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Meet the perennial sages.

It's a growing clan, the perennial sages (salvia); Western nurseries now carry a wider selection of them than ever. Leaves come in colors ranging from chilly whites and silver-grays to more vibrant bluegreens. Flowers are white, blue, or warmer tones of peach, magenta, and red. And plant sizes range from compact 1-foot mounds to a towering 6 feet. The fact that this is the fourth consecutive dry year in many parts of the West is reason enough to introduce these salvias into your garden. Many of them are drought tolerant, with some especially ones native to Southern California and Mexico-extremely so. Most are tough, undemanding, prolific bloomers that stand up to heat. Many attract bees and hummingbirds. Salvias for beds, borders, and pots The list on page 98 offers a sampling of 14 perennial salvias suitable for home gardens. Some are in bloom now; others bloom in fall. Starting this month, look for plants at nurseries in 4-inch pots (about $3) and 1-gallon cans (about $5). Most we list are from Mediterranean climates and are frost tender; in cold climates, grow hardy ones such as S superba, or more tender ones such as S. farinacea as annuals. Which salvias for dry gardens? Researchers at UC Riverside recently tested 70 commonly available herbaceous or shrubby salvias to find the best ones for dry inland gardens. They varied watering regimens among test plants, from one 2inch irrigation every 2, 4, 8, or 16 weeks to rainfall alone. S. clevelandii and S leucantha performed best, requiring less than 2 inches of supplemental water between May I and October 1. Also good were S leucophylla, which required 4 inches of supplemental water in summer and S. greggii, which required 4 to 8. Planting and care In most Western states, perennial salvias are best planted in fall, just before the rainy season begins (in desert gardens, plant after summer's high temperatures have cooled). But nursery supplies are better when plants are in bloom. Set plants out as soon as possible in a sunny spot with well-drained soil (California native salvias, especially, require excellent drainage). Amend heavy clay or sandy soils with organic matter. If you live where water is limited, you can replant salvias in larger containers for the summer, then transplant into the garden in fall to take advantage of winter rains. To get plants established, water regularly through summer. Most salvias are only moderate feeders; work a complete controlled-release fertilizer, such as 10-1010, into the soil once a year after new growth appears. On all salvias, cut back spent flower spikes to prolong bloom. After bloom in fall, cut back herbaceous kinds such as S. superba and S. farinacea to their basal foliage clumps. Prune back woody stemmed kinds such as S. greggii by a third after danger of frost is past.

14 of the showiest for fillers, shrubs, accents PLANT SINGLY, OR GROUP IN CLUSTERS OR HEDGES S. azarea grandiflora (blue sage). Gentian blue flowers bloom in late summer. Plants (3 to 5 feet tall) have elongated, narrow shape; grow them among shorter plants for support. S. coccinea (scarlet sage). Little blooms fleck upright spikes through summer. 'Brenthurst' has pretty shell-pink flowers; Crimson King' bears bright fire-enginered blooms. Stems are brittle; take care @when planting. Cold, wet soil can kill the plant; in mild climates, it overwinters in light,, well-drained soil. In cold-winter climates, grow it as an annual, or plant in pots you can move to a protected spot. This is a choice plant for cottage gardens. Grows to 2 to 3 feet tall. S. greggii (autumn sage). Little orchid-shaped flowers in peach, white, scarlet, magenta, red, or deep burgundy speckle this evergreen shrub most heavily in spring and fall. In the low desert, peach and red flowers tend to fade in intense sun. Grows 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall. Raspberry Royale', a hybrid of greggii and S lemmonii, bears brilliant blooms the color of raspberry sherbet. S. guaranitica. Late spring through summer, long, dark sapphire-blue tubeshiped flowers create an all-day nectar bar for hummingbirds. Mint-groen leaves have pale undersides. Not for disciplined gardens: it's a big, 4-foot dome. In most climates, dies back to the ground in winter. Purple Majesty', a hybrid of guaranitica and S. gesneraeflora, has deep purple flowers. S. leacantha (Mexican bush sage). Velvety purple blooms with tiny white centers appear nearly all year on tall arching stems. Gray-green leaves are woolly to touch. Combines well with Scaevola Mauve Clusterg' and lavender-flowered lantana. Shrub to 4 feet. Set plants about 2 1/2 feet apart for a hedge. FOR POTS, EDGINGS, OR FILLERS S. chamaedryoides. Deep blue flowers appear over a long season late spring into fall) on this soft-stemmed evergreen shrub with silver-gray foliage. Plants grow to 2 feet tall. S. farinacea (mealy-cup sage). Many spikes of deep blue or white flowers bloom late spring through summer above neat green mounds. 'Blue Bedder' has deep lavender flowers. Victoria' is a more intense purple. Alba' has white flowers. Most often grown as an annual. Grows to 21/2 feet tall. S. superba. Flower spikes rise from low woody tuft of blue-green leaves in summer. 'East Friesland' has deep blue flowers, May Night' has dark reddish-purple flowers, and Rose Queen' has magenta-pink flowers. Cut off spent bloom spikes at their base to keep plants blooming into fall. Most stay below 2 feet tall. FOR ACCENTS, BACKDROPS, WILD GARDENS S. clevelandii. Tall spikes of lavender-blue flowers with big tufted centers bloom late spring into summer. Fuzzy silver-gray leaves are handsome in sunlight, have a chaparral aroma. This Southern California native is best in wild or native plant gardens; it's a rangy 4- to 5-foot shrub. S 'Allen Chickering', a hybrid, is often sold as S clevelandii but is tougher, longer-lived, and has paler flowers. S. elegans (pineapple sage). Long scarlet tubes-especially attractive to hummingbirds--bloom from late summer into winter on this sprawler. Likes some light shade; needs more water than most salvias, except on the coast. Frost kills it back. Rub the leaves; they smell like pineapple. Plant grows to 5 feet tall and more than twice as wide. S. Indigo Spires'. Looks like a giant S farinacea (see above) with long spikes of deep purple flowers. Needs deadheading frequently to keep stems from flopping. Cut back to the ground in winter. Reaches 4 to 6 feet tall. S. involucrata (rosy-leaf sage). Knobby bracts of pink or rosy red top long stems in late summer or autumn. This showy herbaceous perennial with glossy, deep green leaves likes to sprawl (around 5 feet tall and as wide). Provide support. S. lemcophylla (purple sage). Pinkish lavender flowers above whitish gray leaves from mid- to late spring. A Southern California native, it combines well with S clevelandii, manzanita, and saffron buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum). Plants can reach 5 feet tall. S. uliginosa (bog sage). Through summer, this tall, upright perennial bears long sprays of sky-blue flowers with white markings paradise for bees. Give it support of a fence, stakes, or other plants; it's especially handsome combined with old roses in pink shades (such as Madame Berkeley'). Although it can take lots of water, it thrives, blooms, and doesn't sprawl as much when watering is limited to a few times in summer in all but hottest climates. Grows to 6 feet tall.
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Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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