• 1999: Year of the Salvia
    Salvias - they bring color to the garden from late spring through early fall. They are indispensable for gardeners who want pretty, bright, long-lasting flowers to enjoy in the garden and in arrangements.
  • 1999: Year of the Salvia
    Salvias - they bring color to the garden from late spring through early fall. They are indispensable for gardeners who want pretty, bright, long-lasting flowers to enjoy in the garden and in arrangements.
  • 1999: Year of the Salvia
    Salvias - they bring color to the garden from late spring through early fall. They are indispensable for gardeners who want pretty, bright, long-lasting flowers to enjoy in the garden and in arrangements.
  • 1999: Year of the Salvia
    Salvias - they bring color to the garden from late spring through early fall. They are indispensable for gardeners who want pretty, bright, long-lasting flowers to enjoy in the garden and in arrangements.
  • 1999: Year of the Salvia
    Salvias - they bring color to the garden from late spring through early fall. They are indispensable for gardeners who want pretty, bright, long-lasting flowers to enjoy in the garden and in arrangements.
  • 1999: Year of the Salvia
    Salvias - they bring color to the garden from late spring through early fall. They are indispensable for gardeners who want pretty, bright, long-lasting flowers to enjoy in the garden and in arrangements.
  • 1999: Year of the Salvia
    Salvias - they bring color to the garden from late spring through early fall. They are indispensable for gardeners who want pretty, bright, long-lasting flowers to enjoy in the garden and in arrangements.
 
1999: Year of the Salvia

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1999: Year of the Salvia

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1999: Year of the Salvia

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1999: Year of the Salvia

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1999: Year of the Salvia

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1999: Year of the Salvia

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1999: Year of the Salvia

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1999: Year of the Salvia

Salvias - they bring color to the garden from late spring through early fall. They are indispensable for gardeners who want pretty, bright, long-lasting...

1999: Year of the Salvia

Salvias - they bring color to the garden from late spring through early fall. They are indispensable for gardeners who want pretty, bright, long-lasting flowers to enjoy in the garden and in arrangements. The three that are easiest to grow from seed or are most readily available as bedding plants at garden centers and nurseries are scarlet sage (Salvia splendens), mealy cup sage (S. farinacea), and S. coccinea. With colors that range from red, scarlet, salmon, purple, and lilac to deep and light blue, white, and bicolors, salvias offer an amazing number of design possibilities.

 

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

The genus Salvia contains at least 900 species and, because they readily cross pollinate, innumerable hybrids - both natural and manmade. Salvias are found on almost every continent in the world. Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist, wrote about their healing qualities back in the first century. In the early 17th century, the English botanist John Gerard, in his famous Herbal, described a number of sages, including common garden sage and one that sounds similar to what we now call 'Tricolor' sage. He referred to the healing powers of these herbs as well. Until recently (in horticultural terms - meaning the 19th century), most gardeners focused on growing plants for medicinal or culinary purposes; beauty was a secondary, much less important, consideration.

The results of plant exploration in the 18th and 19th centuries brought scores of new salvias to English and European gardeners from Mexico, China, and Africa. One, Salvia buchananii, was found in Mexico by an Englishwoman, who gave it to a man serving in the army. He in turn brought it back to England and gave it to an English squire named Buchanan. Many such stories accompanied salvias across the ocean. Salvia coccinea, indigenous to Mexico and South America, was grown for decades as a wildflower. It was a Dutch breeder, Kees Sahin of K. Sahin Zaden BV in the 1990's who tamed it, so to speak - selecting a plant that was shorter in height than the species, very free-flowering, with bright red, very full flower spikes - and introduced it as 'Lady in Red', an All-America Selections winner in 1992. Both scarlet sage and mealy cup sage were discovered in the early 1800's, the former in Brazil, the latter in Texas.

Salvia splendens became the focus of American breeders back in the 1980's. S. splendens was a red spike flower available on plants of various heights. Modern type bedding salvias, including flower colors other than red, were bred recently. Using the genetic variability he knew was present in scarlet sage, Ron Schlemmer at Harris Seeds began selecting for specific colors and habits. His efforts culminated in 1991 with the early-blooming Sizzler series, available first in a hot red color, subsequently in numerous colors: pink, orchid, plum, orange, salmon, burgundy, and white. It was the Sizzler series that began the modern types with colors not seen before in salvias for the North American home garden.

