Most gardeners associate plants in the genus Salvia with full sun, rocky soil, drought and semi-arid native lands. Although a number of sages fit this picture, far more appreciate loamy, fertile garden soil. Some require lots of water. Also, a large number of sages thrive in partial shade, and some tolerate full shade.
However, before talking about six of our favorite choices for partial shade, it’s necessary to explain what we mean by shade. This requires defining four categories -- full, partial, afternoon and morning shade.
Degrees of Shade
Full Shade. This is shade all, or almost all, of the day and is also called 'deep shade.' There is so little light that no shadows are cast. This condition occurs under dense trees or on the north side of a structure. Few Salvias do their best in these conditions.
Partial Shade. This degree of light is also called "broken shade" or 'dappled sunlight.' You find it under leafy deciduous trees, on the edge of woodlands or under shade structures, such as pergolas. This is generally the best shade for Salvias.
Afternoon Shade. The phrase 'afternoon shade' implies that morning sun is either needed or tolerated. It also is referred to as 'part day sun.' This situation is best for plants that need some direct sunlight, but don't fare well in full sun during the hottest time of day. Morning sun and afternoon shade allow a smart gardener to grow shade plants in unexpected locations. Care in selecting location is called for, because a brief stint of hot afternoon sun can cook the tender leaves of some plants.
Morning Shade. In contrast to afternoon shade, morning shade implies afternoon sunlight. Plants that don't require full sunshine, but love heat, can do well in locations offering morning shade and afternoon sun. Shade Salvias rarely prefer this kind of setting.
Salvias Made for the Shade
Giant Bolivian Sage (Salvia dombeyi) Zones 9 to 11.
In all but the deepest shade, this almost-vining Salvia is a knockout and a favorite for hummingbirds on our farm. A native of Bolivia and Peru, it is big all over with flowers and leaves both 5 inches long. In some frost-free areas this sage rises up to 20 feet tall when supported by a trellis or wall.
Fruit Scented Sage (Salvia dorisiana) Zones 9 to 11.
This culinary sage grows best in partial shade. We can't keep up with orders, because customers find the fruity perfume of its foliage irresistible. Hummingbirds feel the same way about its nectar. So add it to your kitchen garden, a perennial border or a patio container.
Chiapas Sage (Salvia chiapensis) Zones 7 to 11.
Chiapas Sage even grows well in deep shade, but don't expect it to flower there. In partial shade, it blooms just fine and attracts hummingbirds. Plant it in a perennial border or dry garden and as edging along a path.
Blue Vine Sage (Salvia cacaliifolia) Zones 8 to 11.
The deep azure flowers of Blue Vine Sage look great among plants with yellow, gold or light blue flowers. This sage spreads gently, making it a perfect choice for the edge of a woodland garden. It doesn't need lots of water, but does well in moist areas.
Buchanan's Sage (Salvia buchananii) Zones 9 to 11.
This favorite of Mexican courtyards is great in containers and grows well in all but the darkest shade. The hot pink of its pendulous, fuzzy flowers -- more than 2 inches long -- light up a shady garden. This is one of our best sellers.
Wendy's Wish Sage (Salvia x 'Wendy's Wish') Zones 9 to 11.
This popular sage comes from a chance seedling found in an Australian garden. Although discovered near a Lolly Jackson Mexican Sage (Salvia mexicana 'Lolly Jackson'), it resembles Buchanan's Sage in color and flower size. All of the royalties paid for this patented plant go to cancer research. Wendy's Wish looks lovely edging a path, in a patio container or as part of a perennial border.
Sharing Your Shade-Salvia Experiences
As always, we would love to receive your opinions and observations. Growing Salvias in shade sometimes is tricky. Whether you have experienced success or failure, send us a note or call to share your knowledge. The plants listed here are only a few of the Salvia species that we have grown successfully in shade, so feel free to ask us for more suggestions to add to your shade garden.
Revised June 16, 2013