Planting sages proves a wise move for many a Southern gardener. Salvia is the largest genus of the mint family, including as many as 900 species from around the world. Some serve as annual bedding plants, others are border perennials, and still others are shrubs, culinary herbs, or ground covers. Where winters are cold, tender perennials and shrubs are grown as annuals. Where plants are marginally hardy, well-drained soil can be key to their winter survival.
All sages have square stems and whorls of two-lipped flowers, either neatly spaced along the flower stalks or so tightly crowded that they look like one dense spike; some species have branched inflorescences. Flower colors range from white and yellow through salmon and pink to scarlet, red, lavender, blue, and darkest purple. A few sages have fragrant blossoms; many have aromatic foliage. They attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.
S. 'Amistad'. Perennial. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Possible hybrid between S. guaranitica and a species from Mexico. Bushy grower to 35 ft. high and wide, with bright green, slightly puckered leaves. Begins blooming when young, producing lots of upright stems set with large, rich purple flowers held in very darkalmost blackcalyxes. Cut back hard in spring to maintain shape.
S. 'Anthony Parker'. Evergreen shrub. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Hybrid between S. leucantha and S. elegans. To 5 ft. high and wide. Leaves are similar to those of S. elegans. Wands of blossoms appear at stem ends throughout the year where winters are mild; in colder climates, they come from spring to frost. The flowers are like those of S. leucantha, but the color is an intense dark violet-blue.
S. argentea. SILVER SAGE. Biennial or short-lived perennial. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From southern Europe, northwestern Africa. Soft, scallop-edged, silky-haired, gray-green leaves grow 610 in. long, form a low foliage rosette to 2 ft. wide. In summer, many-branched, 3- to 4-ft. flowering stems bear 1 14-in.-long, hooded white flowers (sometimes tinged pink or yellow) with silvery calyxes. Cut to ground when flowers fade. Handsome focal point for front of border. Protect from slugs, snails.
S. azurea grandiflora (S. pitcheri). PRAIRIE SAGE, PITCHER SAGE. Shrubby perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native from Colorado and Texas east to Michigan and Georgia. Slender, vertical, usually unbranched stems to 5 ft. form a 2- to 3-ft.-wide clump. Plant is lax; needs support. Smooth or hairy, medium green to deep green, narrow leaves to 4 in. long. Pure azure-blue flowers with white-blotched lower lip on spikes to 1 ft. long; blooms summer to frost. Tolerates heat and humidity.
S. blepharophylla. EYELASH SAGE. Shrubby perennial. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. From northeastern Mexico. To 1122 ft. tall, spreading indefinitely by creeping rhizomes. Thin, hairy, purplish stems; oval, glossy, dark green leaves to 112 in. long, edged with fine hairs resembling eyelashes. Blooms nearly all year in mild-winter climates, from spring to frost elsewhere; inch-long scarlet flowers are carried on stems that lengthen to about 1 ft. as season goes on. If confined, makes a good ground cover in partial shade. 'Diablo' is more upright, and its vivid red flowers have two upright anthers that could be said to look like horns. 'Painted Lady' grows 1 ft. high and 4 ft. wide, bearing vivid red flowers that sport a velvety hood; it remains evergreen where temperatures stay above 20F.
S. chamaedryoides. GERMANDER SAGE. Perennial. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. From eastern Mexico. Rounded plant to 12 ft. tall, spreading to 23 ft. or more by underground runners. Silvery, 34-in.-long leaves; brilliant true blue, 1-in. flowers on stems to 8 in. long. Heaviest bloom comes in late spring and fall, with intermittent flowering during rest of growing season. Deadhead to encourage rebloom. Elegant front-of-border plant. Drought tolerant but blooms longer and better with more water.
S. coccinea. TEXAS SAGE. Perennial in Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11; annual anywhere. From Mexico. Bushy, upright grower to 23 ft. tall, 212 ft. wide. Dark green, hairy, oval to heart-shaped leaves to 212 in. long. In summer, slender stems to 1 ft. long carry many 34- to 1-in. flowers with broad lower lip. Colors range from bright red through orange-red to pink and white, including many bicolors. Widely used as bedding plant, border filler. Stems are brittle; shelter from wind. Deadhead to encourage rebloom.
