Salvia greggii ‘Blue Note’ (Autumn Sage)

Salvia greggii ‘Blue Note’ (Autumn Sage)

The largest genus in the Lamiaceae family, drought tolerant Salvia is a great plant for the dry California landscape. This particular Saliva, ‘Blue Note’ has stunning true blue flowers that seem to be lit from within. It blooms June through November, and its compact size makes it an excellent choice for containers or mixed perennial beds. The foliage grows on slender stems and the glossy green leaves are quite aromatic. The lovely blue flowers attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds to the garden. Pair ‘Blue Note’ with Coreopsis ‘Early Sunrise’, Rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer’, or any other yellow flowering plant for a bold pop of color.

Salvia greggii, or Autumn Sage are shrub sages, some of which die to the ground in the winter, returning in the spring with fresh, delicate foliage and bloom. ‘Blue Note’ will be evergreen in coastal areas of California, and can tolerate mild frosts, but will be deciduous in colder inland areas during the winter. Salvia greggii ‘Blue Note’ thrives in Sunset Climate Zones 8-24. It will grow easily in well drained soil and full sun to a height and width of 1 foot. Although ‘Blue Note’ is drought tolerant once established, it will look its best if given moderate watering. An interesting fact: All sages have whorls of two lipped flowers, and a square shaped stem. Check it out! It’s a good identification tool.

We are currently growing Salvia greggii ‘Blue Note’ in 1 gallon containers. Give us a call, check out our website clearwatercolor.com and follow us on Facebook to see what’s happening around the nursery.

Salvia greggii

Give your garden a splash of color courtesy of a drought-tolerant beauty: autumn sage. Known botanically as Salvia greggii, autumn sage goes by several common names among gardeners, including cherry sage, Gregg’s sage and Texas sage. This perennial is hardy in Zones 7 to 9, although some varieties like ‘Wild Thing’ boast hardiness to Zone 6.
Salvia greggii is native to Southwest Texas and into the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico. Once established, the plants survive on little water and make great additions to xeriscape or low water-use landscapes. It’s important not to plant Salvia greggii where it receives regular water from an automated irrigation system. Plants can’t survive overly wet soils. This sage plant tolerates heat and humidity, too.
Like many sages, Salvia greggii prefers a lean, sharply draining soil. Plants grow well in alkaline soils, as well as rocky soils. Too much fertilizer can actually kill this perennial. Give Salvia greggii a full sun location except in hottest regions, where a little afternoon shade is beneficial to plants.
Leaves on Salvia greggii are narrow, leathery and aromatic. The narrow shape and leathery texture are adaptations to a desert environment, helping to reduce water loss from leaves. The aromatic qualities are in keeping with plants in the sage family. This perennial is deer-resistant, thanks to the smelly leaves.
Despite its common name of autumn sage, this is a perennial that boasts a long flower season. Blooms appear on this plant in spring, summer and fall. Strongest flowering occurs in spring and fall, with more sporadic blooms during the heat of summer. Salvia greggii usually opens blossoms in shades of red, although varieties exist that have flowers in pink, purple, white and orange.
Hummingbirds mob this plant, especially the red-flowered types. Autumn sage is also a good addition to a butterfly garden. The plants have a strong vase shape, with branches emerging from the base of the plant. Salvia greggii grows to varying sizes, depending on where it’s growing and how it’s pruned. Plants can grow up to 4 feet high with a spread up to 2 feet.
Many gardeners keep autumn sage from becoming a sprawling tangle by pruning twice each year. Cut plants back to 4 inches high in late winter. New growth will emerge in spring from stems and soil. Make a second pruning in August, cutting plants back by half. This results in a flush of new stems that will flower in fall.
In cold climates, try growing Salvia greggii in containers. Prune plants in late fall before bringing pots indoors for overwintering. You can wait to let a killing frost zap stems, or cut them before frost, although if the plant is blooming, you won’t want to trim stems. Store plants in a cool, bright location for winter. Barely water through winter—just a dribble once a month to keep roots alive. Place plants outside again in late spring as temperatures warm.

How & When to Prune an Autumn Sage Plant

Autumn sage, known botanically as Salvia greggii, is a flowering perennial semi-evergreen herb that grows in small shrub form, reaching 3 feet in height and spread at maturity. Native to Mexico and Texas, autumn sage is hardy in zones 8 through 11 and thrives in rocky, well-drained soil. Autumn sage flowers from spring through to fall, most commonly in a deep crimson color but also in white, pink, yellow, salmon and purple. It is grown in beds and borders and planted en masse as a draw for hummingbird activity in the garden. While it does not require regular pruning to encourage growth and bloom, autumn sage can be kept to a tighter, neater form with pruning.

Prune your autumn sage twice a year in the late winter after all flowering has ceased and again in August to keep the plant more compact in size.

Shear the plant to just 4 inches above the crown during the winter pruning session. Clear away all of the cuttings to make room for spring growth to emerge.

Prune away 1/2 of the plant height and mass during the summer pruning session in August to reduce the size of the shrub and create a tight mound of new green growth and flowers.

