Salvias | The ultimate guide to growing salvia plants

Extend the season with salvias

How to grow and care for salvia plants.
By our garden expert, Elly Keen.

In the tapestry of garden design, salvias are the threads that weave through the seasons, providing colour and texture all year round. With over 900 species, salvias offer a variety of colours and forms – there is one for every nook and cranny of your garden.

Salvias come in four main types: perennial, biennial, annual and culinary. 

Perennial salvias are the stalwarts of the garden border, enduring for multiple years and often hardy enough to brave the winter months.  

Annual salvias are tender and fleeting, but brighten beds for a single season before succumbing to the cold.  

Biennial salvias, with their two-year lifecycle, offer a burst of growth in the first year and a flourish of salvia flowers in the second. 

Culinary salvias can be grown from their medicinal properties, or as a culinary herb to bring flavour and fragrance to the kitchen garden. 

When planning a garden, seasonality is key. Salvias, with their varied bloom times, can be the linchpin of a garden that never lacks for colour. However, the performance of salvias can be as unpredictable as the weather, heavily influenced by regional climates. 

Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants

Salvia cuttings

Different types of salvia — and their flowering times

Spring flowering salvias

In early spring, annual salvias like Salvia horminum / Salvia viridis, started from seed in autumn, can fill the gaps left by winter’s toll. 

Culinary sage, Salvia officinalis, reliably blooms in October if left unpruned in autumn. 

Perennial varieties like Salvia farinacea and Salvia nemorosa send up flower spikes in November, adding early interest. 

Summer flowering salvias

As summer unfolds, border salvias take centre stage. Salvia pratensis (Meadow clary), Salvia patens (Gentian sage), and Salvia uliginosa (Bog sage) are particularly enchanting. 

Biennial Salvia sclarea (Clary sage), having spent winter and spring establishing itself, now shoots up with tall, airy spikes of frothy, purple flowers. 

Autumn-winter flowering salvias

When the garden starts to fade in autumn, salvias like Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage), Salvia confertiflora (Red velvet sage), and Salvia ‘Mexicana Limelight’ come into their own. These towering woody bushes, pruned in spring, build their leafy structures over summer to burst into bloom, adding vibrant colour to the tawny autumn landscape. However, in very colder areas, their bloom period may be curtailed by frost.

Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants
Salvia caradonna with spring perennials
Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants
Mexican sage in autumn garden
Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants
Salvia with echinacea in summer

Site and soil type:

The ideal conditions for growing salvia plants

Salvias are sun worshippers, thriving in full sun with well-draining soil. Though they love a sunny spot, they can adapt to partial shade, especially in hot climates where some respite from the afternoon sun is beneficial. While many thrive in dry climates and are drought-tolerant once established, salvias appreciate moisture during summer, rewarding you with more blooms if given a drink and a thick layer of organic mulch during dry spells. 

Salvias detest soggy conditions, so they need to be planted in areas with good drainage. Salvias will not like being planted in heavy clay, where too much water pools around the base of the plant. This also poses a risk of root rot. 

Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants

Salvia ready to prune


Annual pruning is essential for salvias to keep them in check. For woody stems or shrubby varieties, cutting back to a third or half their size prevents legginess. Be cautious with some shrubby varieties, as they might not recover from a severe cut back. For herbaceous plants, remove all the brown stems down to the basal foliage. 

Timing is crucial – leaving dead foliage until spring can protect against winter elements. Regular deadheading encourages continuous blooming, with some varieties benefitting from a complete flower removal after the first flush to prompt a second bloom later. 


Salvias are easy to propagate from seed or cuttings, which is best done in spring or autumn. Taking salvia cuttings from cherished plants each year ensures you don’t lose varieties to frost or waterlogging. Autumn cuttings root easily, providing new plants for the garden by spring. 

For woody varieties, old plants can be replaced with new cuttings, while the herbaceous perennials can be divided in autumn using a sharp spade. 

Annuals are best started from salvia seeds

Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants

Salvia cuttings for propagation

Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants
Pineapple sage
Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants
Salvia Waverly in summer garden
Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants
Salvia amistad

Species of salvia

Our favourite perennial salvias for the garden border

1. Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ This herbaceous perennial, growing to 60cm, is perfect for the front of the border. Its tall, dark purple spires create a painterly effect when planted densely. It blooms in late spring and can produce a second flush in autumn if cut back, given a long enough season. Hardy and tolerant of freezing winters and the danger of frost, it requires full sun and well-drained soil. 

2. Salvia ‘Amistad’
A popular hybrid with a semi-shrubby habit, reaching up to 1.2m. Its black, velvety calyxes and lime green foliage contrast beautifully, knitting amongst dahlias or roses. In mild regions, it grows vigorously, flowering from mid-summer through autumn. In colder climates, lift and store in pots to protect from frost. 

3. Salvia ‘Waverly’
A hybrid with airy spikes of pale mauve flowers and dark purple sepals. Fast growing and long-flowering from early summer, it blends into the border with dark green  foliage. This salvia is particularly effective when planted amongst roses, acting as a natural fungicide. 

4. Salvia involucrata
Known as ‘Roseleaf sage’, this woody perennial reaches at least 2m, ideal for the back of the garden border. Hardy and late-flowering, it continues to bloom well into winter. Its bright magenta flowers have a sweet, citrusy scent, loved by pollinators. Give it space to flourish and enjoy months of colour. 

5. Salvia elegans ‘Pineapple sage.’ A culinary salvia with bright green foliage and fire-engine red flowers, grows up to 2m. Its leaves, with a pineapple scent, can be used in teas and salads. Blooming late in the season, it’s best for tropical climates with morning sun and afternoon  shade. In colder regions, its flowering period may be missed. 

6. Salvia leucantha
No garden should be without Mexican bush sage. A complete standout in  he autumn and winter garden, this robust, woody perennial boasts velvety purple spikes that add a striking vertical element. Known for its long blooming period, the soft, silver foliage and late-season blooms make it a favourite among gardeners looking to extend their garden’s visual interest into the colder seasons. 

Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants

Salvia nemorosa with scabiosa fama blue, hesperis sweet rocket and Verbascum phoenicum

Salvias are an incredibly versatile and valuable addition to any garden, offering a wide range of different species and varieties that can extend the flowering season from spring through winter. 

With their ability to thrive in various climates and their adaptability to different soil types and sun exposure, salvias provide gardeners with endless possibilities for creating dynamic and colourful landscapes. 

Whether used as border plants, bedding plants or culinary herbs, these resilient and hardy plants require very low maintenance beyond regular pruning and adequate drainage. By carefully selecting and combining different types of salvias, gardeners can enjoy vibrant blooms and lush foliage throughout the year, making salvias an essential component of any well-planned garden.

Ultimate Guide to Salvia Plants