The same type of selection and breeding went into the first bicolored S. farinacea, 'Strata'. An All-America Selections winner in 1996, 'Strata' was bred by Floranova Ltd., one of the few remaining British seed companies to breed and produce new home garden flower seeds.

 

THE SALVIA FAMILY TREE

Salvias are members of the mint family, Labiatae, and they're easily recognized from their square stems and opposite pairs of leaves, which are usually rather velvety or hairy. One of the more familiar salvias is the perennial common garden sage (Salvia officinalis) and its colorful, fragrant variations. Salvias for the flower garden include many perennials and annuals, as well as perennials that are treated like annuals. The colorful Salvia splendens and Salvia farinacea, are tender perennials treated as annuals in most regions of the country. Salvia coccinea, a perennial in frost-free areas of the south and southwest, may also act like a perennial farther north because it may readily reseed. However, it is usually treated as an annual. Both S. splendens and S. coccinea are often known as scarlet sage, which could cause confusion at a garden center, but the plants' habits are quite dissimilar. S. splendens has a rather neat and compact growth habit; S. coccinea has retained some of its "wild" heritage, perhaps a little more unkempt-looking.

All three of these salvias bloom from late spring through the first frosts in autumn, longer in areas that are frost-free. The blooms form along spiky stems, and each flower has two parts - a colorful tube (corolla) that projects out from a surrounding "case" (calyx). (Think of it in terms of lipstick, with the lipstick tube emerging from the case.) The tube and collar can be the same color, shades of the same color, or completely different, as in bicolor salvias. S. farinacea 'Strata', for instance, has a silvery white case and blue tube. S. splendens Empire 'Light Salmon' has a salmon red case and pale salmon, almost pink tube. From a distance, such colorations create a shimmering sight.

 

DESIGNING WITH SALVIAS

Salvias are so easy to incorporate into a garden. Use the shorter, dwarf salvias to edge a perennial or annual garden. Place tall salvias in front of evergreen shrubs; mass them for incredible impact; spot them around in an herb garden to complement the mostly green garden. The taller salvias (18 to 20 inches) are the best for cut flowers, so you may want to put a separate bed of them in a cutting garden or plant a row in the vegetable garden. Create rivers of blue or blue-and-white with Salvia farinacea 'Victoria' and 'Strata' along the edge of a bed. One of the most delightful aspects of salvias, especially S. coccinea, is that they attract butterflies. Combine red and blue cultivars with yellow coreopsis, purple petunias, and yellow or pink cosmos for the start of a butterfly garden. Such a planting can be in the ground or arranged in containers around a patio or deck. Whatever design you decide on, remember to plant in masses of at least eight or more plants of each color and type.

 

GROWING SALVIAS

Selecting a Site. Salvias grow well in full sun but most also do nicely in partial shade. Full sun means six or more hours of direct sun daily. Partial shade translates into an east location, where the plants will be exposed to morning sun but enjoy afternoon shade. A western exposure may be too hot for salvias, depending on your geographic location. In the south, plant salvias where they will have some protection from midday sun. High light can burn the flower spikes of white, coral, and salmon cultivars of S. splendens, changing them from white to brown; darker colors are more resistant to sun burn.

S. splendens and S. farinacea are great candidates for growing in containers and window boxes. If you put them in window boxes, remember that overhanging eaves may produce some shade and also prevent rain from doing your watering for you.

Preparing the Soil.

Salvias need soil that drains well-whether they're planted in the ground or in containers. In soil that's too wet or too dry, the plants will just sit, producing no new growth or flowers. In water-logged soil, the roots may rot. When you have selected a site, amend the soil by digging in a 2-inch (5 cm) layer of compost or peat moss before planting.

Some salvias, particularly Salvia splendens, are sensitive to alkaline soil. Salvia farinacea and S. coccinea are more tolerant of it. Desert soils and those in the southwest tend to be alkaline, so if you live in one of those areas you can avoid the entire problem by growing your salvias in raised beds or containers, which you can fill with a commercial mix. For containers and window boxes, use a soilless mix because it's lighter in weight. Containers filled with soil and plants can be heavy; a soilless mix can save your back - and your windowsills!

 

STARTING SALVIAS FROM SEED

Salvias are easy to grow from seeds. Their most important requirement is light while they're germinating, so you shouldn't cover the seeds with soil. Plan to sow the seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks (10 to 12 weeks for S. farinacea) before the average last frost date in your area; in frost-free areas, count back from the date when you'll be planting tomatoes, impatiens, and other warm-weather annuals in the garden.

