Fall is when gardeners tidy up flowerbeds and daydream about a landscape bursting with vivid color during the next growing season. Yet it is also a call-to-action time for making daydreams come true, a time to plant hardy herbaceous and shrubby perennials for better root growth and a faster surge in spring. It is a superior time to plant Salvias.
Salvias are well known for bright blossoms and long bloom periods. Some flower from spring through fall, and some bloom almost year round.
Most perennial Salvias thrive when planted in autumn. This is true whether they are shrubby or herbaceous, deciduous or evergreen. Now is a good time to survey your garden and decide where new plantings are needed as well as which Salvias will most please your eye and attract hummingbirds.
The soil is warmer in autumn than in spring, which stimulates root growth and gets a small plant off to a better start. Also, in early autumn, gardeners don’t face the back-to-back frost threats of planting too early or too late -- a problem that makes early Spring gardening risky in some areas. Settling into garden life in fall gives Salvias a chance to grow deep and strong before the demands of rapid growth and flowering begin.
Planting. The location and spacing of Salvias affect their survival. Most Salvias need well-drained soil and are unlikely to make it through a winter freeze if located in waterlogged ground.
To improve drainage in heavy soils before planting, work in lots of organic matter, such as well-rotted compost. Then space the plants for good air circulation to avoid development of mildew or other fungal problems.
Watering. Even extremely drought-tolerant perennials, such as the native California Salvias, require regular watering while establishing roots. All shrubby and herbaceous perennials planted in well drained soil during fall need deep watering every two to four days for about the first month.
If autumn rainfall is sparse, it is necessary to continue deep watering once a week in gardens with good drainage or once every 2 to 4 weeks in clay soils. In areas with mild winter weather, continue this watering schedule until spring. Elsewhere, watering ends when snow falls or the ground freezes.
Winter Preparation. Herbaceous Perennial Salvias begin to die back to the ground in late autumn. In a year or two, woody deciduous and evergreen Salvias can be shaped through pruning. Late winter and early spring generally are the best times for heavy pruning.
Place a shovelful of a rich organic compost around Salvias for winter-feeding. To keep soil warm enough for the plants in U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones with freezing winter temperatures, mulch with a 2-inch layer of pine needles, straw or shredded leaves. However, do not pile mulch directly on Salvias that still have visible foliage.
Beautiful Selection. There are probably some 900 Salvia species in the mint family or Laminaceae. They vary in height from less than 12 inches to more than 6 feet tall.
A good example is our wide variety of Salvia patens, also known as Gentian Sage. They range from the border plants less than 2 feet tall to Guanajuato Giant Gentian Sage, which can grow up to 4 feet tall with towering spikes of 3-inch-long, deep blue flowers. Here are some of the many favorite choices for autumn planting available at Flowers by the Sea.
This short Gentian Sage from Holland grows 18 inches tall and wide in bloom. Its large, deep lavender flowers and mid-green foliage make it stand out in borders and container plantings. Also called Dorset Lavender Gentian Sage, it thrives in Zones 8 to 11.
Blue Vine Sage blooms from 8 to 10 months in mild coastal areas and grows vigorously. Give it space to show off, because it can grow up to 42 inches tall and spread 36 inches wide in Zones 8 to 11. You can trim it back in springtime after the last frost. In areas with hot summers, it is a fine choice for shade planting and needs weekly watering.
Raspberry Delight is perennial from Zone 6 to 10. The large, deep raspberry trumpet blossoms attract hummingbirds from late spring to first frost. It can grow in full sun or partial shade and reaches heights up to 36 inches. Deciduous perennials combine woody and soft herbaceous growth. They are often referred to as subshrubs. In the warmest part of their winter range, deciduous perennials may act like evergreens.
The variegated combination of white and red blossoms — or lips — gives movie-star appeal to the abundant flowers of Hot Lips Sage. A compact Mountain Sage cultivar, it averages 36 inches tall and 24 inches wide in bloom. Hot Lips favors full sun and is reliably winter hardy in Zones 7 to 9.
As to our tallest Salvias brightening the home landscape, two evergreen examples are Karwinkski's Sage (S. karwinski 'Red Form') and Giant Karwinski's Sage (S. karwinski 'Ted's 18 Footer'). Plant one this fall in Zones 8 to 11, and you may find yourself daydreaming about colorful tall tales to come.