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

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Monday - November 12, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Pruning, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Care for some non-native salvias from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Mexican bush sage and Salvia "indigo spires" are both blooming in my Austin beds right now. Once they stop blooming and/or frost gets them, could you tell me by how much they should be cut back? Right now they are about 4 feet high. Also, my Tropical Sage has stopped blooming -- by how much should it be cut back, and when? I've recently returned to gardening after a 40-year hiatus, so I'm kinda rusty! Thanks for your help.

ANSWER:

Welcome back to gardening. Let us introduce you to our Native Plant Database. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is dedicated to the growth, protection and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants grow naturally. Since you are in Austin, you should visit the Wildflower Center to see this in action. We pursue this use of native plants because they are most likely to be able to thrive in the soils, climate and rainfall you are experiencing where you garden.

The first thing we do when we receive a question asking for help  on specific plants is to determine if those plants are in our Native Plant Database. We can't say that every plant that is native to North America is in our database, but we can say that if it is there, it is native.

In this case, we can answer your question generically, because your plants are all members of the genus Salvia. Salvias are perennials and should be pruned back in late Fall when they have stopped blooming and the leaves are beginning to dry up. We always prune down to about 6 inches, mostly so we can see where the plant is. They come back from the roots in the early Spring, but if we don't have those cut stems marking the spot, we are liable to think that is an early weed and yank it out.

Just so you will know, only Salvia coccinea (Tropical sage) is native to North America as well as to Travis County. Mexican bush sage (follow the link to a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer) is native to Mexico and Central America.

Indigo Spires -  (Also from a previous question) "Indigo Spires, sometimes called Mystic Spires, is thought to be a hybrid between Salvia farinaceae and S. longispicata. It was found growing at the Huntingdon Botanical Gardens in California in the 1970s. The botanist who discovered and named it noticed that it the new plant was growing near the other two, and theorized that it was an accidental hybrid. Salvia farinacea (mealycup sage) is a Central Texas native, but the S. longispicata is something of a mystery, thought to be native to Mexico. In fact, when we went googling to try to find information about it, it was always in combination with S. farinacea to make Indigo Spires."


 

From the Image Gallery


Scarlet sage
Salvia coccinea

Mealy blue sage
Salvia farinacea

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