1. Fill a shallow container, or flat, with a commercial seed-starting mix. Moisten the mix and let it drain. You can also start salvias in peat pots. Peat pots go right into the soil with the plants, so you don't need to transplant them while they're growing indoors, and you won't disturb or damage any roots when you finally set them out in the garden.

2. Sow the seeds in rows, or scatter them over the mix. (Seedlings in rows are easier to separate when it comes time to transplant them.) If you're using peat pots, sow three to four seeds in each pot. Do not cover the seeds: They need light to germinate. Simply press the seeds down so that they come in contact with the mix. Spritz the mix with enough water to moisten it slightly; spritzing also helps to ensure that the seeds are "nestled" in the mix.

3. Cover the flat with a sheet of clear plastic wrap, or place it in a plastic bag closed with a twist tie, to keep the mix from drying out while the seeds are germinating.

4. Set the flat in a warm, bright location or under grow-lights. Keep the growing medium at about 75º F (24C). You can maintain that temperature with a heating cable or, in a multi-shelf light-garden, by setting the flat on the shelf above one tier of the lights. When seedlings emerge in 7 to 14 days, remove the plastic cover. Keep the mix evenly moist - not soggy - by watering the flat from the bottom. Set it in a sink filled with 1 to 2 inches of water until you see beads of moisture on the surface of the mix.

5. When the seedlings have at least two sets of true leaves, they will be large enough to handle, and you can transplant them into individual 2¼-inch pots. When they reach 4 inches in height, pinch back the growing tips to encourage branching. S. splendens cultivars have been bred with a naturally branching habit, whereas S. farinacea and S. coccinea grow in a more upright manner. Keep pinching occasionally so the plants will continue to branch, providing you with more blooms over the season. Provide as much sunlight as possible after removing plastic covering so the young plants don't stretch in search of light and become leggy. Plant the salvias outdoors when the weather and soil have warmed up, about the time you plant impatiens or peppers.

 

PURCHASING SALVIAS AS PLANTS

If you don't want to grow your plants from seeds, you'll find scores of salvias at your local garden center or nursery because they're so popular as bedding plants. The plants may be labeled with cultivar names or with colors only. Most growers label Salvia farinacea plants with their cultivar names - like 'Victoria' or 'Strata'. Many garden centers, however, label S. splendens by color: red, purple, white. Growers and garden centers also often sell salvias in six-packs, rather than in individual pots. The plants will be smaller and may or may not be in bloom, but they should be in bud. If the plants aren't labeled with a cultivar name, you may be able to tell the color from the buds, but rather than depend on bud color, you'd be better off buying a named cultivar. That way, too, if you like the plant, you'll be able to go back the following year and request the same cultivar. When you buy plants, look for healthy, green leaves with no discolored spots above or underneath. Try to select plants with fairly compact growth and good branching. Pass up plants that are tall and leggy and any plants that have obvious pests on stems, leaves or buds.

If you're buying a container of mixed plants - and salvias combine very well with other annuals - check all the plants for healthy leaves and lack of disease or insect damage. If you can't plant the salvias the day you bring them home, water them well and set them under a tree or patio cover where they'll be protected from direct sun.

 

TRANSPLANTING INTO THE GARDEN

Plant salvias outdoors when the air and soil are warm. The best time to transplant any plant is on a cloudy day or in late afternoon so that the plants have a chance to get settled in before they have to contend with the drying effects of the sun. Set salvias in the ground at the same depth or slightly below the level they were growing in the pots. If you're transplanting from flats or six-packs, try to keep as much soil around the roots as possible so they don't dry out. If you started your salvias from seed in peat pots, set the pots below the soil line because the pots have a tendency to dry out quickly when exposed to the air. Space S. splendens and S. farinacea about 10 to 12 inches (25-30 cm) apart. Space S. coccinea 8 to 12 inches (20 - 25 cm) apart. The closer spacing will give you an impressive planting more quickly.

