Salvias - a growing guide

Photo of Salvia

During the middle of the summer when my pots were all looking a bit dried out and very low on flowers I went to a friends house. On the steps next to her door there were perhaps 10 medium to large pots all a mass of colours, mostly blues and a wide range of pinks. I was amazed, most gardens were in that mid-summer period where spring flowers have all finished and the autumn bloom of asters, heleniums and  rudbeckia had not yet started. Yet her pots, and the same plants scattered throughout the garden, were a riot of colour. The plants in question were salvias.

salvia I immediately went out and bought some salvias to put in my pots. The salvias I am talking about are the small leaved, perennial salvias which are frost tolerant. (Though in my garden I use the culinary sage often for its quick growing habits and beautiful sage green leaves, plus the purple leaved and variagated varieties).

I have started my collection with Salvia lemmonnii, a lovely deep pink and Salvia sinaloensis, a lovely blue flower with purple leaves. I bought these as small plants being sold cheap in the garden section of large supermarkets and now whenever I see a new colour I buy it. Despite having bought small plants in mid summer they are already getting to be a good size, and still flowering as I write this in December.

Salvia growing guide

salviaSalvias are part of the Lamiaceae family. They are a large group which include annuals, biennials, perennials and shrubs. Apart from those with a medicinal and culinary use the main reason for growing them are their beautiful spikes of flowers. With many shades of pink but also blue, red, white, orange and yellow there is a salvia for every colour scheme.  They also have a tendancy to flower from early summer until the first frosts.

One of their benefits for growing them here in SW France is that they tolerate dry soil and relish a sunny spot. They are very easy to care for. Those with a straggly growing habit benefit from an occasional trim which in turn results in more flowers. The flowers make very good cut flowers too.

Planting is really the same as for any other plant, dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball, plant so that the top of the root ball is level with the surface and put back in the garden soil mixed with some compost. After planting water well. The only difference with planting other plants is that being a fan of dry soil and sun I tend to plant in spring rather than autumn/winter which is usually the best planting time.

As with all my plants I mulch in the spring to retain water during the summer.  After they have been hit by the frosts cut the stems hard back (not all salvias are hit by the frosts and those that aren't, like the culinary sage, will remain looking pretty good right through winter and do not need any particular attention).

I am not a fan of annuals and biennials on the whole but it is worth buying Salvia sclari once because after that it seeds like mad and you will always have its pale pink flower spikes in your garden. These flowers almost look more like bracts but are still very attractive.

Propogating is very simple, just stick a growing tip in the ground and chances are it will grow. Whenever I or my cat accidentally break off a stem of salvia I pop it in a pot and usually this results in a new plant.

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