Photo Credit: Contributed Photo by Texas AgriLife Extension
The Henry Duelberg salvia – with dark deep blue flowers – and its counterpart, Augusta Duelberg – with white flowers and named after Henry’s wife – have been officially designated as Texas Superstars, which are high-performing and environmentally tolerant plants. This variety was found growing in a Texas cemetery and was named from the grave marker.
Either one is a wise choise for gardeners

June 12, 2008


Edited by Charla Borchers Leon, Victoria County Master Gardener
If you have been searching for the perfect gardening plant that will provide colorful blooms from spring to fall, look no further than those belonging to the genus Salvia, often commonly referred to as sages.

Why grow salvias?

Our ancestors planted sages because it was believed that sages brought good health and good fortune. In fact, the name Salvia derives from the Latin salvere, which means “to heal.” One old saying states, ‘He that would live for aye should eat sage in May’. Another promises prosperity. ‘As the sage bush flourishes, so does the family fortune’. With these qualities, how could any home gardener resist including salvias in the landscape?

A bit of history

The sage species used as herbs come from the Mediterranean and Asia Minor. Sage has also been grown in Central Europe since the Middle Ages.

The Romans would use it for toothpaste; they also believed it to be good for the brain, senses and memory. The Chinese also were quite partial to this herb. 17th century Dutch merchants found that they would trade one chest of sage leaves for three of their teas. Sages are also used by several Native American cultures.

Easy to grow

Salvia plants come in a variety of colors, sizes and foliages. They are drought tolerant, attract hummingbirds and butterflies, are almost pest and disease free and even have medicinal qualities. They tolerate a variety of soil conditions and will thrive anywhere except in deep shade and moist soil. And best of all, they flourish in the South Texas heat.

Speaking of South Texas heat, the first official day of summer is around the corner on June 21st.

According to the Farmers Almanac, forecasters are calling for a hot, humid summer with Gulf Coast squalls when summer officially begins later this month. Indications are for less rainfall this summer than last, but for a more active Atlantic hurricane season that could bring storms into the Gulf with Texas landfall. Get ready for a hot one … but not too intense for the salvia that provides “hot” colors to the landscape all summer long.

Care for salvias

I have several varieties of salvias and they are among my most carefree plants. They are incredibly easy to grow and most are perennial in our area. Some varieties will reseed freely from year to year. Plant in well-drained soil and in full to very light shade. If your soil is heavy clay, amend it with some sand and compost.

Prune them back to six inches in February and then cut back by half in August to bring on another flush of bloom.

I cut mine back anytime they become leggy and they reward me with even more blooms. Occasionally you may find spider mites in late summer. Spray several times with high pressure water and that should get rid of them.

Choices to make

There are many varieties to choose from but here are a few favorites that do well in our area. Most can be readily found in local nurseries.

Salvia greggi (autumn sage, cherry sage) is a native Texas plant, often found in cottage gardens. Although it is called autumn sage, it blooms May through November. It reaches three feet tall and wide and is a good choice anywhere you need a flowering, medium-sized shrub. Cultivars include red, white, pink, coral, fuchsia and purple. The hummingbirds love it.

Another favorite is the Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage). One of the larger sages, it is a good choice for sweeping landscape areas and reaches four to five feet tall and wide. The blooms are lavender and white and appear around April and continue until November.

If the clumps get too large, they can be divided in early spring or late winter. Hummingbirds eagerly feed on this salvia.

Salvia officinalis is the culinary sage and often used to flavor meats and vegetables. For hundreds of years sage was used in the kitchen and medicine chest. Cooks believed that it stimulated the appetite and improved digestion, thus it often accompanied very rich meals.

My mother always put sage in her Thanksgiving dressing. Most sages have gray-green leaves, hence the term ‘sage green’. The ‘Tricolor’ sage has purple-red, green and white leaves. Pick the leaves anytime you need them or let them hang in bunches rather than storing in jars as it is sometimes hard to get enough moisture out of the leaves.

Salvia farinacea (blue salvia, or mealy-cup sage) has a blue flower spike that lasts a long time in the garden or as a cut flower. It grows up to two feet tall and is grown as a tender perennial in our area.

Although most sages perform like a superstar, the Henry Duelberg salvia with dark blue flowers and Augusta Duelberg with white flowers and named after Henry’s wife, have been officially designated as Texas Superstars which are high-performing and environmentally tolerant plants. This variety was found growing in a Texas cemetery and was named from the grave marker.

Indigo Spires is a cross between the native Texas mealy sage and S. longispicata. Its flowers are longer and a more intense blue-purple and make a good cut flower as do most sages. It forms a four-foot mound and blooms repeatedly.

‘May Night’ was introduced in 1997 as the Perennial Plant of the Year. It has a deep, purple blue flower spike and reaches 18 inches wide and tall. When the bloom peaks in late summer, cut the spikes at the base to encourage more blooms through the fall. 

There are many more salvias, but if you try just a few of these, I think they will become some of your favorites. The variety will add color to your garden while the xeric qualities will conserve precious water resources. If you want to see salvias growing in a garden setting, visit the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) located on the Victoria Airport grounds – and see for yourself.
Photo Credit: Suzann Herricks/Victoria County Master Gardener
The Mexican sage bush is one of the larger sages and is a good choice for a sweeping landscape. The bush can reach 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, and its blooms are lavender and white. The Mexican sage appears around April and continues until November
Salvia greggi is a native Texas plant shown here in a white cultivar. Although it is called autumn sage, it blooms May through November. It reaches 3 feet tall and wide and is a good choice anywhere a flowering, medium-sized shrub is desired.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or, or comment on this column at