Seven Sages Currently Blooming in the Garden

By Published On: April 17th, 202410.7 min readCategories: Garden, Plants

Here are seven of my favorite salvias that can add a little color to your garden all year round

A closeup photo of a brown sage in bloom

Brown Sage (Salvia africana-lutea)

Being a Sage myself, it’s probably no surprise that members of the sage (salvia) family are some of my favorite plants. All told, I have somewhere on the order of 30+ varieties scattered around the acre. The majority are California or southwestern U.S. natives, but I also have sages from around the world.

Most salvias hail from the warmer, drier regions of the globe, which makes them well-suited for here in San Diego County (USDA Zone 9). In this region they’re perennials and flower during our rainy season beginning in mid-winter and throughout the spring. We’re just getting to mid-spring now, so all of them are in flower keeping the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators very busy.

The majority of the sages will stop flowering once the weather goes into our dry, hot summer phase, but a few, like the Germander sage and the cultivars, will continue to flower all summer long.

Even the salvias that stop flowering, however, still have something to offer in the form of gray-blue-green leaves that contrast nicely with the summer flowers as well as a nice, woodsy scent that makes the gardens smell wonderful as you brush past them.

Here’s a round up of seven of my favorite sages flowering right now (April).

Autumn Sage

A closeup photo of an Autumn sage flowering red and white

Autumn sage (var. “lipstick”) in flower

I have a bunch of different Autumn Sages (Salvia greggii) aka “Cherry sage”, but the one in the photo — a cultivar called “lipstick” — is my favorite.

Native to west Texas and the Chihuahua desert of Mexico, it will grow into a large bush around 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide unless regularly trimmed to keep it small.

As a drought tolerant native, it’s a popular landscape plant throughout the American southwest. In the wild they bloom cherry red, but there are all sorts of cultivars in shades ranging from deep red to white.

A mature autumn sage bush

Autumn sage can grow quite large and bushy

Bees, butterflies, and especially hummingbirds love the flowers. The leaves are small but carry that woodsy sage scent, making them a fragrant addition to the garden.

This plant spreads easily by both underground runners and seed, so if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with them everywhere. I’ve found the easiest way to propagate them is via the runners, but I’ve stumbled across enough volunteers growing wild throughout the Acre to know that they’ll easily re-seed as well.

In warmer climates (zone 7 and above) Autumn sages are long-lived perennials – I have several that are over 20 years old. In colder zones you can treat them as annuals, or dig them up and bring them indoors for the winter.

Autumn sage is a common plant both in nurseries and big box garden centers (I’ve seen them way up in Idaho), so you should have no trouble finding them where you are.

Bee’s Bliss

A bee's bliss sage plant in flower

Close-up of Bee’s Bliss sage in flower

Bee’s Bliss (Salvia x hybrid) one is a low grower – a creeper rather than a bush like the other sages. It’ll sprawl 5 or 6 feet wide, but never more than 6 inches high.

Based on the growth habit and flowers, my guess is that it’s a cross between a couple of California natives – Sonoma sage (Salvia sonomensis), which is a low grower/creeper, and Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii), which is a native to our local mountains and has a really nice, woody scent and lavender-blue flowers.

A bee's bliss sage in flower

Bee’s Bliss sage in flower

My experience is Bee’s Bliss likes water more than some of the other natives (probably a trait it gets from the Sonoma sage since Sonoma gets a lot more water than we do down here). But, other than that, it’s the same sun-loving, low maintenance plant all the other sages are.

As a cultivar, Bee’s Bliss doesn’t occur in the wild, but it is available at a lot of nurseries.

Black Sage

Closeup photo of a black sage flower

Closeup of a Black sage flower growing in my native garden

A true native, black sage (Salvia millefera) grows wild all over the slopes and valleys of San Diego County and throughout Southern California.

In the wild, the plant is tall and rangy, with lots of woody branches that will grow 6 feet tall and spread equally wide. It flowers heavily in winter and early spring and is a favorite of bees which cover the plants so heavily sometimes the bush hums.

I’ve noticed that black sage readily cross-pollinates with other native sages, especially Cleveland sage, so if you let them run over a couple of years, you’ll wind up with multiple plants with flower colors that range from deep violet-blue to pale blue-white.

As with a lot of plants in our sub-desert climate, the leaves are small but heavily scented. It requires very little water, but if it gets super dry, it will drop leaves in hottest parts of summer which makes it look like a bunch of sticks, so I water mine a bit once a week from June to October.

A large black sage plant in flower

Black sages can get very large. This one is over 8 feet tall and wide!

You don’t have to, but I’ve found that trimming black sage helps it keep a bushy habit. If you let it go, it will get quite large (I’ve got one that’s probably 8 feet tall and 8 or 9 feel wide), so it can be used as a focal plant in a big dry garden.

Black sage is available from many native nurseries, but if you happen to live in California or the American west, it’s easy enough to find these growing wild. It propagates very easily from cuttings, so all you need is a small cutting to grow your own.

Brown Sage

A closeup photo of a brown sage in bloom

Brown Sage (Salvia africana-lutea)

This one is native to South Africa, and, depending on your sources, the botanical name of this sage is either Salvia africana-lutea or Salvia aurea (“lutea” means yellow and “aurea” means gold). Personally, I think the flower is more rust brown than gold or yellow, but either way it’s an awesome sage.

The plant has a bushy habit with many woody brown stems about 3 feet high and 4 to 5 feet across. The leaves are medium blueish green, small and smooth with a light, woodsy sage scent.

