Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
April, 2007
Regional Report

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Mexican bush sage is a show-stopper in late summer and fall, combining especially well with yellow-blooming plants like Mexican mint marigold or yellow African marigolds.

Sensational Salvias

Of all the many wonderful plant species that add beauty to our landscapes, salvias are one of my favorites. This genus is loaded with so many great plants that you can try a few new ones each year for decades and still not experience all the worthy choices for a southern garden.

Salvias are in the mint family, a fact evidenced by their square stems. They come in so many different shapes and sizes that there is a salvia for almost any area of the landscape from sun to shade, and wet to dry.

Choosing the best salvias is definitely a matter of personal preference. Everyone has their own favorites, and I'll admit that I have my own list. Here are a half dozen of my current favorites that have proven to be dependable performers offering perennial beauty year after year in my landscape. Check back with me in another couple of years and I'll have another half dozen favorites no doubt!

Mexican Bush Sage. Salvia leucantha forms a large 4-foot-tall and wide mounded bush of long shoots bearing grey-green, lance-shaped foliage. The bush is ornamental in its own right, but in late summer to fall the shoots are topped with purple-spiked blooms. There is an all-purple type and a more common form with white blooms protruding from the purple calyxes. Provide plenty of sunlight for best results.

Autumn Sage or Gregg's Sage. Salvia greggii is a sub-shrub grown as a perennial in the south. Despite its common name of autumn sage, this salvia blooms all through the growing season. Recent breeding efforts have expanded the bloom palate from red or white, to coral, pink, and purplish violet. This sun-loving salvia should be cut back to about 6 inches in late winter and sheared back by one-third in early summer when the first big bloom flush begins to diminish. Autumn sage performs best in the drier parts of the south.

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' and 'Mystic Spires'. The Huntington botanical garden in California is the birthplace of 'Indigo Spires' salvia, a vigorous performer that bears long, blue spikes all through the growing season. It loves sun but tolerates a little shade. This salvia's primary drawback is its tendency to get floppy as it is a vigorous grower reaching 4 or more feet wide. 'Mystic Spires' is a more compact version of 'Indigo Spires' reaching only about 2 feet with a more rigid, upright growth habit. This improvement along with its season-long blue blooms makes it an indispensable plant for our landscapes. It works well in garden beds or large containers.

Chiapas Sage. Salvia chiapensis or Chiapas sage can be mass planted to form a ground cover about a foot high with attractive glossy foliage. Fuschia red flower spikes rise above the foliage for a gorgeous effect. It takes sun to part shade equally well.

Scarlet or Texas Sage. Salvia coccinea makes the list because it is so fun, easy, and attractive. It is at home in sun or part shade, reseeds readily, and though it's an annual in most of the south, it's well worth its place in the garden. The red blooms attract hummingbirds as do many other salvias. In addition to the more common red types, coral and white forms are available. My favorite version of scarlet sage is the variety 'Lady in Red', which at 2 feet is more short in stature and bears large, red bloom spikes.

Pineapple Sage. Salvia elegans is often included in the herb garden because its pineapple-scented foliage is a nice addition to fresh iced tea and other kitchen creations. Even the blooms are edible. The flowers appear late in the summer and attract hummingbirds. Give pineapple sage a full-sun exposure.

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