Salvia is a large genus of plants that encompasses a wide range of garden plants including flowering perennials, annuals and herbs.

Perennial Salvia

Few perennials are as long blooming, hardy and reliable – and yet so misunderstood and underappreciated – as perennial Salvias.  When properly tended they can provide 8-10 weeks of bloom. Unfortunately, many gardeners are unfamiliar with the proper maintenance of perennial Salvia and end up disappointed in their performance. Johnson’s Gardens commonly carries the following varieties:

All are deer/rabbit resistant, drought tolerant, attractive to butterflies and cold hardy to Zone 3.

  • ‘Marcus’ – 8”-10” dwarf with deep violet flowers
  • ‘May Night’ – 18”-24” violet-blue flower spikes
  • ‘Blue Hill’ – 12”-24” blue flower spikes
  • ‘Sensation Deep Rose’ – 12” lavender-pink flower spikes
  • ‘Sensation Sky Blue’ – 10”-12” blue flower spikes on compact plant
  • ‘Caradonna’ – 24”-30” tall with incredibly deep violet-blue flowers, accented with red, on sturdy dark colored stems. Combine with yellow flowers for a striking color grouping. My favorite!
salvia nemerosa perennial blue hill sensation deep rose caradonna johnson's gardens cedarburg

Left: Salvia ‘Blue Hill’ | Middle: Salvia ‘Sensation Deep Rose’ | Right: Salvia ‘Caradonna’

Care For Salvia

The key to getting the most out of your perennial Salvia is proper pruning, as they require a mid-season “haircut” in order to re-bloom and keep a clean habit. As with all perennials, cut off last season’s growth prior to current season’s growth emerging in the spring. In late spring your Salvia will produce abundant spires of slender flowers. Depending on variety, the flower color will be either rose, cream or shades of blue to violet. Height, again depending on variety, will be from 8” to 30”. This first flush of bloom will last 4 to 5 weeks. Once most of the flowers have faded, cut the entire plant down to the basal foliage. This will rejuvenate the plant and produce a new crop of fresh foliage and a second 4-5 weeks’ worth of flowers. Without this severe haircut, Salvia will flop outward in a birdnest manner and stop blooming, which is how it sometimes earns its undeserved bad name.

salvia nemerosa perennial care pruning johnson's gardens cedarburg

Annual Salvia

There are several species of Salvia which we grow as annuals here in Zone 5.

  • S. splendens – This species produces prolific very showy large tubular flowers all summer. The most commonly seen color is a true fire-engine red.
  • S. farinacea – Slender spikes of pale blue all summer long. Popular as a bedding plant
  • S. guaranitica – A cultivar called ‘Black & Blue’ is the most popular and is a Hummingbird magnet! It produces deep cobalt blue flowers with black calyces. This one doesn’t begin blooming until mid-summer but will continue through fall, if deadheaded.
salvia nemerosa perennial splendens farinacea guaranitica black and blue johnson's gardens cedarburg

Left: S. splendens | Middle: S. farinacea | Right: S. guaranitica ‘Black & Blue’

Culinary Salvia (“Sage”)

Common Sage (Salvia officinalis) – A perennial, native to the Mediterranean region, grown in Wisconsin as an annual. It has woody stems, silver-grey leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a staple herb that is used in meat dishes, sausages, stuffing and tea.

  • ‘Aurea’ – Golden variegated foliage
  • ‘Tricolor’ – Variegated leaves are cream, purple & green
  • ‘Purpurescens’ – Purple shaded leaves
  • ‘Berggharten’ – Larger silver/green leaves. This is the hardiest of the group and may overwinter in zone 5, with protection.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) – Grown as an annual, Pineapple Sage can grow to 36” in a single season. The foliage has a mild pineapple flavor and can be harvested fresh for use in salads, desserts, cold drinks or as a garnish. Dried leaves can be used to make herbal tea, used in jellies and in potpourri. Brilliant red funnel shaped flowers aren’t produced until late summer so the plant is grown primarily for its foliage.

salvia nemerosa perennial officinalis common sage pineapple johnson's gardens cedarburg

by Zannah Crowe