Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spire

These spectacular plants, also known as Russian Sage are incredibly popular right now, and it’s easy to see why.

Producing impressive tall spires of silvery leaves topped with spikes of gorgeous, tiny, violet purple bell-shaped flowers bloom in late summer. Loved by butterflies and bees, it makes a great cut flower with its lovely scent, which is a mixture of sage and lavender. Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spire holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Native to central Asia, Russian Sage’s natural habitat is on dry plains and they are natural sun lovers. They are deciduous shrubs which, once established, are hassle free, drought tolerant (in fact they prefer it) and need an annual pruning in spring.

Planting

Perovskia will grow well in any soils, even poor or chalky, as long as they get really good drainage, water-logging will lead to root rot. They like to be in full sun and can withstand seaside air.

Prune hard annually in early to mid-spring for a healthy plant and better flowers that year. If you don’t they will come back week and floppy and generally be an untidy mess.

Cut back previous years flowering stems to within one or two buds of the older woody framework. Remove thin, weak and damaged growth. Then mulch and feed. For the first year keep them moist but not soggy to get them established. In following years they will withstand significant neglect!

They are best planted out in autumn when dormant – if you buy one that is in leaf in the spring be sure it hasn’t been growing in a poly tunnel as it may struggle when you expose it to the elements in your garden.

Companion planting

Russian sage is mainly used as an ornamental plant and is pretty versatile for pairing with lots of late summer ornamental grasses and perennials. You can create a really powerful display planting near other silver leafed perennials, near a lavender bush for example, and as both are bee magnets they are a great choice for wildlife friendly gardens. Tall bright coloured perennials will also look great with it in a mixed border, for examples look at Geums, Rudbeckia and Helenium to name a few!

You can also try under-planting with spring bulbs, such as Tulips or Alliums, as they will do well at hiding the bulbs foliage as it dies off in the summer.

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ (Russian Sage) – This is a hardy, upright multi-stemmed, sub-shrub or deciduous perennial that grows to 3 to 4 feet tall (to 5′ if well watered) with stems that are thin, white and covered with finely-divided feathery olive-green leaves, which emit a pleasant aroma when touched. The light fuzzy clusters of small lavender-blue flowers appear summer through early fall along the coast. Cut back to the lowest buds (nearly to the ground) in late fall as the plant tries to go dormant (leaves can linger here in our mild climate) or in early spring prior to new growth emerging. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil with occasional summer watering, though it is a tough plant that is resistant to drought, heat, pests and poor soils. It is hardy to USDA Zone 5a (-20°F). It is resistant to deer browsing and the flowers attract butterflies and honeybees and are nice in floral arrangements. This plant was originally received by Notcutts Nurseries of Suffolk, England from Germany. They named it and first exhibited it to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1961. It is thought to be a Perovskia atriplicifolia cultivar or a hybrid between P. atriplicifolia and P. abrotanoides. It received the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year award in 1995 and we have grown it continuously since 1989. The name Russian Sage is a bit of a misnomer. Perovskia is closely related to the genus Salvia (sages) but comes from southern Asia from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran east to China and was named for Russian General and Count, Vasily Alekseevich Perovsky, who campaigned in central Asia in the 1850s. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’.

How to grow: perovskia

Growing tips

In addition to a site with year-round sunshine, success with perovskia is all about pruning. In our climate the plants come late into leaf. They should be hard-pruned back to a little woody framework, no more than a few inches tall, just as they are beginning to leaf up. This will probably not be until mid-April.

If plants are pruned too early and too hard they may simply give up and die. If in doubt, it is best to wait until May when they will be in full growth. However, if perovskia is not pruned hard enough the growth can become lax and floppy, particularly when the plants are young. The untidy mess that ensues, while still attractive in a wild and woolly way, does not show the plant off to its best advantage and the flower spikes may get swamped by neighbouring plants.

In common with many aromatic, grey-leafed plants from more extreme climates than our own, perovskias actually seem to thrive on starvation rations and in parched places, putting on too much lush sappy growth if fed and watered, mulched and pampered along with the majority of our garden plants.

Another big advantage is that perovskia seems to be unattractive to leaf pests and not susceptible to disease. But beware of plants offered for sale too early in spring, already in leaf. They may have previously had the protection of the grower’s polytunnel and they may suffer a set-back from the cold if planted out too soon.

When planting, incorporate some grit into the soil to ensure perfect drainage, together with just a little bonemeal. Once the plants are established they will be generally trouble-free. Perovskia can be propagated from semi-hardwood cuttings taken in July.

Good companions

In planting schemes of grand proportions perovskia works well grouped en masse under big open skies, its silver shoots masking the fading leaves of underplanted spring tulips and alliums as summer advances, and eventually forming a shimmering blue haze when viewed from a distance.