If plant lives over, cut back to 46 in. when new spring growth begins, then fertilize. By end of second season, plant will be woody and in decline. Reseeds copiously. Good seed- grown selections include salmon- pink 'Brenthurst' ('Lady in Pink'); 'Coral Nymph', near white with coral lip; and white 'Snow Nymph' ('White Nymph'). 'Lady in Red', with scarlet blooms, is a compact plant (to about 16 in.), excellent in the foreground of a colorful border. 'Summer Jewel Pink' (soft pink) and 'Summer Jewel Red' (scarlet) are compact, uniform growers to 20 in. tall; early and long bloom season and good resistance to heat, drought, and wind.
S. 'Costa Rica Blue' (S. guaranitica 'Costa Rica Blue'). Evergreen shrub. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Possible hybrid between S. guaranitica and S. mexicana. Grows 67 ft. tall and wide; can be kept lower by cutting back to 1 ft. in early spring. Broadly oval to heart-shaped, hairy, shiny bright green leaves to 5 in. long. Brilliant true blue, 1- to 1-in. flowers on 1- to 1-ft. stems. Blooms from the end of summer until frost (through spring in mildest climates). Needs support, shelter from wind and cold. 'Omaha Gold' is a sport with leaves irregularly edged in yellowish green.
S. darcyi. DARCY SAGE. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. From northeastern Mexico. Upright growth to 34 ft. tall; spreads by rhizomes to 37 ft. wide. Softly hairy, triangular, light green leaves are sticky and have a pleasant, fruity aroma. Widely spaced whorls of 1-in. coral-red blossoms on unbranched stems from early summer to late fall. Stems are 612 in. high, sometimes as high as 2 ft. They are brittle; shelter from wind. Protect from slugs and snails. Dies back to the ground in winter. Tolerates partial shade.
S. elegans. PINEAPPLE SAGE. Perennial. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Native to southern Mexico, Guatemala. In the wild, this species is variable in habit, bloom time, and leaf fragrance. The most commonly grown form, 'Scarlet Pineapple', grows upright to 34 ft. high and wide, with branching, brittle stems; in part shade, growth is lush and needs support. Densely hairy, bright green leaves to 4 in. long, broadly oval with pointed tip. Foliage has fragrance of ripe pineapple; use it in cool drinks, fruit salads. Slender, 112-in., bright red flowers in loose clusters of 8 to 12 are carried on 6- to 8-in. stems. In mild-winter areas, blooms from late fall through spring; elsewhere, flowers come from late summer into fall.
'Sonoran Red' is more compact than the species (to 2 ft. tall and wide) and hardier to cold. 'Golden Delicious' grows just 12 ft. high, with bright yellow foliage that makes for an eye-catching contrast with the fire-engine red flowers; long bloom period. 'Honey Melon' grows about 2 ft. high and spreads rapidly to form a dense ground cover; it has small, rounded leaves that smell something like ripe honeydew melon; blooms from early summer through fall if faded flowers are sheared off. 'Golden Delicious' has bright yellow leaves and red flowers.
S. farinacea. MEALYCUP SAGE. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Grown as an annual where it is not winter hardy. Native to southern New Mexico, Texas, Mexico. Upright growth to 34 ft. tall, half as wide. Narrowly lance-shaped leaves to 3 in. long are smooth above, woolly white below. Tall, densely packed spikes of 34- to 1-in. flowers on stems 612 in. long, late spring to frost. Blossom color varies from deep violet-blue to white; cuplike calyxes are covered with white hairs that often have a blue or violet tinge.
Many strains and selections are sold for bedding and container use; typically have heavier bloom, better branching, more compact than species. 'Augusta Duelberg' grows into a mound 3 ft. high and wide, with a profusion of pure white blooms; 'Henry Duelberg' is similar, but with blue flowers. Cathedral series grows 1218 in. tall, with heavy production of flowers in purple, lavender, deep blue, sky-blue, and white. 'Evolution', 20 in. high and 14 in. wide, has 9-in. lilac flower spikes. 'Rhea', 1416 in. high and 12 in. wide, has deep blue flowers, bluish calyxes; starts blooming earlier in spring. 'Saga Blue' grows just 10 in. high and wide, with blue flowers. Sallyfun series, to 30 in. high, blooms heavily; available in shades of blue through white. 'Strata', to 1218 in. high and wide, has blue flowers and large, woolly, silvery white calyxes. 'Texas Violet', 34 ft. high and about half as wide, has deep violet-blue flowers on white calyxes. 'Victoria', with upright growth to 1820 in. high, has violet-blue flowers and calyxes; 'Victoria White' is a white form.
