Archive for May 29th, 2012
As a garden workhorse, sage is all the rage | The Republic
Gardener: As a garden workhorse, sage is all the rage
When it comes to an all-around garden workhorse, it’s hard to beat sage. — Whether you’re looking for a tough, drought-tolerant annual or perennial, hummingbird or bee magnet, head-tall vertical accent or, of course, tasty culinary seasoning, there’s something in the 100-plus member Salvia species to fill the bill.
The compact shapes of the smaller sages make them naturals for containers and the fronts of borders. The looser, spreading shapes of the larger varieties are perfect for relaxed, wild or informal cottage gardens. Mix sage with contrasting foliage colors and textures, like silvery Mediterranean lavender, rosemary and santolina. Highlight their delicate flowers and aromatic foliage by planting in raised beds and along pathways.
Here are just a few examples:
Cooking sage (zones 4-7) is the most-used herb in the family. It’s beautiful as well as tasty, and incredibly hardy. Tiny, 6-inch-tall mounds of gray-green, yellow-green and purple foliage can be found popping through snow — the sole survivors of a frozen winter garden. The eye-popping scarlet flowers of annual St. John’s fire bloom profusely against the heat, drought and blazing sun of summer, and need almost no care.
Silver sage (zones 6-8) is biennial, taking two years to complete its life cycle. It’s grown for its large, tomentose, or hairy, leaves and clouds of white flowers in its second year.
Autumn sage (zones 7-10) and its cultivars have red, magenta, purple and even yellow flowers in late summer and fall. Tall and shrubby, the 3- to 4-foot-tall plant can survive zone 7 winters.
Mexican bush sage (zones 7-9) forms a graceful, arching 3- to 4-foot-tall shrub with woolly stems and long, graceful spikes of fuzzy white or lavender flowers that bloom late summer into fall.
S. guaranitica (zones 7-10) is a big, bushy 5-foot-tall sage with extra-large, 2-inch-long blue or purple flowers that bloom summer through fall.
Clary sage (zones 4-7) is a coarse, prickly textured biennial with striking, candelabra spikes of short, light-lavender flowers.
Sage thrives in gritty, neutral to alkaline soil. Amend acidic soil with lime, oyster shells or crushed cement mortar rubble to raise the pH and provide good drainage, and keep fertilizer and water to a minimum. Established plants won’t need supplemental watering unless you’re in truly arid, desert conditions.
Set out young sage plants in spring and pinch back the growing tips to encourage dense, bushy growth. Space plants one half the width of their mature spread and their foliage will grow into their neighbors without overcrowding the garden. Then, just stand back and watch them go.
If they need trimming during the season, avoid the hottest part of the summer, when sage goes dormant. Plant late-season bloomers like Texas and autumn sage in a protected south-facing location to keep them warm long enough to bloom into the chilly days of fall. Cut back to the ground in areas with freezing winters. For a comprehensive book on the subject, check out “A Book of Sages” by Betsy Clebsch, Timber Press, 1997.
(Joe Lamp’l, host of “Growing a Greener World” on PBS, is a master gardener and author. For more information visit http://www.joegardener.com. For more stories, visit scrippsnews.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)