En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - January 21, 2010

From: Port Townsend, WA
Region: Northwest
Topic: Herbs/Forbs
Title: Freeze damage to salvias in Port Townsend WA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Mr. Smarty Plants, We live in western Washington and had a multi-day hard freeze in December. Now, in mid-January, our salvia hot lips has no live leaves on it. The leaves that remain are green and dessicated. Do we prune it, and if so, how much, or do we wait to see if there is new growth on the existing branches? I've seen answers to questions regarding pruning this plant in Texas, but not in cooler areas.


Don't feel that conditions are any different in terms of freeze-back of perennials. In Central Texas, we had the same conditions in January. You may already know what happened; actively growing plants still have water in their upper structure, particularly the leaves. A sudden hard freeze causes that water to expand, bursting cell walls in the leaves, and they quickly turn dark and look pathetic. What made this freeze worse was that it was earlier than we ordinarily expect these conditions, very sudden, temperatures went down very far, and remained below freezing for several hours. A gradual decrease in temperature over a period of time increases the ability of plants or plant parts to withstand cold temperatures. A sudden decrease in temperature in late fall or early winter usually results in more damage than the same low temperature in January or February.


There are 37 salvias in our Native Plant Database, and 3 native to Washington. None of those three, Salvia dorrii (purple sage), Salvia dorrii ssp. dorrii (purple sage) or Salvia dorrii ssp. dorrii var. incana (purple sage), has a red bloom, which we assume a plant called "Hot Lips" is. "Hot Lips" is probably a trade name assigned to some salvia not native to Washington or, more likely, a cultivar. Because of that, it does not appear in our Native Plant Database as native to Washington, but it probably has similar enough characteristics that we can generalize. 

Since we have always recommended cutting salvias back to about 6 in. after the first freeze, this would seem to be the time to do it. The reason we like to leave 6 inches of stalk above the ground is so you know where it is, and don't accidentally pull out the new sprouts in the Spring, believing they are weeds. It seems unlikely that this plant will suffer permanent damage. 




More Herbs/Forbs Questions

Difficulties in growing iris in Central Texas
October 06, 2007 - I live in Round Rock TX. I would like to plant Irises and have failed before. What type of irises grow best here? When should I plant them and should I add something to the soil to help them grow? ...
view the full question and answer

Growing non-native daylilies from Albuquerque
May 05, 2013 - Need some tips on planting daylilies in the Northeast heights of Albuquerque. I've amended clay soil with cottonbur mulch/compost mix and added gypsum. Can I do anything else to ensure growing succes...
view the full question and answer

Caterpillars devouring Blue Wild Indigo in Jesup GA
September 05, 2011 - I have a false blue indigo growing in my garden. Every spring it gets defoliated by Genista moth caterpillars. It usually doesn't put out new growth until the next spring. This summer, it has put ...
view the full question and answer

Overwintering Ruellia brittoniana in Missouri
October 03, 2015 - I live in Missouri and have five beautiful Mexican Petunia or Ruellia brittoniana planted and established in my landscaping. With winter fast approaching, I would love advise on how to winterize the p...
view the full question and answer

Propagation of endangered plant Texas trailing phlox from Carrollton TX
December 26, 2013 - 1. How many seeds does the Texas trailing phlox produce per season? 2. Can the seeds be taken from a living plant without hurting it? Thank You!
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center