S. greggii. AUTUMN SAGE. Evergreen or deciduous shrub. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Native to southwestern Texas, north-central Mexico. Rounded plant, branching from base; typically grows 14 ft. high and wide. Slender, hairy stems are closely set with glossy green, 34- to 1 14-in.-long leaves that vary in shape from rounded to linear. Blooms throughout summer and fall, bearing 14- to 1-in. flowers on 3- to 6-in. stems, in colors ranging from deep purplish red through true red to various rose and pink shades to white. To keep plants tidy and free blooming, prune and remove dead flower stems frequently. Before new spring growth begins, shorten and shape plants, removing dead wood. Good low hedge. Replace plants every 4 or 5 years, when they become woody and unproductive. Drought tolerant but does best with moderate water. Grows best in the Southwest. Give full sun for best flower production.
A few of the best selections are 'Icing Sugar', a compact grower with lavender-pink flowers; 'Lipstick', with rosy pink, white-throated flowers over a long period; 'Pink Preference', with deep reddish pink flowers; and 'Teresa', with soft pink flowers whose lower lip is white with pink stripes, Sally G. series plants are dense and bushy, with large flowers in bright pink, fuchsia, magenta, red, or white. Selections sold as S. greggii with flowers in shades of orange, orange-red, or yellow actually belong with S. xjamensis.
S. guaranitica (S. ambigens). ANISE-SCENTED SAGE. Shrubby perennial. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. From South America. Upright, branching plant to 45 ft. high and nearly as wide. Spreads by short underground runners; roots form tubers resembling small sausages. Narrowly heart-shaped, sparsely hairy, mint-green leaves to 5 in. long. Blooms from early summer to frost. Most common form bears 2-in., cobalt-blue blossoms, carried several to each foot-long stem; calyxes are bright green, turning purplish on sunny side. Needs support. Gets woody by season's endbut that wood dies during winter and must be cut back to ground. Elegant container plant. Can be demolished by Mexican giant whitefly. Tolerates partial shade, especially in hottest climates. 'Argentine Skies' has light blue flowers. 'Black and Blue' produces deep blue blossoms with dark purplish blue calyxes. 'Van Remsen' can reach 7 ft. tall, with cobalt-blue flowers.
S. 'Indigo Spires'. Shrubby perennial. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Anywhere as annual. Can build up to a sprawling 67 ft. by 10 ft. but is easily kept to 34 ft. high, 23 ft. wide with support and selective pruning. Soft, silky, oval to oblong leaves (to 6 in. long near base of plant, shorter higher up) have a grayish sheen above, are white and woolly beneath. Narrow, twisted spikes of closely spaced, 12-in., violet-blue flowers can reach 3 ft. or longer. Blooms from early summer to frost (almost all year in mildest climates). Indigo calyxes are colorful long after blossoms fall. Excellent cut flowers. Top growth damaged by frost. Full sun or partial shade.
S. x jamensis. JAM SAGE. Evergreen shrub. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Plants sold under this name are hybrids involving S. greggii, S. microphylla, an unknown yellow-flowering species, and possibly other sages; they are found wild in Mexico. Habit varies from upright to horizontal, but plants are usually under 3 ft. high, with fairly open branching; stems often root where they touch soil. Glossy green, oval to elliptical, toothed leaves 1 in. long. Stems 36 in. long bear - to 34-in. flowers in many colors: violet, wine-red, orange-red, hot pink, coral, salmon, yellow, white, and bicolors. Best in moderate climates without extreme temperature swings. Give afternoon shade, as plants burn in full sun. Drought-tolerant but perform best with moderate water.
Excellent selections include 'Cienega de Oro' (creamy yellow flowers), 'Golden Girl' (butter yellow blooms), and 'Sierra de San Antonio' (light peach blooms with pastel yellow lips); all grow 1 2 ft. high, 23 ft. wide. 'San Isidro Moon' has an open, horizontal habit to 2 ft. high, 24 ft. wide; it bears two-tone flowers in peach shades. 'California Sunset' grows about 3 ft. high and wide; its gorgeous flowers blend shades of coral. Selections often sold as forms of S. greggii include soft orange-red 'Coral' and pale yellow 'Moonlight'.
