Tom Karwin, on gardening | Landscaping with Salvias – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Take care of your garden

I recently wrote about pruning salvias because we are in the season when most varieties of this
genus can be – and should be – subjected to a rejuvenation pruning, i.e. cut to the ground for
stimulate and create space for new growth in the spring.

In this column I have mentioned the variation between plants of this genus, and recommended
visit Flowers by the Sea Nursery ( to explore its online database of
Salvias, organized by flower color, bloom season, preferred exposure and other categories.

The diversity of species within this genus leads to various pruning priorities, as shown in this
recent column, but it also has important implications for landscaping decisions. Salvias can be
used in many different garden situations.

Hummingbird Sage, a herbaceous perennial, forms a 24-inch tall and wide rosette with pinkish-red flowers and bracts appearing from late winter through spring, and even longer. (Tom Karwin — Contributor)
Wagner’s pink and white sage, another woody evergreen, blooms from November through March and reaches 60 inches tall and wide. (Tom Karwin — Contributor)

This is not to suggest loading your garden with salvias, but to consider them appropriate
choice of locations you want to expand or improve. Let’s review some examples that could be used
specific design priorities. These examples are taken from the Flowers by the Sea database,
which includes several additional choices in each landscaping category.


The vast majority of salvias grow best in full sun or full sun and with limited humidity, but
some species prefer full shade. These include tree sage (S. arborescens), blue vine sage (S. cacaliifolia), and Balkan sage (S. forsskaoli). I grew all these species in partial shade,
where they did well so they seem adaptable but I might move them to full shade to see if
they would be even more efficient.

Another category of exposure is that of “cloud forest” species, which have evolved under the combination of
semi-shade and relatively high humidity. These include Chiapas sage (S. chiapensis), Peruvian sage (S. discolor), and giant Bolivian sage (S. dombeyi).


Most salvias are shrubs of what I would consider moderate size, ranging from 3 to 5 feet tall
and wide, and fits easily into most garden situations.

The most extreme sizes include taller and lower growing species. The largest Salvias can reach 10 feet in height. They include the Salvia tree (S. arborescens, already mentioned), Karwinski’s sage (S. Karwinski, which I grow, just because), and Mexican scarlet sage (S. gensneriiflora, which I removed because it spreads freely).

Ground cover salvias, listed primarily because they discourage weeds, include some cultivars
that are less than 2 feet tall. They include the popular Hummingbird Sage (S. spathacea), Bee’s
Bliss Sage (S. x ‘Bee’s Bliss’, which is a spreader), and Salmon Autumn Sage (S. greggi

Flowering season

Again, most salvias flower in summer or fall, but some species will flower earlier or
later to support a year-round color plan.

Spring flowers include Friendship Sage (S. Armistad), Sacred White Sage (S. apiana) and
Mountain sage (S. microphylla, several cultivars).

Winter flowers include red velvet sage (S. confertiflora), Mexican winter sage (S. holwayi),
and Wagner’s sage (S. wagneriana ‘White Bracts’ is one of my favorites.)

Thematic groups

Grouping related plants in the landscape into preferred categories adds design consistency and guides plant selection. The diversity of salvias invites at least two thematic grouping options.

Several native habitat themes could include salvias, which grow in many parts of the
world. Many salvias are native to Central and South America, and the southern United States,
but other species come from Asia (China or Japan), Africa or Europe. See these groups on the
Flowers by the Sea by clicking on “Salvias by Origin”.

Most flower color themes can also include Salvias, which come with blue, purple, red
orange, pink, yellow or even white flowers, as well as flowers in pastel tones and leaves of
gray or silver color. On the same website, click on “Salvias by Color”.

Advance your knowledge

Now that we’ve passed the holiday season, garden-related webinars are once again becoming active.
This method of sharing information could become an integral part of the gardening landscape.
Digital media are booming as an alternative to print media (books, magazines, catalogs, flyers, etc.)
Many webinars are free, while some require moderate fees, mainly to offset speaker fees.

Wave Hill Botanical Garden, in the Bronx, NY, announced in addition to its 2022 horticultural program
Lecture Series: “The View from Federal Twist: A New Way of Thinking About Gardens, Nature,
and Ourselves,” which premieres at 3 p.m. on Feb. 16. The speaker will be James Golden, creator of the garden, Federal Twist. Go to, then click Discover and scroll down to Virtual Wave Hill. This webpage lists video recordings of several previous webinars.

The Garden Conservancy will present the webinar, The Northwest Gardens of Lord & Schryver, at 11 a.m. on February 10. The presenter will be Valencia Libby, author of the book of the same title, on the work of the first women who, in 1929, entered the field of landscape architecture. To register, go to This is a paid event.

The Ruth Bancroft Garden will present the webinar, Agaves, Species, Hybrids and Cultivars,” at
10 a.m. Feb. 5. The presenter will be Jeff Moore, owner of Solana Succulents, and co-author with Jeremy Spath of an impressive new book with the same title. Visit for more information and to register for this paid live event. All registrants will have one week access to a recording of the webinar.

Enrich your gardening days

With over 1,000 species in the Salvia genus, plus countless hybrids, garden planners
have a rich palette of options to choose from. After including ease of cultivation and
compatibility with the climate of the Monterey Bay area, these plants invite examination
whenever gardeners plan to expand or expand their gardens.

Tom Karwin is Past President of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Monterey Bay Area
Cactus & Succulent Society and Monterey Bay Iris Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (certified 1999–2009). He is now a board member and garden coach for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To see daily photos of her garden, For information on gardening coaching and an archive of previous On Gardening columns, visit Contact him with comments or questions at

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