves over the seasons will keep your plant looking nice and neat and prevent pests and diseases.
Salvia is an herbaceous plant which means it will not need much ‘pruning’, however, it will benefit from consistent deadheading over the season. Most varieties bloom starting in spring all the way until the late fall months.
With this long bloom season, plants will benefit from deadheading the spent blossoms. Simply remove spent blooms as they begin to dry out, and this will help your plant to keep blooming prolifically. At first, deadheading can seem tedious and unfamiliar, once you practice a few times, it will start to feel easier and more natural!
End of Season Maintenance
Towards the end of the season, when the cooler weather begins to kick in, Salvia will not need much to ensure they survive over the winter. You can deadhead spent blooms before winter officially begins, as they are not very attractive.
However, in harsh winter climates, leaving these spent blooms on the plant over the winter can aid in structural support and even provide some protection from wind.
When it comes to propagation, the most common ways to propagate salvia are through cuttings, or division. They are also commonly purchased from local garden centers as transplants.
Salvia can generally be found ready to plant at local nurseries or garden centers. There are many types of perennial salvia, as well as annual, so be sure to double-check plant labels for the variety and hardiness when purchasing.
Perennials found as transplants at nurseries are generally well-rooted and often root-bound since they are so established. Before planting simply break up the root ball to ensure the plant will adapt and establish healthy root growth in its new location.
Salvia will become well established within the first year of planting in the correct location and with proper maintenance practices. As it grows for multiple seasons, it will begin to grow wider and even form new plant shoots in a small clumpy habit.
These new shoots can be divided and grown in other locations or given away! Let your Salvia plant grow for at least 2 to 3 years before division to let the plant get well established and adapted to its new area.
Salvia can be propagated from cuttings, though this process will take up more time and resources. Cuttings can be taken during the growing season from a well established, healthy plant. Simply take a cutting from a healthy stem that is not flowering.
Pro tip: take cuttings early in the morning as this is when your plant will be the most turgid
Salvia has many different uses, depending on the species you add to your garden. It’s most commonly used as a landscape plant, due to its beautiful blooms. It can also be used as a container plant.
Salvia can be a great addition to almost any landscape or planting area due to its minimal needs and its neat, dense growing habit. Adding Salvia to landscape borders can add a pop of color all season, and is relatively maintenance free.
It can add a great contrast of color and fabulous texture to any full sun area, and pairs great with ornamental grasses and other flowering perennials. Mass plantings can be a vivid statement or a striking landscape border.
It is not as common to see perennials planted in containers or patio pots, but many herbaceous plants will do well in containers and some might even survive over the winter!
Perennial Salvia can be a great option for container planting as its habit is relatively small and remains compact throughout the season. If planting in a pot or container, any general purpose potting soil will suffice.
Note that overwintering perennial plants in a container is possible, but not as probable since the roots will not have enough room to get well established and stay protected during the cold months.
Cuttings should be at least 3 inches in length. Remove the lower leaves from the cutting, and stick cuttings into gritty growing media. Dipping cuttings in rooting hormone can aid in root formation and speed up the entire process. Place the cuttings in a ziploc or cover with a sheet of plastic to keep in moisture and create humidity. Keep the growing media well watered, and check for roots frequently!
There are many versions of Salvia: annual, perennial, and herbs. Therefore it can be confusing when shopping for the version you are after. The perennial varieties we see most often are the following species: nemorosa, sylvestris, and pratensis.
Look for these names when identifying your plants at the garden center, and be sure to check the hardiness zone listed on the plant tag as this can be a giveaway when searching for perennials. There are many perennial salvia varieties out there for sale as transplants. Here are a few of my favorites.
Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ prolifically blooms in dark purple spike like flowers, creating a striking amount of color to any area or landscape. This variety grows about 18 inches tall and wide, creating a neat, rounded shape.
