A Detailed Look at Perennial Salvias

Recently, I waxed on about the benefits of salvias, and reminded everyone of the reasons they are among the best group of plants we can breed, grow, sell, and install. They provide everything we ask of a plant — color, pollinators, ease of production, and people love them. In my last column, I wrote about annual forms. This month, let’s take a journey to the perennial side of salvia.

Perennial salvias are a bit like the Jekyll and Hyde of popular plants, that is, they can be overwhelming and take over the landscape, or they can be rather meek and unassuming.

Here are a few of the perennial salvias in demand:

  • The herbal sages, S. officinalis, have been around forever. The good news is that herbal plants are in, especially with the younger buyers. Culinary sage can be easily propagated, comes in various flavors, and handsome ornamental forms are also available. Culinary sage is a bit like mint; it can be a nuisance in the landscape, but other than that, it continues to be a popular herb. The best-known hybrids are ‘Tricolor’, ‘Icterina’, (both variegated) and ‘Purpurascens’. All are quite handsome and hardy to at least Zone 5. A relatively new cultivar is ‘Silver Sheen’. I have been watching it in my garden. Its leaf color is attractive and its vigor is good. Might be worth considering.
  • True ornamental perennials: Perennial salvias were brought into the light by ‘May Night’ and ‘Lubecca’, but many more hybrids such as ‘Caradonna’ and ‘Amethyst’ have become quite popular. The nomenclature of salvia is in a state of flux, and they may be listed under S. nemerosa, S. × sylvestris, and S. × superba. However, they are all hybrids, so buy by cultivar. They are all cold hardy to at least Zone 5.
  • Series: As with most new breeding, it is all about a series of colors with similar habits. The Marvel series consists of Rose, Blue, and Sky Blue. I have been most impressed with ‘Marvel Rose’. The Profusion series and Color Spires series are available in at least three colors, and have received excellent reviews.
  • Stand alone: S. ‘Blue by You’ has a terrible name but appears to be a pretty good performer. Listed as being cold hardy to Zone 4, it has looked good as far south as Zone 8. I have been growing it this year, and pleased with its flowering habit.
  • Other species worth growing/selling: S. guaranitica, anise sage, best known as ‘Black & Blue’, S. sclarea, clary sage (be aware of the stinky flowers), and S. verticillata, lilac sage, best known for ‘Purple Rain’.
  • Perennial/Temperennial: These plants are cold hardy to southern parts of the Midwest and much of the Southeast, usually cold hardy to Zone 7. They are treated as temperennials elsewhere. S. ‘Big Blue’ and S. ‘Mystic Spires’ are hybrids with S. farinacea; both are vigorous growers, and have a long flowering season.

There are at least a couple dozen more beautiful and useful salvias we could talk about, but maybe this list is a good start in sorting them out.

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