Six Herbaceous Chinese Salvias for Shady Summer-to-Fall Bloom

First posted on Aug 28, 2012

Six Herbaceous Chinese Salvias for Shady Summer-to-Fall Bloom

Creating a flower garden in partial shade is not as challenging as planting in full shade, yet it requires selecting the right plants. Herbaceous Chinese Salvias can form a harmoniously composed partial-shade garden that soothes the eye. Plant Chinese Salvias now for cooling, colorful clouds of blue, lavender, purple and white blossoms from summer through fall as well as attractive rosettes of basal foliage in varying shapes, textures and shades of green. 

Dwellers in the Clouds and Lower Lands 
Chinese Salvias thrive in the mountains of central and southern China. Himalayan Cloud Sage can grow at altitudes up to 14,000 feet, which is why it received the name “nubicola,” meaning “dweller among the clouds.” One of the best places in the world to see it is lower in elevation — Nepal’s Muktinath Valley that is 3,710 feet above sea level.

The following list is arranged by height starting with the shortest. Nan Dan Shen is the tallest in this group, so a good choice may be to place it as a focal point in the center of a circular grouping or toward the back of your flowerbed. A shady spot near a water feature or a thicket of trees and shrubs would be just right for all these heavenly herbaceous Salvias.

Red Sage or Dan-Shen — Salvia miltiorrhiza
Chinese Salvias are well known for their medicinal properties, yet can be valued simply for their ornamental value. Red Sage, which has fragrant, lavender flowers, gains its name from bright red, finger-like roots. The roots are dried, ground and used for treating illnesses, such as stroke and heart disease, as well as problems including insomnia.

Red sage grows 12 to 24 inches tall and spreads about 24 inches, so it makes an ideal front row plant in this group. Not quite as cold tolerant as S. nubicola, it grows in Zones 6 to 9. A woodland plant, it is a good companion for hostas.

Xin Jiang Shu Wei Cao — Salvia deserta
Salvia deserta is a zone 6 to 9 sage that has lovely, long spikes of lavender flowers supported by red bracts. It's native to China's Xinjiang province and the neighboring countries of Kazakhstan and Krygyzstan. Plan on it growing 30 inches tall and 18 inches wide in bloom. 

Mystery Yunnan Sage – Salvia sp. from Yunnan
Here is a beauty with no name. Mystery Yunnan Sage has lavender flowers and is cold hardy, growing well in zones 5 to 9. It reaches up to 30 inches tall and 18 inches wide in bloom.

Yunnan Sage — Salvia yunnanensis
Yunnan Sage is grows well in zones 5 to 9. It's sometimes referred to as Dan-Shen due to its red roots containing compounds similar to those of Red Sage. Native to China’s Yunnan and Szechuan provinces, it usually lives on grassy hill lands and near the edge of forests at an elevation of 5,900 to 9,500 feet.

Depending on whether it tops out at 24 or 32 inches, S. yunnanensis may be a bit wider or narrower than it is high. It generally spreads to 28 inches.

Himalayan Cloud Sage — Salvia nubicola
Himalayan Cloud Sage, which grows up to 48 inches tall and 36 inches wide. Of all the Salvias in this article, it does well in the broadest range of U.S. Department of Agriculture cold-hardiness areas, thriving in Zones 5 to 10. In chilly locations, plant it in full sun. Tibetan Cloud Sage produces spikes of butter yellow flowers 12 to 18 inches long, which are a particularly lovely surprise when emerging from snow.

If you are growing this sage in warmer Zones, such as 8 to 10, place S. nubicola in partial shade. Similar to all the Salvias detailed here, it prefers rich soil that is moist yet well drained.

Nan Dan Shen — Salvia bowleyana
Nan dan shen is closely related to the medicinal species S. miltiorrhiza. When in bloom with its pearly white and lavender blossoms, it reaches up to 60 inches tall and 36 inches wide. This is another exceptionally cold hardy species that thrives in zones 5 to 9.

Planting a Shade Garden Now
It may seem counter-intuitive to be planting with shade in mind just as the cool weather of autumn is beginning to set in. But as with so many items on life’s to-do list, there is no time like the present for investing in shady beauty for the seemingly far-off heat of next summer. Please contact us at FBTS if you have any questions about Chinese native sages or shade gardening. 

Edited Dec 17, 2020 04:00 PM
Alicia Rudnicki for FBTS


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