Garden expert touts benefits of planting sage

Garden expert touts benefits of planting sage

Photo courtesy of Nan Sterman – Germander sage "Salvia chamaedryoides" has the potential to bloom year round, if you deadhead.

by Nan Sterman

Here's a trivia question: Which garden plant served as bandages for ancient European and Middle-Eastern cultures? The answer is sage. In bygone times, sage (Salvia) leaves, most likely the culinary sage Salvia officinalis, were used to compress wounds. The name Salvia is derived from the Latin verb "salvere" which means "to heal."

There are more than 900 species of salvia found in nature, and there are countless hybrids, too. These tubular flowers come in almost every color imaginable and are hummingbird magnets. There are a number of easy-to-grow perennial and shrubby ornamental varieties. Many of the best ones for California gardens are, not surprisingly, California natives.

With such a wide selection, why not plant some salvias into your garden? Try these to get started:

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans)

The scarlet-red flowers bloom in late summer, and the lime-green leaves have a mild aroma of pineapple that can be used fresh or dry as a seasoning. The plant requires at least a half-day of sun, moderate water and well-draining soil. Top growth is hardy to about 27 degrees. Cut to the ground after flowering.

Salvia microphylla

Intense pink to red or red and white flowers bloom from spring through fall. Small leaves on mounding plants grow 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. It prefers full sun, good drainage and only occasional water, and it's hardy to below freezing.

Germander sage (Salvia chamaedryoides)

Sky-blue flowers bloom nearly year-round if you deadhead. The plant grows 2 feet tall and has small, round, grayish leaves. Provide full sun and good drainage for this drought-tolerant sage. It's hardy to 10 degrees.

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii)

Purple to intense violet-blue flowers appear from spring into summer while the leaves are gray-green and highly aromatic. Woody stems form plants 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide. This California native is very drought-tolerant and hardy to 20 degrees.

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha)

Velvety deep purple or purple and white flowers bloom in spring and fall alongside long, soft green leaves with a felty white underside. Hardy to 25 degrees, it grows as a patch 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide, while the variety 'Santa Barbara' is smaller. It requires full sun, average soil and is very drought-tolerant. Be sure to cut to the ground after flowers fade.

Salvia 'Waverly'

Spires of elegant pink or lavender-tinged white flowers bloom from spring into fall. Upright stems grow 3 feet tall and not quite as wide. This shade-tolerant plant requires occasional water. Cut stems back to about 6 inches after flowers fade.

Nan Sterman is an award-winning garden communicator, horticulturist and gardening designer who lives in Encinitas. She has a bachelor's degree in botany from Duke University, a master's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Better Homes and Gardens.

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