Salvias are a super selection for summer color

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Here at the LSU AgCenter, we choose new Louisiana Super Plant selections each fall and spring. Usually, only a particular cultivar or variety of a plant receives this prestigious designation. But this year, we couldn’t pick just one.

Salvias are an excellent addition to warm-season landscapes, and with a wide range of colors and sizes available, it was hard to decide on a favorite. So we gave the summer 2022 Louisiana Super Plant title to all of the salvias.

Louisiana Super Plants are university-tested, industry-approved plants that not only are beautiful but also can stand up to Louisiana’s climate. Salvias fit the bill perfectly.

Salvias are the largest member of the sage family, with thousands of species found all over the world. Hundreds of species are native to the Americas. Salvias are herbaceous, flowering plants with both annual and perennial types. They are profuse bloomers and highly attractive to pollinators.

Flowers are tall spikes called racemes or panicles and come in bright colors of blue, pink, purple and red — and sometimes white and yellow. The flowers are often tubular or bell shaped, making them attractive to pollinators such as hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. All salvias have high nectar content.

Salvias are most prolific when they are planted in full sun and in well-drained soils. Because of their height, salvias are best planted towards the middle or back of flowerbeds. They are stunning when planted en masse. Salvias also do well in container plantings alone or paired with a spiller. They make a great addition to pollinator and cottage-themed gardens.

Many salvias are drought tolerant once established. They have few pests or disease problems. Fertilize in early spring with a slow-release granular fertilizer or with a liquid feed a few times during the extended flowering season.

Salvias come in a wide range of heights and spreads. Most of them reach heights of 2 to 4 feet with the same spread. Space plants at 24 to 36 inches for best growth.

Salvias grow quickly and will provide color and greenery for a full look in no time. Keep them looking tidy into the fall by lightly pruning. Many varieties do not require deadheading; however, doing so will encourage new flowers. Many are perennials and will come back each spring after freezing temperatures. Plants with freeze damage can be trimmed in spring before new growth emerges.

Annual salvias are warm-season performers, while perennial types will bloom year-round if not killed back by frost or freezes and come back year after year from hardy roots. Salvia often self-propagates, so you might find seedlings you can use in other parts of your landscape.

The colorful, slender, tubular blooms of these plants make great cut flowers and will last for several days in a vase indoors. With so many colors to choose from, include a wide variety to add dimension to your gardens and provide options for pollinators.

The LSU AgCenter has recommended some selections based on excellent performance in trials at its Hammond Research Station. You can use some of them to create a red, white and blue display just in time for July 4 celebrations.

Roman Red has showy, crimson flowers on upright, compact plants. It looks stunning in a mass planting and can be used as a border accent. A native red salvia is scarlet sage, also known as red sage (Salvia coccinea). It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with its rich red, tubular flowers that appear from spring through fall. It is fairly drought tolerant.

White Flame provides white flowers on a compact habit and has excellent heat performance. It matches Mystic Spires salvia in height. Mystic Spires Blue Improved is a great blue salvia in a compact form that produces tons of true blue flowers. It is heat and humidity tolerant and is “improved” because it sheds its dead petals, keeping a cleaner look. Blue Suede Shoes, a hybrid salvia selection from the Rockin’ series of salvias, has light blue flowers, each with a black calyx.

These tough plants are heat and drought tolerant, and the pollinators are smitten too. Add sensational salvias to your gardens this summer and enjoy the show.

Rockin' blue suede shoes salvias.

Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes hybrid salvia provides excellent blue color for the landscape. Photo by Ashley Edwards/LSU AgCenter

White flame salvias.

White Flame salvia is a heat-tolerant, profuse white-blooming salvia. Photo by Ashley Edwards/LSU AgCenter

Red salvias.

Salvias perform well in containers. These red, tubular flowers are pollinator magnets. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

5/26/2022 1:28:01 PM
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