If you enjoy watching hummingbirds in the garden or seeing lots of pollinators on your plants, be sure to plant some annual salvias next year. Salvia is an enormous genus of plants with more than 1,000 species, including those that are annual, perennial or shrubs. The herb sage (Salvia officianalis) is also a salvia.
Note: MSHS recently hosted a webinar on perennial salvia, which is well worth watching, if you’d like to add these useful and pretty plants to your garden. You can find the link to this free program under perennials on the MSHS Resource Hub.
Why Plant Annual Salvia
Perennial salvias, such as May Night, ‘Caradonna’ or ‘Moulin Rouge’, are hardy garden stars — and many of them perform well as far north as USDA Zone 3. But for real hummingbird action in your garden, you cannot beat the annual salvias. Most have larger blooms than the perennial varieties and some have red blooms, which really attract hummingbirds.
One of the first annual salvias I planted was a pass-along plant called Yvonne’s giant salvia. The story goes that Yvonne grew an annual red salvia in her yard and one of the plants grew to 6 feet tall. She saved the seeds from the giant plant, which was covered with blooms, and started passing them on to friends. You can buy seeds from ebay and other vendors on the web, and many believe her salvia is a variation of the Salvia splendens species from Brazil.
Another popular red annual salvia is pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). This is one of the last plants to bloom in the garden, so put it in a spot that’s fairly warm or grow it in a large container. Mine usually bloom in September and those butterflies and hummingbirds that are still around love it. In colder years, the blooms and the pollinators may miss each other. The plant’s pleasant scent and a lovely habit earn it a place in my garden even when the season is cold.
While the red salvias are great, I’ve had good luck with purple cultivars too. I grew Rockin® Playing the Blues™ salvia as a trial plant a couple of years ago. It grew almost 4 feet tall in a part-sun area and bloomed for many weeks. It was very popular with bees and butterflies, and added height, shiny green foliage and stunning blooms to the garden. Black-and-Blue is another great annual salvia for our area. Victoria Blue is a shorter, but still stunning variety that is an annual in cold-climates.
The University of Minnesota also recommends Summer Pink Jewel salvia and Purple Fairy Tale salvia as great annual salvias for pollinators.
Planting and Care
Annual salvias are easy to care for and do well in containers or garden beds. They like full sun and very well-drained soil. You can choose plants in six-packs in spring, or start them from seeds. If you choose seeds, start them indoors in early April to set out in June. Salvias do not require much fertilizer — a layer of compost or a little bit of slow release fertilizer at planting is plenty.
Which are your favorite annual salvias?