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Getting Started: How Much Sun Salvias Need

First posted on Feb 10, 2015

Getting Started: How Much Sun Salvias Need

To answer the question of how much sun Salvias need you have to consider their native lands. Salvias, which are also called sages, come from a wide variety of environments with sun exposure ranging from all sun/all day to full shade. These places include:

  • Asian woodlands that are moist and shadowy
  • Balmy, Mediterranean-type coastlines
  • Canyons in Arizona and Texas that swing from dry to drenched 
  • Foggy Central American cloud forests
  • High- and low-altitude deserts, as in the American Southwest, northern Mexico, the Middle East and South America
  • Semi-arid scrub lands, such as California's coastal chaparral and South Africa's fynbos, and
  • Treeless, high altitude, grassy plains called steppe lands, particularly in Central Asia.  

Sun Exposure Information
All plant descriptions in the Flowers by the Sea online catalog detail cultivation requirements, including sun exposure. We also provide information about native lands in these descriptions and the Salvias by Origin category of our catalog. You'll find the link to this category and many others in the catalog menu atop our homepage.

The FBTS photo-illustrated Salvia Finder can also help you identify plants well matched to the sun level in your planting location, because it allows you to filter choices by growing conditions and personal preferences. The filters offer a category called "Exposure" that provides four choices of light -- full sun, partial shade, full shade, and morning sun/afternoon shade. The second choice concerns plants that need plenty of sunlight, but can tolerate some shade. The third group is for Salvias that should only be grown in shade. The fourth indicates that a plant may do best if planted where it will receive full morning sun and some level of shade in the afternoon.

Different Sunlight Levels 
Full Sun. Many Salvias require full sun, which is generally defined as a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight daily. Good examples include varieties of  Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii).

Full Sun to Partial Shade. On the other hand, most sages love full sun but also tolerate or even benefit from some partial shade daily. "Partial" can mean that sunlight is filtered by some obstruction -- such as the foliage of shade tree -- or that a location places a plant in shade for part of the day. Optimal locations for many sages offer full sun in the morning and partial shade in the afternoon. This is beneficial for plants that need protection from full sun at its most intense time of day, which can cause flower petals to fade, make soil overly dry, and wilt plants. South American Friendship Sage (S. 'Amistad') and Telegraph Avenue Dwarf Mountain Sage (S. microphylla 'Telegraph Avenue') are examples of Salvias that appreciate a mix of sun and partial shade.

Partial to Full Shade. Some Salvias need partial shade throughout the day, such as Cambridge Blue Gentian Sage (S. patens 'Cambridge Blue') and Cedar Sage (S. roemeriana). 

A few sages among this group tolerate locations with full shade (also called "deep shade") where they receive little or no sun. Full shade occurs under trees dense with foliage or on the north side of structures. One Asian woodland example is Makino (S. glabrescens 'Shi Ho'), which also does well planted in a location providing morning sun and afternoon shade.

Shades of Confusion
So, the answer to the question of how much sun Salvias need is "It depends." Please call or email us at FBTS if you remain confused about a plant's sun exposure needs after reading its description. A little bit of advice can shed a lot of light on confusion.

Edited Nov 20, 2020 04:00 PM
Alicia Rudnicki for FBTS


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