On Gardening: Itís not Russian and itís not sage, but this plant is a true beauty

November 16, 2015

The blue flowered Russian sage creates a dazzling partnership with this Meiwa kumquat.

Spikes of rare icy blue flowers partnered with the soft gray foliage make the Russian Sage a winner from zones 5-9, meaning much of the country can relish in its beauty. Winner it is, too, as 20 years ago it was selected as the Perennial Plant of the Year.

Iíve been growing it ever since that year, and I have grown to love it more with each passing season. Not only do I treasure every aspect of its texture and habit, but it is also tough-as-nails, and the roving deer population will pretty much leave it alone.

Despite being called Russian sage, it is not really a sage like the host of salvias we grow and call sages. Donít get me wrong, it is closely related. The Russian sage is known botanically as Perovskia atriplicifolia. If you learn to say that and tell your friends, they are sure to be impressed. Perhaps even more so if you tell them your Russian sage is not really a sage and itís not really from Russia. It is, in fact, from Pakistan and will grow like a native at your house.

At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah we grow it in the full scorching hot sun. It thrives in our Mediterranean Garden, where it also gets only the natural rainfall. You might wonder why I am I writing about it in November, and the answer is that it is still sizzling as it has been since late spring.

Your happiness with the Russian sage and its longevity in your garden will depend largely on winter drainage. Does your soil drain freely thereby preventing any tendencies to sit with wet feet? If you canít answer "yes," then you need to plant on raised beds or improve the drainage with soil amendments.

Select a site with full sun and good drainage, and you will likely treasure the plant. Set out nursery grown transplants 24 inches apart and at the same depth they were growing in the container. Be sure to add a good layer of mulch. Despite being drought tolerant and super tough, the plants will need watering to get them established.

Russian sage should be cut back in late winter or early spring to stimulate growth and blooms for the long growing season ahead. After cutting back, it is not a bad idea to side dress with a light application of a little slow-release fertilizer. A little light pruning if needed will keep them going through fall.

Over the years I have loved partnering them with gloriosa daises, lantanas and even salvias. Try growing the Russian sage with the new Amistad salvia, and youíll find out what a wonderful color combination you have created with the blue and purple. I love the Russian sage with all colors of fall mums. There is not a single color of mum that wonít look good grown as a companion.

In our Mediterranean Garden it was fruit, however, that helped create the Kodak moment of texture and color companionship. Take, for example, the small rounded orange Meiwa kumquats, Fortunella crassifolia. A kumquat tree with its glossy green foliage loaded with bright orange fruit is enough to bring out the cameras by itself. But what if it were surrounded by the blue flowers of the Russian sage? The answer is, you get a double wow.

Not everyone can grow kumquats, but most likely you can grow the Russian sage and create your own stunning partnerships.



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