S. koyamae. JAPANESE YELLOW SAGE. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. From Japan. Loose-growing ground cover to about 1 ft. tall, with lax stems up to 2 ft. long. Very attractive, heart-shaped, yellow-green leaves to 6 in. long, 5 in. wide. Whorls of pale yellow flowers on 6- to 12-in. spikes in summer and fall. Does best in a shady spot, in rich, moisture-retentive, well-drained soil; looks great weaving among other shade-loving plants.
S. leucantha. MEXICAN BUSH SAGE. Evergreen shrub. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. From central and eastern Mexico. Vigorous, upright, velvety plant 34 ft. tall, 36 ft. or more wide; sprawls in bloom. Lance-shaped to linear, 5- to 6-in.-long leaves are dark grayish green above, whitish below. Stems to 1 ft. long bear whorls of 34- to 1 14-in. white flowers with purple calyxes. Bloom period runs from fall through spring in the Tropical South, throughout the fall elsewhere. To limit plant size and renew flowering stems, cut back close to ground before spring growth begins or at end of bloom cycle; where growing season is especially long, cut back again in early to midsummer. Also limit watering to every two or three weeks and remove blossoms as soon as they fade. 'Eder' has leaves with creamy white edges. 'Midnight' ('Purple Velvet'), considered by many to be the best-looking form, has purple flowers and calyxes. Dwarf form 'Santa Barbara' reaches only 3 ft. high and 35 ft. wide.
S. lyrata. LYRE-LEAF SAGE. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Woodland and roadside wildflower native to the Southeast. To 12 ft. high, spreading widely by rhizomes and seeds. Features rosettes of 3-in., lyre-shaped leaves with reddish purple markings. Spikes of little lavender-blue flowers in winter and spring are showy in masses. Takes sun or shade. Prefers drier, well-drained soils; good for hillsides. 'Purple Volcano' ('Purple Knockout') has burgundy foliage and white flowers.
S. 'Madeline'. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Upright, bushy growth to 2 ft. high, 12 ft. wide. Mass of deep green, 7-in.-long leaves is topped in summer by tall spikes of bicolored flowers: bright violet-blue with a white lip delicately edged in violet. Cut back by half after bloom to encourage rebloom.
S. madrensis. FORSYTHIA SAGE. Perennial. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. From west-central Mexico. Strong grower, building up to 58 ft. tall and wide. Spreads by rhizomes to make a broad thicket (but stems are easily pulled out). Square stems are very thickto 2 in. on a side at base. Bright green, rough-textured leaves with an elongated heart shape reach 6 in. long at bottom of plant, become smaller toward top. Butter-yellow, 1-in. flowers on 1- to 2-ft. stems; good for cutting. Blooms from fall until frost (through spring in the Tropical South). Top growth damaged by frost. Plant in light shade or afternoon shade in moist, well-drained soil. Propagate by division or cuttings. Cold-hardy selection 'Dunham', from the garden of Rachel Dunham in Cary, North Carolina, has survived 9F. 'Red Neck Girl' has deep reddish purple stems.
S. mexicana. MEXICAN SAGE. Shrubby perennial. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. From central Mexico. Robust, erect growth to 10 ft. or taller, 35 ft. wide. Leaves to 6 in. long, typically elongated oval or heart shaped; they may be medium green and smooth above, fuzzy beneath, or gray to gray-green and densely hairy on both sides. Pleasant pine fragrance. Tightly spaced whorls of flowers on 12- to 20-in.-long stems; blossoms are dark blue or violet with green or reddish purple calyxes. Blooms from early fall through spring in mild-winter climates; stops with hard frost elsewhere. Protect from wind. To keep compact, remove flower stems and shape plant as blooms are fading. Tolerates some shade; good under high-branching trees. Best with moderate water; more frequent watering produces excessive, brittle growth. 'Limelight' grows 6 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide, with a striking combination of chartreuse calyxes and blue flowers. 'Tula' is larger growing, with even brighter chartreuse calyxes.
S. microphylla. BABY SAGE. Evergreen shrub. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Native from southeastern Arizona through southern Mexico, with many local variant forms. Full sun or partial shade. Moderate water.
