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Perennial salvias provide color now through fall

News Release Distributed 06/20/14

By Allen Owings
LSU AgCenter horticulturist

HAMMOND, La. – Looking for low-maintenance perennials for a practically nonstop flower show from summer through fall? If you are, consider the many species and varieties of perennial salvia.

Unlike annual salvia, the perennial varieties are great for long-term performance in the landscape, while the annual salvias need more care and don’t perform as well or as long.

We have many great perennial salvias in Louisiana. Species like Mexican bush sage, forsythia sage, Salvia farinacea, Texas sages like Salvia coccinea and Salvia greggii do great. Some of the common varieties of perennial salvia available in Louisiana nurseries include Mystic Spires and Victoria Blue.

Mexican bush sage was the perennial salvia that everyone grew 25 years ago when perennial salvia’s popularity really started in Louisiana. These are more typically late-summer through fall bloomers. As the name implies, they are native to Mexico. Mexican bush sage produces spikes of furry purple, white or bicolored flowers on 4-foot-tall by 4-foot-wide plants.

Although yellow blooms aren’t found in many salvia varieties, you can get them with forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis). These are typically midfall bloomers. Plants can get to be 5-6 feet tall and have large spikes of mellow yellow-colored blooms.

Many varieties of mealycup sage – Salvia farinacea – are on the market. Varieties include Victoria Blue, Velocity Blue, Henry Duelberg, a white-flowering Augusta Duelberg and Rebel Child. All perform great in Louisiana and can be long-lived perennials. Most varieties have shades of bluish to purple flowers, but whites, lavenders and bicolors are also available. The Duelberg and Rebel Child varieties were developed by Texas horticulturist Greg Grant.

Hybrid Salvia farinacea includes the popular varieties Mystic Spires and Indigo Spires. These have dark blue flowers but get fairly large in the landscape – sometimes 4 feet tall by fall. It’s possible to pinch these back a few times during the growing season to control the size.

Black and Blue salvia, along with the new variety Amistad, belongs to the Salvia guaranitica group. These are called anise-scented sage and are perennial in south Louisiana. Black and Blue salvia features deep cobalt blue flowers with black calyx. Flowers appear on spikes that are 12-15 inches long from late spring through fall. An improved black-and-blue-flowered variety is Amistad. It debuted this year and is in the Southern Living Plant Collection. It is blacker and bluer than Black and Blue. Both of these varieties can be 5 feet by fall if planted in early to midspring.

Salvia coccinea is actually one of the perennial sages (sometimes called scarlet sage or Texas sage), but we usually treat it as an annual bedding plant in Louisiana. Lady in Red is an older variety that is very good. Red flowers adorn the 30-to-36-inch-tall plants. You can also select a white-flowering form – Snow White – and a coral pink flower form – Coral Nymph.

Two new varieties of scarlet sage are Summer Jewel Red and Summer Jewel Pink. These are smaller and more compact than the older varieties and bloom from the time you plant them in spring until first frost. Blooms are dark and colorful and hold up well in heat and adverse weather conditions. Both of these are All-America Selection winners and are available from seed if you desire to sow you own.

Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) is another one of the Texas salvias. This salvia does not like water, and in some years Louisiana rainfall is not kind to this species. Plants have finer-textured and smaller foliage than other salvias. Flower colors include the most available red but also pale yellow, orange, salmon, fuchsia, purple and burgundy. These salvias have also been hybridized with Salvia microphylla and other species. A popular Salvia microphylla is Hot Lips.

An award-winning hybrid perennial salvia is Wendy’s Wish. It grows 3 feet tall by fall and produces masses of pinkish flowers. New cousins to this variety for 2015 are Ember's Wish and Love and Wishes. Ember’s Wish has bright coral flowers, and Love and Wishes has dark purple, wine-colored flowers. Blooms do not fade. Both of these are being trialed at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station. These two varieties will be part of the Southern Living Plant Collection.

Perennial salvias need little care. They do well in an average prepared landscape bed. And they can be grown in containers. Plants prefer full sun and do not need acid soil. In fact, many perennial salvias prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Irrigation can be limited because perennial salvias are typically very drought-tolerant once established. These plants attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. In addition, they are deer resistant.

You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by visiting the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website. Also, like us on Facebook. You can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals at both sites.

Rick Bogren

Last Updated: 6/20/2014 9:17:27 AM

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