Looking for some pollinator friendly plants to add to your yard? Be sure to add some salvias. The salvia plant family is a magnet for all pollinators–including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Sun-loving salvias are easy to grow, beautiful, have a long bloom time, and are generally tolerant of dry conditions. Which means we humans like them too. And many of them work well in containers. There are several hundred different salvias; here are a few groups that are especially good for our bee populations.
Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) This salvia has the widest range of color. You can find them in reds, raspberry, corals, pinks, purple, and white. Despite its name, Autumn Sage blooms from early summer through the fall. Generally a compact subshrub with small leaves. Encourage healthy growth and repeat blooms by cutting back a third of the plant. A great choice for a drought tolerant garden and hot climates. Autumn Sages can be hardy to 10 degrees F or less, and some survive Zone 5. Check the zone requirements for each plant.
Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) Native to California, this Salvia does well in dry gardens. Full height will reach 12-24″ and width is at about 5′ wide. Does well on slopes. Considered vital to feeding honey bees and other pollinators. Songbirds enjoy their seeds. Zones 8-11.
Anise Sage (Sage guaranitica) One of my favorite salvias. Unlike other salvias, the leaves are shiny, and a darker green. Very dramatic in containers! The flowers can be a deep blue (look for ‘Black and Blue’), light blue (look for ‘Argentina Skies’) or purple (look for ‘Purple Splendor’). Plants can reach 4-6′ high–though mine are typically around 3′ high. A half-hardy annual, a perennial in Zones 7-10.
Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) The flowers on this shrub are beautiful. A native to southern California, Cleveland Sage is an evergreen and blooms in the summer. It is known for its fragrance, drought tolerance, and fire resistance. A good choice for naturalizing large areas. One of the larger salvias at 3 to 5 feet tall and 5 to 8 feet wide. Zones 8-11.
Mealy Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea) Colors are more true-blue and less purple. Also available in white. 1-2 ft. tall. Commonly sold as an annual, though a perennial in Zones 7 and above.
Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) This salvia is more shrub-like, growing to 3-5 ft. The flowers have purple bracts, with white or purple blooms. The leaves are a grey-green color. A hummingbird and butterfly favorite. Very drought tolerant. A great choice for flower beds. Cut flowers also make a nice addition to a floral arrangement. Zones 8 and above.
Culinary Sage (Salvia officinalis) The herb. Flowers are paler and surprisingly ornamental with attractive leaves. I always have several sage plants around for the kitchen and the bees. Zones 4-9. The purple variety is less winter hardy in the lower zones.
Hybrid Sages (includes many species, including Salvia nemerosa, S.x superba, and S.x sylvestris) Spikes of various shades of intense blue, purple, and even white. Blooms from June-Sept. Cut back dead flowers to encourage a re-bloom. Height about 2 ft. Zones 5-9.
These “spiky” plants are great to contrast with the more common mounding plants. Beautiful gardens are all about contrasting foliage and form. I love different varieties of hybrid Salvia with catmint and perennial geraniums or cranes bill (not to be confused with annual geraniums or Pelargonium). The purple-blues look great when paired with nearly every color of the gardening rainbow. Also look for the hybrid Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’. It has beautiful blue-purple spires that wave above green foliage. Give it plenty of room. Commonly grown as an annual, a perennial in zones 8-10.
Prairie Sage or Azure Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) This salvia, unlike other salvias, blooms only in the fall with a true blue color. Tolerates drought, though prefers regular water in well-drained clay, sandy or rocky soils. Easy to grow from seeds. Attracts beneficial insects. Mature size 3 to 4 tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. Zones 4-8.
Sage (Salvia transsylvanica) Lavender blue flowers. Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Remove spent flower spikes to help extend the bloom period. Easily grown from seed. Compact base with flowers growing on spikes, reaching 2-3′ high.
Tropical Sage or Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea) Tropical sage, true to its name, is popular in the Deep South due to its ability to stand up to heat, humidity, wind, and heavy rain. Comes in a range of colors (red is very common), though flowers on the blue spectrum are less common. Zones 8-10
White Sage (Salvia apiana) The sage considered sacred by Native Americans. Used for smudge sticks in purification rituals. The flower spikes soar above the foliage, with hundreds of small white-to-lavender flowers. The flowers are one of the most important sources of pollen and nectar for pollinators where it grows. Zones 8-11
What about the red Salvias?
Red salvias, like pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), are known for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies, which is a great thing, but do they feed the bees? Generally they are not great honey bee plants. Red salvia flowers are more likely to be tubular in shape, which honey bees can have a hard time with (they have relatively short tongues.) Also, honey bees do not see the color red. So for example, Salvia splendens is not a great choice for honey bees. But there are exceptions to this rule. The red Salvia coccineas and Salvia greggiis are popular among honey bees. If you would like red Salvias and food for the bees, then I recommend looking for less tubular flowers and asking your nursery for good honey bee plants.
So many salvias to choose from–even more than this list. Which one is your favorite?
Featured Photo:Copyright: pazzy774 / 123RF Stock Photo, Cleveland Sage photo: Copyright Colin Hirayama 2016, Mealy Cup Sage photo: Copyright: chaowalit / 123RF Stock Photo, Mexican Bush Sage photo: Copyright: siamphotos / 123RF Stock Photo, Salvia nemerosa photo: Copyright: rmorijn / 123RF Stock Photo