'Belize Form', to 5 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide, is long blooming but somewhat tender, with bright green leaves and brilliant red flowers. 'Berzerkeley', 2 ft. tall and 34 ft. wide, bears glowing pinkish red blossoms. ' Hot Lips' is upright, to 12 ft. high, with striking flowers that vary from fire engine red to white to red-and-white bicolors throughout the growing season. 'San Carlos Festival', 23 ft. tall, 46 ft. wide, is a nonstop bloomer bearing raspberry-pink flowers. Hybrids with S. greggii include vigorous 'Maraschino', 34 ft. high, 6 ft. wide, with bright cherry-red flowers; and purplish pink 'Plum Wine', 34 ft. high and 212312 ft. wide.
S. m. microphylla (S. grahamii) is a tough, dense, wiry-looking plant to 34 ft. tall and 36 ft. wide. Triangular to oval, tooth-edged leaves are dark green, 1 in. long. Rosy red, 1-in. flowers have small, hooded upper lip, three-lobed lower lip. Blooms most heavily in late spring and fall, sporadically at other times of year. S. m. neurepia grows 35 ft. tall and wide. It is a more open-branched plant than S. m. microphylla, with yellowish green leaves and a very long show of brilliant red flowers.
S. miniata. BELIZE SAGE. Evergreen shrub treated as tender perennial or annual in all but the Tropical South. Zone TS; USDA 10-11. Native to moist regions of Mexico and Belize. Tropical- looking plant to about 3 ft. tall and wide, with arching stems carrying toothed, glossy, dark green leaves that reach 5 in. long, 2 in. across. Small bright red flowers held in dark bracts bloom year-round in the Tropical South, from spring until frost in colder climates. Good container plant. Best in partial shade.
S. nemorosa. VIOLET SAGE. Perennial. Zones US, MS. LS; USDA 6-8. From eastern Europe, eastward to central Asia. To 112 3 ft. tall, spreading 23 ft. wide by rhizomes. Forms a tight foliage rosette from which rise erect, branching flower stems. Wrinkled, dull green, finely toothed leaves are oval or lance shaped. Lower leaves are stalked, to 4 in. long; upper ones are smaller, virtually stalkless, and clasp flower stem. Sprawls if not supported. Stems 36 in. long hold 14- to 12-in. flowers in violet, purple, pink, or white, with persistent violet, purple, or green bracts. Blooms for several weeks in late spring and early summer; may rebloom if deadheaded. The following selections are recommended.
'Burgundy Candles', to 28 in. tall, has attractive burgundy stems and bracts; flowers are rich blue. Heat and drought-tolerant Lyrical series, 2224 in. tall, offers a profuse show of blooms in blue tones, rose, and white; 'Lyrical Silvertone' has deep blue flowers with petals edged in silver. Growing about 112 ft. high are 'Caradonna', with dark purple stems and violet blossoms; 'Lubecca', with grayish green leaves and violet flowers with reddish purple bracts; and 'Ostfriesland' ('East Friesland'), with intense violet-blue flowers, pink to purple bracts. Sallyrosa series grows 16 in. high and is a heavy bloomer (pink, violet, and blue); heat and drought tolerant. There are also several compact selections, including 'Marcus', with intensely violet flowers on plants just 12 in. high and 18 in. wide. Sensation series is about the same size; pink-flowered 'Sensation Rose' is among the most popular.
S. officinalis. COMMON SAGE. Shrubby perennial. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Short lived in the Lower South. Grow as annual anywhere. From the Mediterranean region. The traditional culinary and medicinal sage. To 13 ft. tall, 1212 ft. wide; stems often root where they touch soil. Aromatic, oval to oblong, wrinkled, 2- to 3-in. leaves are gray-green above, white and hairy beneath. Branching, 8- to 12-in. stems bear loose, spikelike clusters of 12-in. flowers in late spring, summer. Usual color is lavender-blue, but violet, red-violet, pink, and white forms exist. Delay pruning until new leaves begin to unfurl, then cut just above fresh growth; cutting into bare wood usually causes dieback. Replace plants when they become woody or leggy (about every 3 or 4 years). Subject to root rot where drainage is less than perfect. Give afternoon shade in hottest climates.
'Berggarten' ('Mountain Garden') is a compact grower to just 16 in. high, with denser growth, rounder leaves, and fewer flowers than species; may be longer lived. 'Compacta' ('Nana', 'Minimus') is a half-size (or even smaller) version of the species, with narrower, closer-set leaves. 'Holt's Mammoth' has large leaves (45 in. long), used in making condiments. 'Icterina' has gray-green leaves with golden border; does not bloom. 'Purpurascens' ('Red Sage') has leaves flushed with red-violet when new, slowly maturing to gray-green. 'Tricolor' has gray-green leaves with irregular cream border; new foliage is flushed with purplish pink. 'Silver Sabre' has similarly variegated leaves on a denser, lower-growing plant; excellent for containers.
