Perennial salvias are among the most overlooked ornamentals. There are more than 900 species, and many that are native to Texas and Mexico can provide a source of color that is especially surprising in the fall months when many bloomers have declined.
Once established, most are hardy in winter temperatures as low as 20 degrees and can even withstand Texas summers. All salvias have square stems, a mark of the mint family. If left unpruned, some can reach shrub height during a growing season. Regular pinching back, however, encourages branching and, therefore, more blooms.
Two Texas natives, Salvia coccinea and Salvia farinacea, have long been offered in the nursery trade and are usually marketed as annuals. Pink and white varieties of the Texas red Salvia coccinea have proven hardy and will re-seed. Any of the blue Salvia farinacea cultivars are reliable early summer through fall. Salvia leucantha, the “Mexican bush sage” and many cultivars of Salvia greggii also are easy to find.
Several salvias are gaining in popularity. Indigo Spires has blue spikes throughout the summer and fall. S. verticillata, or “Purple Rain,” and S. superb, or “May Night,” offer beautiful blues for full sun.
Some salvias work in the shade garden as well. The Japanese native S. koyamae has a lax, vining habit and rewards with yellow blooms. It needs shade. S. sinaloensis has small, intensely-blue blooms and bronze-green foliage, hence its nickname “bicolor sage.” Salvia splendens, or “Van Houttei,” sends up handsome magenta spikes and appreciates some shade protection from summer heat.