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The Genus Salvia

Posted on 17th February 2016

The Genus Salvia contains a diverse range of decorative and culinary plants and includes annuals, herbaceous perennials and sub shrubs. A member of the mint family originating mainly from central and south America, Asia and the Mediterranean. The most decorative forms are the sub shrubs which we grow for their abundant lipped flowers.

It is these warmer climates that they have evolved in that have determined the hardiness of these plants and some of the edible and decorative varieties can be severely damaged in a hard winter but in many cases the roots will often survive resulting in a late but determined comeback the following summer. Even though they are susceptible to damage in the winter, don’t be tempted to cut them back until spring, the faded stems will help to protect the root system and the dormant buds that will produce the new growth from the base. Cutting back is best left until early-mid April when the growing season begins but the new growth will take a while to come through. The main display from these colourful and often fragrant plants is summer and autumn as they do tend to come into growth fairly late.

As a precautionary measure, you can take softwood cuttings in the autumn and overwinter your cuttings in a frost free greenhouse for early flowering and back up against a very harsh winter that can finish them off. Softwood cuttings take as little as 3 weeks to start rooting for some species such as Salvia elegans and Salvia microphylla  while others for example Salvia guaranitica is a little bit trickier and benefits from bottom heat and drying out between waterings.

These lipped and tubular flowers are excellent for bees as they have evolved to only allow the right pollinator in to reach the nectar inside the tubular flowers when a heavy bee lands on the bottom lips the flower opens up and allows them in. They provide a good supply of late season nectar and will often flower well into November and even December if we don’t get an early snowfall or hard frost.

The flowers range in colour from pinks, creams, reds, purples and blues and include some electric blues as well as almost black purples. The foliage of Salvia elegans ‘Tangerine Sage’ and ‘Scarlet Pineapple’ is very aromatic as well as the Blackcurrant sage Salvia microphylla var. microphylla adding scent and a very sensory experience if planted down the side of a frequently used path.