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Mexican Sage
by Traci Gilland


Photo courtesy of Traci Gilland.

Sages are always top performers and Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) is no different. A fantastic bloomer, it adds spectacular deep purple color to the late-season garden, and is a prime food source for hummingbirds. Its native range is Mexico and southern Texas, but it is a fine contender in most Southern gardens.

Mexican sage is a large, spreading plant with upright stems of gray-green foliage. Leaves are fine textured and covered with a soft, dense pubescence that borders on being furry. It has a very open habit and can become leggy if not properly irrigated during the summer months. It bears dense spikes of white or purple flowers with showy purple calyxes starting in mid-September and continuing on until hard frost.

An underused plant, Mexican sage has several applications in the home landscape. It makes a fantastic specimen in the perennial garden either en masse or as a single plant. It also will bring in loads of hummingbirds and butterflies to feed on the trumpet-like flowers. The gray-green foliage makes a lovely contrast against concrete or wooden structures in a background border. It can also be used as a focal point in containers surrounded by complementary colors such as reds, oranges or yellows.

Container growing also allows plants to be moved indoors for overwintering in colder climates. Flower spikes add a distinct aroma and texture to floral displays, and the spikes will last for many days.

Mexican sage will tolerate some afternoon shade, especially in very hot, dry areas, but prefers full sun. Like many of its cousins, Mexican sage will grow in a wide variety of soil conditions, the only exception being wet or poorly drained soils. Fertility is rarely a concern unless the soil is unusually sandy.

Plants transplanted in spring will easily flower the same fall. During the driest months of summer, irrigation may be required to keep plants full and encourage new growth. Even with proper irrigation, a late summer pruning may be necessary to rejuvenate leggy plants. This will delay flowering by seven to 10 days, but will certainly improve the quality and quantity of flowers. If needed, prune plants to 10 inches in mid-August. Late summer pruning can also be used to extend the bloom period. Cut back select plants so they will be blooming just as its neighbors are finishing. The final pruning should be made after the first hard frost. Once top growth has been killed back, cut foliage to ground and remove. Mulch the root zone well for winter protection.

‘All Purple’ has both purple calyxes and purple flowers. It’s a wonderful variety, and you also see it in the trade as ‘Midnight’.

Mexican sage can be propagated by division, cuttings and seed. Cuttings can readily be taken in late summer, rooted and held over for transplant the following spring. Setting aside cuttings in the fall for planting in late spring is perhaps the best way to ensure this plant has a continued presence in the landscape in cooler climates.

 


Photo courtesy of Samantha Snyder.

Common Name: Mexican sage, Mexican bush sage

Varieties To Look For: ‘All Purple’

Color: Purple or white flowers, gray-green foliage

Blooming Period: Depending on your location, blooming starts in late August to mid-September and continues to frost.

Type: Tender perennial or warm-weather annual

Size: 2 to 4 feet

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: Mid to late spring

How to Plant: Level with soil surface

Soil: Well-drained, average to rich fertility

Watering: Evenly moist, no wet feet 

When to Prune:  Late summer to encourage fullness; cut to ground after frost.

When to Fertilize: Spring

Other Maintenance: Mulch heavily to carry over in Zones 7-9

In the Landscape:  Use this plant as a specimen or in the border. It will attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

 

 

Posted September 2011

 




 

       

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