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Gardening From Southern California

...Annual Salvia
by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke

email: geraldb571@aol.com

Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association


June 24, 2007

Annual salvia used to be one of the really tall plants we had in the garden. Then plant breeders heard us say that we’d prefer something a little shorter, and they’ve been working on dwarf salvia ever since. Some of the old ones are still around but you seldom see them anymore, and today we plant annual salvias that come in several colors and are usually low growing, 8 to 12 inches and sending up good spikes of tubular flowers.

These dwarf annual salvias look good in an edging around other plantings of taller flowers and can present a real blaze of color in a mass planting, as well as making themselves noticed in containers. Park lists one named Hotline, exclusive to them, that’s around ten inches tall and comes in several colors. The best are the red, pink, orange and white—some of the other colors are a little washed out looking.

Flare is a good red salvia, with plants that get about eight inches tall, and the tubular blooms are a bright, fiery red. The Salsa series is a relatively new salvia, around 12 inches tall, and in colors that stand out, including scarlet, scarlet bi-color, white (more ivory than white), rose, plum, burgundy, salmon and purple. A little taller variety is Picante, with about the same range of colors and a little earlier to bloom.

Thompson and Morgan lists a good orange colored salvia named Orange Zest and it’s about the closest to orange in salvia, and they also have Red Arrow, also a good red, and list one that’s a sort of bi-color, Sangria, that has red florets backed by greenish-white sheaths, unusual looking in a flower bed.

You’ll find plenty of salvia offered from seed in catalogs and some on the seed rack, and by this time in late spring good nurseries and garden centers should have at least two or three different varieties, usually reds and mixtures, ready to go into the garden.

Plant salvia in full sun to a little shade; the shade helps to make the colors a little more vivid, and keep well watered to start, then only when plants begin to droop. You can apply a balanced fertilizer once or twice during the growing season. It helps to snip off the spent bloom spikes to keep the plants flowering, and in late fall, when the plants begin to look untidy, trim them back to about six inches and they’ll often come back.

Annual salvia isn’t tolerant of frost but will grow in the winter where temperatures don’t get too low.

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