S. pratensis. MEADOW SAGE. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to Europe, Morocco. To 3 ft. tall, 1 ft. wide, with broadly oval, pointed, dark green basal leaves to 8 in. long. Spikes of small lavender-blue blooms (less than 1 in. long) on branching, foot-tall stems put on a very showy (but short) springtime display. Needs a warm, well-drained site. Reseeds.
S. 'Purple Majesty'. Shrubby perennial. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. To 3 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide. Hybrid of S. guaranitica, with leaves of a yellower green; brilliant royal purple flowers with violet-black calyxes. Blooms from summer until frost in most of the Coastal South, nearly all year in the Tropical South (where it is evergreen).
S. regla. ROYAL SAGE. Evergreen or deciduous shrub. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Native to western Texas, central Mexico. Upright stems to 46 ft. high; these arch and branch out to form an almost equally wide mass. Scalloped, puckered, fan-shaped leaves (drawn out to sharp points in some forms) are 1 in. across. Orange-scarlet, 1-in. flowers with flaring calyxes appear in short clusters at branch ends; calyxes persist for several weeks after flowers drop. Profuse bloom from fall until frost (through early springthough less profuselyin the Tropical South). Prune this plant (if ever) only when it is growing strongly in summer; winter-pruned plants recover slowly, may even die. Loses leaves at 28F. Excellent nectar source for hummingbirds. 'Huntington' has larger flowers, spreading habit (45 ft. tall, to 6 ft. wide). 'Jame', to 46 ft. tall and wide, has larger leaves and 3-in. persimmon orange blooms. 'Royal' is an upright grower to 4 ft. high and wide, with bright orange flowers and calyxes.
S. reptans. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. From the high mountains of Mexico. Light green, almost needlelike leaves on thin stems form a dense mound to 2 ft. high and 3 ft. wide; masses of light blue, 12-in. flowers held in dark calyxes bloom from late spring through fall. Plant disappears in winter. Although native to dry, gravelly washes, it thrives in the humid Southeast. Hardy to 20F. A West Texas form discovered in the Trans-Pecos region is more upright, to 3 ft. high and about 2 ft. wide. 'Blue Willow' has bright blue flowers.
S. splendens. SCARLET SAGE. Perennial in TS; USDA 10-11; grown as annual elsewhere. Native to Brazil. The traditional bright scarlet bedding sage now comes in a range of colors, from vivid true red through salmon and pink to purple shades. White forms are also available. Plants vary in size from compact 1-ft. dwarfs to 3- to 4-ft. kinds. Leaves are bright green, heart shaped, 24 in. long. Blooms from late spring or summer through fall (all year in the Tropical South); 4- to 12-in. stems bear 2-in. flowers that emerge from 1-in. calyxes of same color. Can be ravaged by Mexican giant whitefly. Give afternoon shade in hottest climates.
Seed-grown strains include Fizz, just 812 in. high, with dense flower spikes in several single colors and white; Firecracker, to 1 ft. high and wide, in many single colors and bicolors; Sizzler, about the same size, a heat-tolerant early bloomer with bicolored flowers in a wide color range; Salsa, 1214 in. tall, in purple, scarlet, burgundy, rose, and salmon, including a bicolored white and scarlet; Amore, heat-tolerant, 14-in.-tall plants with flowers in reds and purples; and Picante, 1416 in. tall, blooms early and heavily in colors similar to those of Salsa. 'Van Houttei' is a vigorous old cutting-grown selection to 3 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide (even larger in mild-winter climates); it bears maroon flowers with an orange-scarlet tinge from early fall through spring where temperatures remain above 28F. Similar to 'Van Houttei' are 'Louie's Orange Delight' (with orange-toned red blooms and bracts) and 'Paul' (with reddish purple flowers and bracts).
S. x superba. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Form generally available is 'Superba', but many plants sold under this name are seedlings or selections of S. xsylvestris or S. nemorosa. The real S. x superba forms a tight foliage clump that spreads 23 ft. by rhizomes and sends up erect, much-branched, 3-ft.-tall flowering stems. Smooth, scallop-edged green leaves are lance shaped; basal ones are stalked and 34 in. long, upper ones stalkless and smaller. At bloom time, top 6 8 in. of stems bear clusters of 12-in., violet-blue flowers with reddish purple bracts that persist long after flowers fall. (Bracts on most seedlings are green, sometimes with a purple tinge.) Blooms midsummer to fall if deadheaded. Blooming plant will sprawl 56 ft. wide unless staked. 'Adora Blue' grows just 14 in. high and wide.