For me, however, perovskia is at its best planted in a fairly tight group, hemmed in with other plants of slightly smaller stature that enjoy similar hot and sunny conditions in the garden – and it grows particularly well in gravel. In early summer its rising silver shoots are a magnificent foil to fellow blue-flowered, grey-leaved plants – Nepeta mussinii, dwarf lavenders, Cerinthe major, dainty calaminthas, eryngiums, purple sage and smokey-leafed Geranium pratense ‘Victor Reiter’. They look wonderful surrounded by clouds of self-seeded sky-blue Nigella damascena ‘Miss Jekyll’ and the upright heads of Allium nigrum. Later, as it achieves its full height and its hazy blue flowers develop, perovskia looks stunning among taller plants with more ethereal, late-summer presence: Verbena bonariensis, wafting grasses such as the Deschampsias that turn golden in late summer and the delicate smokey veil of lofty bronze fennel with its limey flowers.

Where to buy

Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’ is quite commonly available from garden centres and nurseries, often sold in late spring and early summer already in leaf. The new smaller variety P. ‘Little Spire’ is subject to Plant Breeders Rights and may be more difficult to find.

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Buy Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’ from gardenshop.telegraph.co.uk

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ (Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’)

Botanical name

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’

Other names

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’, Russian sage ‘Blue Spire’, Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’, Perovskia hybrida ‘Blue Spire’

Genus

Perovskia Perovskia

Variety or Cultivar

‘Blue Spire’ _ ‘Blue Spire’ is an erect, deciduous sub-shrub with deeply-divided, aromatic grey-green leaves and large, plumy panicles of violet-blue flowers in late summer and autumn.

Native to

Garden origin

Foliage

Deciduous

Habit

Erect

Awards

RHS AGM (Award of Garden Merit)

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Colour

Flower

Violet in Summer; Violet in Autumn

Grey-green in Summer; Grey-green in Autumn

How to care

Watch out for

Pests

Generally pest-free.

Diseases

Generally disease-free.

General care

Propagation methods

Semi-hardwood cuttings, Softwood cuttings

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Where to grow

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ (Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’) will reach a height of 1.5m and a spread of 1m after 2-5 years.

Suggested uses

City, Cottage/Informal, Drought Tolerant, Beds and borders, Gravel, Low Maintenance, Mediterranean, Prairie planting

Cultivation

Plant in poor, free-draining soil in full sun. Too fertile soil may boost ‘leggy’ growth and will require support to prevent the plant becoming untidy.

Soil type

Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy (will tolerate most soil types)

Soil drainage

Well-drained

Soil pH

Acid, Alkaline, Neutral

Light

Full Sun

Aspect

South, East, West

Exposure

Exposed, Sheltered

UK hardiness Note: We are working to update our ratings. Thanks for your patience.

Hardy (H4)

USDA zones

Zone 9, Zone 8, Zone 7, Zone 6

Defra’s Risk register #1

Plant name

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ (Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’)

Common pest name

tomato thrips

Scientific pest name

Ceratothripoides brunneus

Type

Insect

Current status in UK

Absent

Likelihood to spread to UK (1 is very low – 5 is very high)

Impact (1 is very low – 5 is very high)

General biosecurity comments

Thrips present in Africa; the Caribbean and parts of Asia; frequently intercepted in the UK. Can cause significant damage to tomatoes and other crops in countries where it is present. Europe wide PRA will consider its potential to establish and cause damage.

About this section

Our plants are under greater threat than ever before. There is increasing movement of plants and other material traded from an increasing variety of sources. This increases the chances of exotic pests arriving with imported goods and travellers, as well as by natural means. Shoot is working with Defra to help members to do their part in preventing the introduction and spread of invasive risks.

Traveling or importing plants? Please read “Don’t risk it” advice here

Suspected outbreak?

Date updated: 7th March 2019 For more information visit: https://planthealthportal.defra.gov.uk/

This perennial dies back to below ground level each year in autumn, then fresh new growth appears again in spring.

  • Position: full sun
  • Soil: well-drained, poor to moderately fertile
  • Rate of growth: average
  • Flowering period: August and September
  • Hardiness: fully hardy
    With its aromatic leaves and upright spikes of violet-blue flowers, Russian sage makes a wonderful companion to all kinds of late-summer ornamental grasses and perennials. Identified by the RHS as a plant which is ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ Russian sage will help attract and support bees and other pollinating and beneficial insects. It has also been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit for its garden worthiness.
    In August and September, tiny, violet-blue, tubular flowers appear on silver-grey spikes above the main framework of the plant, among deeply-cut and lobed, grey-green leaves. This deciduous sub-shrub makes a real impact planted en masse alongside a path, where the sage-like fragrance of its leaves can be appreciated, or try it alongside other silver-leaved plants, or in swathes in a sunny border. One of our recommended plants, it copes well with dry, chalky soil and salt-laden air.
  • Garden care: As this shrub has a tendancy to flop a little, in March cut back to the permanent framework of the shrub to promote bushier growth. After pruning apply a generous 5-7cm (2-3in) mulch of well-rotted garden compost or manure around the base of the plant.

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