Prune away any damaged, diseased or dead branches or foliage throughout the year as needed. Place cuts back to the point of healthy tissue or cut the branch all the way back to the crown to encourage a new branch to be sent up.

Salvia leucantha “Santa Barbara.” It has a compact growth habit & the flowers are a rich purple.

Salvias are popular all the world over and are so versatile because they can comfortably fit into many styles of gardens from old fashioned cottage right up to modern simplistic.

They grow well here in California where our Mediterranean climate suits them to a tee and they’re loved because of their long bloom time. It’s an added bonus that their nonthirsty ways are so appropriate for the water starved western US.

I first learned all about perennial salvias in the San Francisco Bay Area where I was a professional gardener for over 15 years. The nursery where I worked in Berkeley sold many different species and varieties of them.

This post is all about sharing what I know about pruning (this is the big cut back, not the dead heading you do throughout the season) the two most popular types of perennial salvias which you probably have in your own garden.

Plus, I also mention a 3rd type which you may not be familiar with.

I did a post on pruning perennial salvias a few years ago but the video that went with it was under 2 minutes long. Time for an update with much more detail. I filmed this longer video in my client’s garden in Pacifica, CA (just south of SF) in early December:

I’ll be talking about pruning salvias here in coastal California. You can tweak the process for your climate zone if they’re perennials where you live. There’s a long standing debate of sorts about giving salvias their big pruning in fall vs spring. It’s simply a matter of preference. I go back and forth on this topic but these days am more a proponent of fall/winter pruning. I sometimes find it necessary to do a light “clean up” pruning in early spring too.

We have lots of year round interest in our gardens so that’s why I prefer to do it in mid to late fall. This way the plant looks better over the winter months and growth is nice and fresh earlier on in spring. If you’re in a colder climate, just make sure to prune in the a fall well before the threat of frost and after the last chance of it has passed in spring.

Salvia elegans, or Pineapple Sage.

#1 The Deciduous Herbaceous Salvias.

This category includes: Salvia elegans, S. guaranitica, S. leucantha, S. waverley, S. ulignosa & S. patens.

With these salvias the old growth eventually dies out and the fresh new growth emerges from the base of the base. They have softer stems which either die off and/or freeze. These types of salvias are better to prune in spring (in colder climates) because the old growth will protect the fleshy new growth over the winter. In the video you see me working on a Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage), Salvia elegans (Pineapple Sage) and Salvia Waverley which I just talk about. These salvias are very simple to prune.

When they’re through flowering, simply cut those stems all the way down to the ground. It needs to be done once or twice a year. They will still flower if you don’t but you’ll get more blooms and the plant will look 100% better if you do. Here in Santa Barbara the leucanthas and the waverleys get huge. Many of them are not cut back leaving a tangle of dead twisted stems and they look like a ratty mess. I want to prune them all back but don’t want to get arrested for trespassing!

So, it’s best to give them the shearing back they need because this lets in the light and air they need to regrow. That allows the soft new growth to appear at the base. Another thing to know is that these salvias tend to spread as they grow so you might have to do a bit of dividing.

Salvia microphylla “Hot Lips”.

#2 The Herbaceous Salvias With Woody Stems.

This category includes: Salvia greggii (there are so many of these!), S. chamaedryoides, S. coccinea and S. microphylla (there are quite a few microphyllas too). These are the shrubby salvias.

You prune these salvias back after flowering but not all the way. Take them back to at least where the first set of foliage starts on the flower stem – this could be a pinch or you can take them down further if they need it. I learned the hard way on an established plant to not cut it down to 3″. It never fully came back and out it came.

With these types of salvias I thin out what I want in the middle and then shape the plant so it’s pleasing to the eye. They usually go through 3 bloom cycles throughout the year here. We have a long growing season. I give them their “more intense” pruning in late fall or early winter and lighter ones in late spring and mid summer.

Be sure to take out any growth which has died over the winter. If you don’t give these salvias some type of pruning they will get extremely woody and won’t repeat bloom like you want them to. Plus, they get straggly and sparse – not a pretty sight in the garden.

In my years of working with salvias I found that some needed to be replaced before or around the 5 year mark. This is especially true with this type. Perennials don’t live forever after all. No worries though because they grow fast, especially if you purchase a 1 gallon plant.

Salvia nemorosa “May Night”.

#3 The Rosette Forming Herbaceous Salvias

This category includes: Salvia nemorosa, S. x superba & S. penstemonoides.

These salvias form low rosettes (which are evergreen here) and the stems with more foliage and the flowers emerge out of them. The 1 that you see me pruning in the video is Salvia nemorosa (Meadow or Woodland Sage) and I’ve found that this has a very long bloom time.

I prune the stems all the way down to the rosette and also clean up any dead foliage growing close to the ground. The leaves tend to grow densely on this 1 so the undergrowth gets smothered.

Bottom line: It’s best to know which kind of salvia you have before springing into action with the pruners. All 3 types of perennial salvias really benefit from a good haircut. You’ll get much better flowering and shape if you do so. Whether you prune in fall or spring is up to you. Just keep those salvia blooms coming please – the hummingbirds and butterflies agree!

Happy Gardening!

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