 

TAKING CARE OF THE PLANTS

Salvias are relatively care-free, but they do need some attention. Water regularly, if it doesn't rain. Even though S. splendens and S. farinacea need a well-draining soil, lack of moisture is as detrimental as soggy soil. Remember to check the soil in containers daily during hot summer weather and water if it's dry to a depth of 2 inches or more. In really hot, dry weather, you may need to water containers twice a day. Fertilize plantings in the garden once a month with a balanced granular or water-soluble fertilizer - for instance, one with 20-20-20 on the label. Or, to save yourself that task, use a slow-release fertilizer when you plant; follow label directions for amounts. Because salvias will continue to bloom into fall, remember to keep feeding them. Mix a timed-release fertilizer into the soilless mix when you plant salvias in containers - in mixed plantings or alone - or feed them once a month with fertilizer diluted to the strength recommended on the label for containers. Salvias aren't messy plants, but you may want to cut off spent blooms to keep the plants branching, to increase flowering, and to avoid the chance of botrytis.

 

SALVIAS IN CONTAINERS

Salvias, like many other annuals, grow very well in containers and combine easily with other plants for accents on decks, patios, and porches. A few special combinations include: Blue 'Victoria', white sweet alyssum, and dwarf red S. splendens with blue lobelia to trail over the rim of the container; Red and white S. splendens with silvery dusty miller; 'Strata' with pink or lilac petunias; Blue or white S. farinacea, dwarf cosmos, fan flower (Scaeveola), and marguerites.

To plant in containers. Select a container that has drainage holes in the bottom or sides. Size can vary from 10 inches in diameter to a half-barrel or window box. Fill the container with a lightweight, soilless mix. Don't use soil from the garden because it may not have good drainage and may carry diseases or weed seeds. Arrange the plants, in their nursery pots, on top of the soil so you can easily move them around into a pleasing design. Put taller plants in the center, medium and bushy plants around the middle, and trailing plants along the edge. Set plants closer together than you would in the ground for a lusher, more instantaneous display. When you're satisfied with the placement, unpot the plants and set them in the mix at the same level they were growing originally. Water the container well. And keep an eye on it through the season for signs of stress from heat or drought.

 

BONUS USES FOR SALVIAS

In addition to looking beautiful in the garden, salvias make great cut flowers. They add touches of color to country-style arrangements, spikey height to miniature bouquets, and accents to wreaths and swags. S. farinacea is particularly pretty as a cut flower, whether fresh or dried. Fresh S. coccinea brings an airy appearance to arrangements. Fresh S. splendens, with its fuller flower spikes, can anchor an arrangement if you insert the stems at the base of the design or can form the outline if you use taller cultivars. To gather salvias for fresh or dried arrangements, cut them when about half of the flowers have begun to open on each stem - the flowers open from the bottom up. That's particularly important if you're going to air-dry the flowers; fully open blooms will shatter and drop off as they dry. For fresh use, pick early in the morning before the dew has dried. For dried use, gather stems later, after the morning dew has evaporated. Salvia farinacea can be used as an everlasting in dried arrangements. You can air-dry the flowers easily: Simply tie five or six stems together with a rubberband and hang the bunches upside down in a dry, airy place. You can let them air-dry upright in a vase, but some of the stems may flop over. If you're crafting a wreath or swag with other flowers and herbs before they're dried, remember that the fresh material will shrink a bit as it loses moisture, so you should use more of all the materials to have a full, showy wreath.

 

PESTS AND DISEASES

Most gardeners find S. splendens, S. farinacea, and S. coccinea to be relatively pest- and disease-free. The diseases and pests that can plague salvias are usually problems in the greenhouse for growers, not in the home garden. However, you might want to keep an eye out for white fly, spider mites, and aphids, all of which are greenhouse menaces. Spent flower spikes can encourage botrytis, especially in cold, wet weather.

 

The National Garden Bureau wishes to recognize Eleanore Lewis as the author of this fact sheet. Four salvia experts reviewed the text and we wish to thank them for their comments. They are David Chisholm, Floranova Ltd; Glenn Goldsmith, Goldsmith Seeds; Lynne Knosher and Ron Schlemmer of PanAmerican Seed Co. The photography was taken by Ron Breazeale. The logo drawing was created by Nola Nielsen.

The 'Year of the Salvia' fact sheet is a service provided by the National Garden Bureau. The use of this fact sheet is unrestricted. Please credit the National Garden Bureau as the source of the information. We offer black & white prints to journalists for illustrations. Please use the enclosed post card to inform us of your photo requests.

The National Garden Bureau is a non profit organization and recognizes the seed company members that generously donate funds to publish the fact sheets. For 2000, it will be the 'Year of the Sweet Corn and Zinnia.'