Monday, October 19, 2015

How To Grow Salvia

One of the first plants I bought, was a perennial called Salvia. It had tall purple spike-style flowers and the bees went nuts for it. I knew it was a good choice for my garden if I wanted vegetables, you must bring the bees if you want your veggie flowers pollinated. I didn't do much to take care of it the first year besides regular watering, and I hoped it would survive the freezing winter. Luckily for me, it did. The one thing I wasn't sure of, though, is if it would come back as prolific as the first year. Sadly, it hasn't, but the leaves have been much more lush, green and large than the first year. So, at least it's alive and happy and maybe next year it will provide a lot of blooms again. All things aside, the bees still went nuts for the flowers that did come, and it still proved to be a pretty addition to the garden. 


Sun: Full, Part
Type: Perennial
Height: 18 inches to 5 feet depending on the type and growing conditions
Width: 8 inches to 3 feet
Flower color: Blue, pink, red, with variations on each of these
Foliage color: typically a sage or darker green, but can also be silvery, or chartreuse
Bloom time: spring, summer, fall
Special features: drought tolerant, deer resistant, attract pollinators, very low maintenance, and good in containers
Hardiness zone: 3-10 (great for you cold, northern gardeners)


Before planting your salvia in the garden, make sure to choose a sunny spot. They do best in full sun, but can still handle partial shade. Full sun means six or more hours of direct sun daily. I planted mine in a south facing location so they'd get the most sun all day. They get morning shade, and then around 11am the sun hits them and they're bathed in it for the rest of the day. Partial shade means more of an east facing location, where the plants will get morning sun but afternoon shade. This can be great if you're in a really hot location where afternoon sun is well over 100 degrees F.  I also found on a site that putting them in a west facing location could be too hot for salvias, depending on where you live. High light can burn the flowers of the white, coral, and salmon variations, changing them from white to brown; darker colors are more tolerant of high light and resist sun burn. I don't really have much of a choice on my patio. Most of the plants get a maximum amount of sun, and mine have done just fine in their south facing location.

Salvias need well draining soil, no matter if they're potted or in the ground. If the soil is too wet or too dry, the plants will just sit there, not growing or producing flowers. Additionally, in soggy soil, the roots can rot. Water regularly if it doesn't rain. Check the soil in your pots daily during the hot and dry days of summer. If it's dry, water the salvia. Yours could dry out faster than mine. Plus, it really depends on pot depth as well. My salvia is in a larger pot so it retains more water than a smaller one. On my full sun patio, I watered my salvia every other day and it stayed lush and green all summer. Remember, back here it's dry, and hot! The concrete heats up the patio about 20 degrees warmer than the air, so in midsummer I was experiencing 120 degree temps on my patio when our high was in the high 90's! 

Fertilize monthly up until early fall, because the salvia will bloom until frost. Clip off spent flower spikes to encourage new growth and more flower production. The more flowers you have, the better your bee population will be. More bees mean better plants all around, plus if you have a vegetable garden, you'll want those pollinating bees!


I don't grow much from seed because I plant everything right into pots, and starting from seed is frustrating in my potted garden. The climate of pots is different and easily altered with the temperature than if I was growing in an in-ground bed, so I buy starts of almost all my plants. Garden centers in my area in Northern Utah are always loaded with salvias every spring. When shopping for salvias, look for healthy, green leaves with no discoloration, or spots above or underneath. You'll want to choose plants with more compact growth and decent branching than tall leggy plants, or plants with obvious pests on the stems, leaves or buds. 

If you can't plant the salvia in your garden the day you bring it home, water it well, and set it under a tree or a covered location on the patio where it will be protected from the harsh direct sun. The little seedlings need to acclimate to your garden's climate.

If potting your salvia, look for a container with good drainage holes, and one that is at least 10 inches in diameter. Try to get a good light and fluffy potting soil, as garden soil tends to be heavier and not have as good of drainage. Don't use garden soil from the ground nearby as well because it could have pests or diseases in it that will harm your potted plant. 

Plant your salvias outside when the air and soil are warm. They can be planted in the spring, but just make sure it's not too cold still or your seedling may not survive. The actual best conditions to plant your seedlings of any plant is on an overcast day or in the later afternoon so the plants have a chance to acclimate before getting baked in the hot midday sun. (I planted mine in early spring and we always have cold snaps, and they did ok, these things are tough!) 

Plant your salvias in the ground or pot at the same depth they were in the nursery pots. Space your plants about 8 to 12 inches apart to allow them to grow and branch out.  I think I may have crowded my salvia with the verbena below, which is why it didn't get as bushy this year.


Salvias come in a few different shapes and sizes. You can use the short varieties to edge your garden.  You can place tall salvias in front of large shrubs or plants. You can cluster them together for big impact or put them in an herb garden or vegetable garden to give color to all the green of the herbs and veggies plants. You can use different colors to form stripes of color through your graden, or just put a tall one in the middle of a big pot as a thriller with smaller flowers and vines around it for impact. They make great plants in pots! They also attract the bees and butterflies which is great for any garden, and for the local wildlife, we need to feed those bees!

Salvia look great as cut flowers, for use in wreaths, bouquets, swags, and dry well. To dry them, tie a group of stems together and hang them upside down in a dry, airy place so they can retain their shape as they dry. 


Most gardeners notice that salvia tends to be fairly pest and disease free. However, watch out for white flies, spider mites, and aphids, all which are typically greenhouse-related problems. 

Have you grown salvia, what information can you add? Send me a link to your garden photos, I love seeing how plants I grow look in other gardens. 


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