Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
June, 2011
Regional Report

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This seedling of Salvia 'Lady in Red' is loaded with blooms that will attract hummingbirds to the landscape.

Salvias for Hot Summers -- and Hummers

I can't imagine summer without salvias. When the mercury climbs, scorching many of our spring flowers, salvias are among the dependable plants that keep the landscape colorful. Hummingbirds can't imagine summer and fall without salvias either! They love most types of salvia and add interest and enjoyment to the color this genus adds to our landscapes.

Most gardeners are familiar with the ubiquitous bedding plant version of salvia (Salvia splendens). But there are so many other great salvias, most of which are even more heat tolerant than their common bedding plant cousin.

Over 900 species and many additional crosses make this one of the most diverse and important of our gardening genera. Salvias range from the herb garden's culinary garden sage (Salvia officinalis) to a vast array of annual and perennial flowering plants that color our landscapes. One of my favorites is pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), whose pineapple scented foliage and bright red, late season blooms make it equally at home in the herb garden or landscape.

I'm especially fond of Salvia coccinea. It goes by more common names than a fugitive on the run, including: scarlet sage, Texas sage, tropical sage, blood sage, and hummingbird sage! An annual in most of the Lower South, it reseeds well in my gardens. I always leave a few here and there to offer the hummingbirds an irresistible drink of nectar. The standard type reaches 2 to 3 feet tall but several more compact cultivars are available including 'Coral Nymph', 'Lady in Red', 'Forest Fire' and the 2011 All America Selection 'Summer Jewel'.

There are a number of salvias that are dependable perennials in my Lower South landscape. Salvia x 'Indigo Spires' and its compact cousin 'Balsalmisp', known in the trade as Mystic Spires, bear their deep blue flowers all season long. When fall arrives Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), steals the show with its tall purple and white bloom spikes. The dependable Gregg's sage (Salvia greggii), also known as autumn sage and cherry sage, comes in an ever growing variety of color options from pink to coral to lavender to white.

There have been a number of crosses in recent years between Salvia greggii and Salvia microphylla, adding more exciting new cultivars with additional unique colors including peach to orange-red. Speaking of Salvia microphylla, the cultivar 'Hot Lips' bears white blooms with a crimson red outer edge, giving each bloom the appearance of wearing lipstick. During hot weather the blooms produced are typically all red or all white, but the lipstick wearing blooms return again in the cooler day so fall.

Anise sage or giant sage (Salvia guaranitica) bears long, dark blue, tubular blooms from late spring to frost. It forms a bushy plant about 3 to 4 feet tall and spreads so you will have extras to share with friends. The plant does well in sun to bright shade. 'Black and Blue' is a commonly available cultivar with deep blue flowers. Blooms of the cultivars 'Brazil' and 'Van Remsen' are cobalt blue, while 'Argentina Skies' bears sky blue flowers.

If you are in an area with high pH or limestone soils, big red sage or penstemon sage (Salvia penstemonoides) will do well. It needs a full sun location and well-drained soil. Its unique feature is its tall bloom stalks bearing burgundy red, long, tubular blooms. These stalks arise from the basal foliage, reaching to about 4 feet tall in early summer to fall. The foliage when crushed has a pleasant lemon-lime scent, rather like the soft drink Sprite.

Perhaps the most difficult thing in writing about salvias is to decide which to mention and where to stop! These are just a few of the many great salvias that are also favorites of hummingbirds. Include some of these in your landscape and the neighborhood hummingbirds will have a lot of places to "stop in for a drink" on the way home from work -- and a lot of "splainin'" to do when they get home!

I'm sure there are many more of your favorite salvias that were not included, so join in on the blog and share some others that you like.

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