Salvia nemorosa ‘East Friesland’ displays vivid violet-blue flowers that grow above compact, dense, grayish foliage. These plants grow about 18 inches in height and up to two feet in diameter.
Salvia sylvestris ‘Caradonna’ tends to have a taller growth habit, and the foliage grows right up to the beginning of the flower stalks. Caradonna displays long, slender, purple flowers that tend to be one of the tallest blooms.
Salvia nemorosa ‘Lyrical White’ forms dense clumps of gray-green foliage, and grows about 24 inches tall and wide. These plants have similar habits of the other varieties, however ‘Lyrical White’ displays thicker spikes of wispy white flowers.
These are just a few of many varieties available out there! There are annual Salvia options out there too. They have very similar characteristics, however they will not survive over winter. Planting perennial varieties is a great investment for your landscape and will provide you with color for many seasons to come!
Salvia is fairly disease resistant, but there are still a number of diseases that they can encounter, depending on the species you’ve decided to plant. Let’s take a look at some of the more common diseases you’ll encounter.
A common plant disease, powdery mildew is a grayish white powdery substance that forms on the tops of leaves. It is usually seen in warm, wet conditions where the leaves do not have a chance to dry out.
To eliminate powdery mildew, you can mix two tablespoons of baking soda or vinegar with a gallon of water and pour the solution over the infected leaves.
Stem & Root Rot
Stem and root rots generally occur in pots or container plantings, but it is possible to see this in your landscape plants as well. Root rot occurs when roots are kept in poorly drained, overly wet soil. Root rot begins at the root tips which appear limp and black in color.
This rotting plant tissue will move throughout the root system, making its way towards the base of the stem. There are fungicides available to treat and prevent root rot, however, the best prevention is to maintain healthy soil and refresh soil every season – especially if planting in a pot or container.
Botrytis blight occurs in overly wet climates and is generally seen in early spring when most precipitation happens, or in warm humid climates. Botrytis generally causes blooms to turn brown and rot. Removing these rotted stems can help maintain the blight.
Salvia is also fairly pest resistant. But there are still some common pests that can create problems with your salvia depending on the variety you’ve chosen to plant. Let’s examine the most common pests you may deal with.
Aphids are small light green insects that are usually seen on the undersides of leaves and stems of new growth. They can cause stunted Aphids and curling of leaves. If you find these little tiny pests on your Salvia plants, apply an insecticidal soap to the affected areas.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails are usually found in warm, wet weather when precipitation is the most frequent. You may see slime or white sludgy streaks on your plant’s stems or leaves.
In order to remove slugs and snails, you will have to find them in the morning or after dusk as this is when they are most prevalent. Simply remove them and place them in a bucket of soapy water.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to deadhead my Salvia plants?
While deadheading Salvia is not detrimental to the plants survival, it can promote prolific blooming throughout the season. Spent blooms can be removed, and fresh blooms can be harvested as cut flowers.
Why hasn’t my Salvia plant bloomed?
Salvia generally begins blooming in spring. If it’s not blooming or has not produced blooms following the turn of the weather, there could be a few environmental things to consider. Salvia needs full sun, this means it should be receiving 6-8 hours of sun on a daily basis.
If the plant is not receiving an adequate amount of sunlight, it will not bloom. Another thing to consider is fertilizer. While it does not require heavy amounts of fertilizer, fertilizing can benefit plants that have been established for more than one season or are planted in less than fertile soils.
Why didn’t my Salvia overwinter?
Salvia is a perennial in USDA zones 4-8. This means with proper care your plant should become well established within a season, and survive the winter. If your plant did not overwinter, this could mean it was not well established before the season changed. If the root system was not well established or protected.
Salvia is commonly seen around the world in landscapes, containers, and cottage gardens. It is popular with good reason – it tolerates heat, drought, and blooms prolifically all season. It also maintains a neat, compact growing habit. These super low maintenance perennials are a great option for all gardeners, from beginners to experts!