In its native South Africa, brown sage can be found in sand dunes and dry, sandy or rocky soil, which is very similar to the natural soil conditions we have here in the San Diego foothills, so it’s very happy here.

A brown sage plant in flower

Brown sage is a medium sized shrub with rust colored flowers

It requires no water or maintenance and, unlike some of the natives that drop their leaves in summer, remains a nice, bushy green all year long making it a nice foundation plant in the dry gardens I have scattered around the Acre.

Definitely a good pick for drought tolerant landscapes. Plus, the rust-colored flowers make it a real standout in the garden.

You can probably find it at nurseries that carry drought tolerant plants. It also propagates very easily from cuttings, so if you know someone who has it, ask for a stem or two.

Common Sage

A common sage plant in flower in an herb garden

Closeup of a common sage in flower

Ahh, good old common sage (Salvia officinalis) – the kind you make turkey stuffing with.

This one is native to the Mediterranean where it’s been used as a food seasoning for over 3,000 years. But it’s also a nice-looking plant in the garden – edible or otherwise.

The plant grows about 2 feet tall and spreads 2-3 feet wide, with silvery gray leaves, making it a good edging plant. It’s not as long-lived as some of the other sages which can live for decades. Common sage plants usually last between 3 and 5 years, but they readily re-seed if you let them.

Like all the other sages, they bloom in spring with spiky violet flowers that the bees enjoy. The leaves are mid-sized, pungent and flavorful. I grow mine around the rosemary plants in the herb garden for a two-tiered herbal flower show.

A common sage plant in flower in an herb garden

Common sages in the herb garden

Common sage does require regular watering to stay healthy, but it’s still fairly drought tolerant.

You can find common sage in any garden center with herbs as well as in seed form. You can also propagate it from cuttings without too much effort.

If you do propagate, I’ve found that early fall is the best time. If you do it in spring, the cuttings will try and flower, so you’ll want to nip off the buds so it focuses on growing leaves and roots rather than putting on a flower show.

Germander Sage

A germander sage flower up close

Closeup of Germander sage in flower

Blue Germander sage (Salvia chamaedryoides), while not a California native, is native to the eastern Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico and into Texas and New Mexico where it can be found on desert slopes and ravines around 2,000 feet above sea level.

An evergreen shrub about 2 feet high and 3-4 feet across with lots of soft, green stems that grow upward and flop to the side in a sort of sprawling habit. If you don’t trim or support them with a low border fence they will cover footpaths and other plants.

In spring and fall it produces tall spikes of violet-blue flowers, and will spread easily through underground runners.

A germander sage plant in the garden

Germander sage growing by the pond

As with the other desert sages, it doesn’t require much, if any, water to remain healthy. In fact, it doesn’t really seem to like water at all except in extended hot, dry periods.

Of all the sages at the Acre, aside from our native black sage, Germander sage is the easiest of them all to care for.

Germander sage’s easy-going nature makes it a popular landscaping plant, especially for borders and rock gardens. It’s easy to find at nurseries and big box garden centers that carry drought tolerant plants.

Hummingbird Sage

A hummingbird sage flower closeup

Closeup of a hummingbird sage in flower

I’ve written about Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) before because it’s one of the few plants that will not only grow under coastal live oaks, but pines and eucalyptus as well. All of these trees produce oils and resins that prevent most plants from growing below them.

Native to creek banks of the Southern California foothills and mountains, it’s a low grower – maybe 6 inches tall – with big, fuzzy green leaves. In the spring it puts up 12-inch-tall spikes of bright pink and fuchsia-colored flowers the hummingbirds love (thus the name Hummingbird sage).

Like Germander sage, this one spreads through underground runners forming colonies of leafy green plants in areas that would otherwise be brown and barren.

To propagate, you just snip off a couple runners and plant them elsewhere. (I’ve tried growing them from seed, but have never had any luck.)

Hummingbird sage in flower under a coastal live oak tree

Hummingbird sage is one of the few natives that will grow under live oaks

Hummingbird sage requires moist soil at first, but once it’s established, it needs no additional water.

In mid-summer when it’s hot, colonies of hummingbird sage give off a woodsy scent, that makes lounging in the shade of the oaks a real pleasure.

Hummingbird sage is a little tougher to find than other sages. I’ve spotted it at a couple of local native plant nurseries, but seeds are also available online.

So, there you have it, seven sages from Sage’s Acre that you might want to try in your own garden this spring.

If you’ve got any questions, or want to know about some of the other 3 dozen or so Salvias growing here, drop a note in the comments below!

Have a thought about this? Leave a comment below

Share This Story on Your Social Media →

About the Author

author avatar
Sage Osterfeld
I’m just a guy with nearly an acre of dirt, a nice little mid-century ranch house and a near-perfect climate. But in my mind I’m a landscaper survivalist craftsman chef naturalist with a barbeque the size of a VW and my own cable TV show. I like to write about the stuff I build, grow and see here at Sage's Acre.

2 Comments

  1. Christine Mallette May 22, 2024 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Do you have a podcast or one that you listen to

    • Sage Osterfeld May 24, 2024 at 10:03 am - Reply

      Not really. I live in an area with lots of plant nurseries, botanical gardens and nature preserves, so I tend to look to them for inspiration and instructions.

Have a comment or question? Share it with us! ↓

You Might Also Like These

Latest Posts

Subscribe

Enter your email address to subscribe to get new articles by email

Brought to you by




Go to Top