S. x sylvestris. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Like its parent S. nemorosa but more compact, with stems that are less leafy. Oblong to lance-shaped, medium green, scalloped leaves are wrinkled, softly hairy, to 3 in. long. Typically unbranched or few-branched flowering stems to 68 in. long, set with pinkish violet, 12-in. blossoms. Blooms summer through fall if faded flowers are removed. 'Blauhgel' ('Blue Hill'), to 2 ft., has medium blue flowers. 'Blue Queen', just 11 ft. high, has deep blue flowers. 'Mainacht' ('May Night'), 2212 ft., bears 34-in. indigo flowers with green bracts (purplish at base), begins blooming in midspring. 'Rosaknigen' ('Rose Queen'), 12 ft. high, has purplish pink flowers and crimson bracts. About the same size is 'Schneehgel' ('Snow Hill'), with pure white blossoms with green bracts. 'Viola Klose' grows 18 in. high, with lavender-blue flowers.
S. texana. BLUE TEXAS SAGE. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. From Central and West Texas. Well-branched, bushy plant to 15 in. tall and about half as wide. Densely hairy stems; narrow, tapering, 2-in.-long leaves, also hairy, toothed along the upper margins. Produces spikes of inch-long flowers in purplish blue with a white throat that appear in spring. Tolerates alkaline soil. Moderate water.
S. uliginosa. BOG SAGE. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. From moist lowlands in South America. Upright, dense; to 46 ft. tall, 34 ft. wide, spreading aggressively by rhizomes. Smooth green leaves are lance shaped, toothed; they reach 312 in. long near plant's base, decrease in size toward top. Branched inflorescence with 5- to 6-in. stems carries whorls of 12-in., intense sky-blue flowers with white throat, wide lower lip. The flower color is heavenly; the scent of the leaves when touched is not. Plant produces blooms from summer through fall. To restrain its spread, give only moderate water or confine roots by planting it in 15-gallon nursery can sunk in ground to its rim.
S. verticillata. WHORLED CLARY. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From central Europe, western Asia. Foliage clump to 212 ft. wide sends up branching, 212- to 3-ft.-tall flower stems. Wavy-margined, medium green, softly hairy leaves to 56 in. long; shape varies from oval to elliptical or oblong. Basal leaves often divided into one or two pairs of smaller leaflets. Widely spaced whorls of 20 to 40 buds open to violet or lavender-blue flowers nearly 12 in. long, with purple-tinged, persistent calyxes. Blooms in summer; may rebloom if deadheaded. Protect from slugs, snails. 'Alba' has pure white flowers and calyxes. Vigorous 'Endless Love' is 2 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide, with large leaves; its lavender-purple flowers appear over a long period. 'Purple Rain' is 12 ft. high, with profuse, showy, deep purple blossoms and calyxes.
Give sages good air circulation to deter mildew and other fungal diseases. Most require good drainage, especially in winter; waterlogged plants rarely make it through hard freezes. If soil is heavy, work in plenty of organic matter and apply a thick mulch of well-rotted compost.
When it comes to watering, deep is the operative word. Most of the plants discussed here need regular (or in some cases, moderate) water during dry spells. Plants described as drought tolerant require a deep soaking at least once a month during the heat of summer to retain their foliage and prolong their bloom period.
Remove spent blossoms to encourage continued bloom. Most sages resent severe pruning except in late winter or early spring, when weather is cool and vigorous new growth is emerging from the plant base. To shape during the growing season, either tip-pinch shoots or cut them back by no more than one-third (keeping most of the leaves on each stem). Give lax varieties inconspicuous support by letting them grow through a cylinder of green-painted wire mesh.
In many sages, aromatic compounds in the foliage repel pestsbut this is not true for all species. Some are damaged by slugs and snails; in warmer climates, Mexican giant whiteflies can demolish plants. Aphids may be a problem. Deer may nibble flowers, but they usually don't browse plants heavily. Sages are generally easy to propagate from cuttings or seeds; you can also propagate perennial kinds by dividing the roots or taking cuttings.