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How to grow salvias

Val Bourne / 25 June 2012

Salvias sparkle in full sun and the summer-flowering varieties with woody stems are tough enough to survive harsh winters, given good drainage.

Purple salvia growing in the gardern
Salvias are sun-loving plants from high-altitude positions, so good drainage is essential for survival

Woody summer-flowering salvias are derived from two species - Salvia microphylla (mountain sage) and Salvia greggii (Autumn sage).

Salvia microphylla inhabits a large area including south-eastern Arizona and the mountains of eastern, western and southern Mexico. Most forms have magenta-red flowers.

The less hardy Salvia greggii sometimes has peach, white or yellow flowers. It’s rarer and only found in a narrow band running southwards between south-west Texas and Mexico. However, I fail to overwinter Salvia greggii from year to year.

Read our guide to late-season performers for your garden

Where to plant

Salvias are sun-loving plants from high-altitude positions, so good drainage is essential for survival with almost all salvias.

When to prune

These hardy salvias should be left to flower late into the year and then allowed to overwinter without being cut down. Cut them down once new shoots appear in the spring, taking out any dead wood. They can survive down to 14F if well-drained.

When to take cuttings

Shrubby salvia cuttings can be taken easily from this year’s growth. Normally shrubby salvias produce side shoots. Pull these away gently and leave the heel intact – that is, do not trim. Place in a 50 per cent mix of sand and compost and they will root easily.

If your greenhouse is unheated, leave the cuttings in situ until next spring and then pot them up individually. Keep them on the dry side over winter and protect with fleece if the temperature plummets. Plant them out in May.

Read our guide to taking softwood cuttings

Grow with…

Wand-like salvias mix well together and it’s possible to grow reds, pinks and purples together as the small flowers blend beautifully, almost forming a hedge.

Dark-leaved sedums (like 'Purple Emperor’) and the dark eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy’ also highlight the flowers well.

Visit our Home and Garden section for gardening guides, home improvement tips and much more.

Varieties of hardy shrubby salvias for June-to-November Flower

'Silas Dyson’
Deep-purple buds frame wide-lipped crimson flowers that fade slightly to a rich red. Very floriferous. 3 ft/90 cm.

'Dyson’s Crimson’
This descendant of 'Silas Dyson’ is more compact with dark-maroon calices clasping crimson-red flowers. The distinctive, almost heart-shaped foliage is matt green. 2 ft/60 cm.

Salvia x jamensis 'Peter Vidgeon’
This lilac-pink salvia, a new colour break, was raised by salvia enthusiast Robin Middleton. A contrast to reds, crimsons and purples. 2ft/60 cm.

Salvia x jamensis ‘Raspberry Royale’
An upright plant producing raspberry-purple flowers. 3ft/90 cm.

Salvia ‘Dyson’s Crimson’
A similar colour to ‘Silas Dyson’ but with darker green leaves and a more compact habit. 2ft/60 cm.

Salvia Darcyi
Long inflorescences of bright, coral-red flowers from July to November. Dies back to its rootstock in winter, but very hardy. 3ft/90 cm.

Salvia ‘Christine Yeo’
This extremely hardy hybrid between S. microphylla and S. chamaedryoides was discovered in the Devon garden of former National Collection holder Christine Yeo. Violet purple flowers, but not as floriferous as many. 3ft/90 cm.

Salvia microphylla ‘Wild Watermelon’
A fast-growing , vigorous salvia with greyish calices holding wide-lipped bright-pink flowers. Very eye-catching. Up to 4ft/120cm.

Salvia microphylla ‘Icing Sugar’
Striking bi-coloured pink and purple flowers and an offspring of the red and white ‘Hot Lips’. 3ft/90 cm.

Salvia ‘Dyson’s Joy’
This bi-coloured pink and purple salvia, bred by William Dyson and launched in 2011, has a compact habit. Worldwide Plant Breeders Rights to be applied for. 2ft/60 cm.

Salvia 'Red Velvet’
Glossy leaves and hot-red flowers, but not as hardy as most. 3ft/90 cm.

Salvia ‘Stormy Pink’
A sprawling salvia that flows with cream-tinted pink flowers held in dark calices and dark, smoky foliage - hence the name. 3ft/90 cm.

Where to buy

Dyson’s Nursery Great Comp Garden -

Ashwood Nurseries -

Did you know...

In the early 1990s, the botanist James Compton discovered a new hybrid between the two in the Sierra Madre range in north-western Mexico, where the two species overlap. This plant was found near Jame, in Mexico, and subsequently called S. x jamensis after the village. This led to a greater range of subtler colours with more hardiness.

Its arrival excited William Dyson, now the curator at Great Comp Garden in Kent, and the sandy Kent soil and climate suited them. William now propagates and sells over 200 salvias and roughly half belong to this shrubby group.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.