Salvia – Slender spires of colour

Perennial salvia is rewarding to grow, and reliably produces delicate flower spikes in neat clumps year after year. It needs little care to flourish, as long as it gets the bright, dry conditions it prefers.

ANNUAL CALENDAR

SPRING

March-April:

To increase salvia stocks, dig up existing clumps and divide them, or sow seed of new varieties. Replant divisions in their flowering positions, incorporating rotted manure or compost.

SUMMER

June-July:

If plants need staking, use twigs or canes to provide light support.

August-September: Remove dead flower-heads as they lose colour.

AUTUMN

October-November:

Cut down all withered flower-heads and other dead stems, and add to the compost heap. Alternatively, remove flower-heads and leave stems as winter protection for the plant.

WINTER

December-February:

Make sure the plant is not in a permanently waterlogged site.

You may need to move it to a better site if you think it is in danger of rotting during winter months.

Propagating

Divide the clump in spring if desired. Use two garden forks back to back to prise the clump apart, then replant divisions in new sites. Salvia does not need division to keep it strong.

Growing from seed

As well as buying salvia ready-grown, you can grow it from seed. Sow seeds in trays of compost in March or April and put in a cool, light place until they germinate. When the seedlings are large enough to handle without damage, transfer them individually into 9cm pots and grow in these during the summer. Plant out in late summer or early autumn.

PLANT IN GROUPS

For a spectacular effect, plant salvia in a group of 3-5 individual plants.

This will produce a mound of colourful growth that continues its show of flowers throughout late summer.

Planting salvia in groups such as this always produces a more effective display than a single plant.

POPULAR VARIETIES

Variety, Colour, Height (cm)

Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’, blue-purple, 50 (’East Friesland’),

S. x superba, blue-purple, 60-90

S. x sylvestris ‘Blaukonigin’, purple, 30-50 (’Blue Queen’),

S. x sylvestris ‘Rose Queen’, rose-pink, 30-50

S alvia makes an impact in the border, and practically takes care of itself. It is easy to maintain, seldom needing either staking or dividing to keep it tidy.

Salvia hybrids belong to the same genus as the herb, sage, and they share similarly shaped leaves. They are useful plants for providing structure in a mixed bed, as they do not lose their neat shape even after several years.

Ideal situation

Salvia grows best in full sun, so provide it with the sunniest spot possible. Make sure it is not in a waterlogged site, or overwintering plants will die off very quickly. Salvia makes no other demands.

Planting

Prepare the site in the autumn or winter before planting. Dig the soil over and incorporate plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. Leave the soil to settle for a week or two after this. Buy and plant salvia from November to March, making sure to avoid planting in frosty weather or in a wet spell.

Place a container-grown plant in a hole deep enough so that the compost is level with the surface of the soil. Do not sink it deeper or you may encourage rot during wet and cold winter weather. Space plants’ 50cm apart.

Cultivating

Salvia does not require much attention after planting. Most varieties produce their hooded, tubular flowers from July to September. Those that reach 1m in height may need some support to stop them flopping over if they are growing in an exposed, windy site. Use stakes that are not too obvious, or you will ruin the look of the plant.

Remove the flower-heads as they fade to encourage a second flush of flowers. This will help prolong the flowering season well into September. After the last flowers have faded, cut off all the remaining dead flower-heads and burn or compost them. Either cut salvia down in autumn or leave the withered stems to act as protection for the dormant shoots over the winter months. In this case, cut back the dead growth in spring. Otherwise, salvia needs no further care during this period.

Salvia

SITUATION

Choose the warmest, sunniest site. Avoid planting in an exposed, windy situation, where taller varieties will need to be staked.

SOIL

Any type of soil, as long as it is well drained. Incorporate plenty of organic matter before planting to improve drainage and ensure the best display.

CARE

Deadhead (remove dead flower-heads) in summer to prolong flowering. No other care is required.

PLANT HEALTH

Salvia is not prone to pests or diseases. Plants may die off in winter due to waterlogged soil. Salvia will not tolerate its roots being in wet soil for long periods, so check if the soil needs extra grit added, or if plants should be relocated.

BUYING

There are many plants in the genus including the herb, sage, and creeping specimens. Check labels carefully when buying.

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