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  • Waterwise Gardening | David Salman

Planting Nectar Rich Salvia to Attract Pollinators to the Garden

Western Swallowtail sipping ‘Agastache Blue Blazes

Salvia (commonly referred to as ‘Sage’) represents a huge family of flowers that live across much of our planet. Naturally, given their wide range of habitats, these plants attract a variety of pollinators to their nectar rich flowers. I like to divide them into two main regional groups as a handy way to understand the growing conditions in which they’ll do best and how to incorporate them into our water-wise landscapes.

Old World Immigrants

The most commonly used Salvia originate from the ‘Old World’, the continents of Europe and Asia. These ‘Old World’ species and cultivars have been in cultivation for a long time and there are many great plants to choose from. From a pollinator perspective, this group of Salvia are incredibly attractive to honey bees, many of our native bees and bumble bees as well as butterflies.

(Photo: Western natives Salvia reptans and Salvia Raspberry Delight.)

Clay Lovers and Clay Loving Companions

In appearance, these ‘Old World’ Sages bloom primarily in shades of blue, pink and white. They are generally well adapted to cold climates and a wide range of soils including clay. This makes them very versatile in the landscape. These Salvia are best paired with other colorful clay lovers like:

  • Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata)

  • Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa)

  • Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale)

  • Day Lilies (Hemerocallis)

  • Yarrow (Achillea)

Note: These Salvia grow in other soils equally well and can be paired with an infinite number of other plants that like loams and sandy soils. However, it seems we are always struggling to find clay lovers, so I like to call our attention to this fact.

My favorite Old World Salvia include:

  • Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’ – a compact grower with very dark blue flower spikes on a re-blooming plant. Shear after first bloom to stimulate another late summer display.

  • Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ – The tallest of the S. nemorosa hybrids with black flower stems and deep blue flowers.

  • Salvia sylvestris ‘Blue Hill’ – Beautiful clear blue flowers and a tidy rounded shape. Every plant looks better alongside ‘Blue Hill’

  • Salvia daghestanica – A superb species with silver foliage and large, clear blue flowers make this beauty a “must have” addition to your garden.

  • Salvia officinalis ‘Minimus’ – a culinary type with fabulous deep blue flowers and delicious, fine textured foliage.

New World Beauties

The western half of the United States and Mexico is home to a wide range of species that have been brought into cultivation. They are very popular because of their incredible diversity and showy flowers. Most often, it is the hummingbird that is the pollinator of choice for these plants. The more of these Salvia you plant in your containers and flower beds, the more hummingbirds you will attract.

(Photo: Salvia ‘Maraschino’ is an excellent cold hardy Salvia.)

Well Drained Soils are Best

Typically, this group of Salvia prefer ‘lean’ (not very fertile), well drained soils. They will grow in dry clay conditions in arid climates but will rot out in clay soils where there is more than about 15 to 18” of precipitation annually. I’ve been working on breeding and selecting for improved cold hardiness in the High Country Garden’s native Salvia introductions.

Favorite Companion Plants

Our native Salvia like to be planted with other native and ‘Old World’ perennials that also enjoy lots of sun and hotter growing conditions. Some of my favorite Sage neighbors include:

  • Sundrops (Calylophus serrulatus)

  • Black Foot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

  • Apple Blossom Grass (Gaura lindheimeri)

  • Blanket Flower (Gaillardia grandiflora and Gaillardia aristata)

  • English and French hybrid Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula intermedia)

  • Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora ‘Gold on Blue’)

My Favorite Native Salvia include:

  • Salvia Raspberry Delight® – a High Country Gardens Introduction that has proven to be one of the most cold hardy once established. Blooms all summer long with fabulous raspberry-red flowers. Fabulously aromatic foliage too.

  • Salvia greggii ‘Cold Hardy Pink’ – good and cold hardy with fantastic bright pink flowers.

  • Saliva reptans and S. reptans ‘Summer Skies’ – a species from West Texas and recently introduced by High Country Gardens. These two give at least six weeks of September/October hummingbird attracting flowers.

  • Salvia ‘Maraschino’ – just like the cherry in your ‘Shirley Temple’, this brightly colored cultivar has excellent cold hardiness and does best with some afternoon shade. Hummingbirds by the dozens!

  • Salvia dorrii v. incana ‘Robusta’ – an evergreen shrub that I selected for its large mature size and impressive display of blue flowers in late spring. This is a good one!

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