Quick Digs: Planning a Salvia Garden Calendar
Quick Digs are series of articles that break down large topics into short articles. This is our second article in a series about preparing for spring in Salvia (sage) gardens. In the first article, we suggested making a list of plants in your gardens, inventorying garden tools and repotting autumn cuttings or sage seedlings in preparation for outdoor transplanting. Here are some next steps to take.
It's easier to succeed at almost anything if you make plans and set goals before beginning a project. This is certainly true in Salvia gardening. Taking this idea one step further, creating a gardening calendar ensures greater success in planning.
Here are some activities to set dates for on your calendar:
- Identifying empty spots in the landscape where you would like to plant sages
- Making a wish list of sages -- shrubs, herbaceous perennials and annuals -- that you want to add and identifying appropriate locations for planting
- Planning a new garden, such as one for pollinators
- Removing winter mulch and garden debris from the soil around shrubs and covering perennials that are beginning to emerge
- Getting started on weeding and
- Setting dates for pruning and planting by determining a probable last-frost date.
Holes in the Landscape
In our first article of this series, we suggested that you create a garden record of all the plants in flowerbeds and other locations throughout the yard. That way you will know whether empty-looking spots are holes in the landscape or areas where perennials have died to ground for winter.
If the rush of life has conspired to make you forget previous plantings, this will save you from digging into areas where perennials may be slow to emerge come spring. The act of identifying landscape holes during the winter may take deep meditation to remember what a particular area looked like in summer. However, slowing down, concentrating and then recording what you visualize can avert digging mistakes and unnecessary purchases.
Drafting a Wish List
Once you know what patches of ground are available for planting, it's time to consider what sages and companion plants would best fill those spots. For example, if you have a large gap within a line of shrubby sages, it might be best to plant another shrub -- such as an Autumn Purple Sage (Salvia purpurea) -- or a subshrub there. Some subshrubs are tall, such as Forsythia Sage (Salvia madrensis) and some are short to mid-sized, including Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).
Subshrubs are perennials that combine soft herbaceous and woody growth. Their leaves are evergreen in warmer climates, but die back during winter in cold regions. However, the woody stems and branches remain standing. No woody Salvias should be pruned until spring, because their stems are hollow and can fill up with winter rain or snow that leaks down to the crown and causes rot.
Wish lists should also contain names of replacement plants. If you are concerned that some of the herbaceous perennials in your borders may not rise again, notes on a wish list can help you to make quick decisions about what to buy if your concerns become reality.
Or it may be that you need a totally different kind of sage for a spot where you have decided to remove a plant, such as renovating an entryway with fragrant sages.
Planning a Special Garden
Getting organized to create a whole new flowerbed is less exhausting if you plan it a little bit at a time over winter. Special garden choices include pollinator gardens to attract butterflies as well as hummingbirds and honeybees. These are often filled with xeriscapic sages that are floriferous but thrive without much supplemental watering.
Removing Mulch and Beginning to Weed
Spring tidying includes removing winter mulch once the ground warms and herbaceous perennials begin to emerge and leaf out. Salvias can develop fungal problems if mulch remains in place past winter and causes moisture to be trapped near plant crowns. But don't remove this warm blanket until you think threat of frost is past.
If you have used organic mulch -- such as autumn leaves, pine needles, bark or newsprint -- it can be composted for further usefulness to your garden. Teaching children about composting is fun and provides an eye-opening demonstration of life cycles with flowers, grass and other organic materials turning into a rich, soil-like material.
Early spring is also the time to be vigilant about eliminating emerging weeds after you have differentiated between unwanted garden residents and welcome volunteer seedlings of previous plantings.
Determining Last Frost
Gardeners often rely on past experience when anticipating safe dates for pruning and planting. For example, most gardeners in cold-winter areas wait until mid-May or later.
A more precise way to estimate date of last frost is to seek information from your local university agricultural cooperative extension office. Here is a U.S. Department of Agriculture state-by-state locator map for extension offices. Click on your state and scroll down the page to select an extension link. Then do a search using the phrase "last frost."
Seeking Support for Questions
At Flowers by the Sea, we are always willing to answer questions promptly about gardening with Salvias and companion plants. So, if you would appreciate some advice or want to share observations, please write or call us. We're here to help.