A Perennial Salvia Can Be Hard To Find
To many gardeners, there seems to be no such thing as a perennial salvia. The plants they carefully have placed in the ground, fail to overwinter. This happens more often in the northern states and Canada, especially in the Mid-West and Great Plains states where winters can sometimes be quite harsh. The salvia is often grown in these locations as an annual, if grown at all.
Whether a given variety is a perennial salvia, a biennial salvia or an annual salvia, depends to some extent on where one lives. The salvia plant is native to Mexico and South America, and while not exactly a tropical plant, does prefer a warm climate. The native plants are for the most part perennials, reverting to annuals when an attempt is made to grow them in a cooler climate. A gardener in the northern part of the US or residing in Canada may purchase a perennial salvia, but the plant, while falling into that classification if planted in Florida, may act strictly as an annual when planted in Ohio.
There are literally 100's of varieties or cultivars of the salvia plant. Most of them are considered hardy in USDA Zones 6-10, not good news to someone living in Montana or North Dakota. Fortunately, a number of varieties have been developed that are hardy in Zones 3 through 10, and can be grown as a perennial in most places.
Salvia Or Sage? - The salvia plant is a member of the mint family, as is the sage. A number of salvia varieties also have sage-related names, for example the Scarlet Salvia, Salvia scalera, is more commonly known as the Clary sage, so this mix of names may be a little confusing at times. The Scarlet salvia is one of the varieties which is actually a biennial, but in some cases, and in some climates, may live for several years, a one would expect a perennial to do. Of the hardy perennial salvia plants, the best known is the salvia nemerosa, which can be found in several varieties, including May Night or Mainacht, Rose Queen, and Blue Queen. Marcus and Sensation Rose are two other types that can be grown as perennials in most areas.
Salvia Culture - The perennial salvia is not at all difficult to get started, and once established is a low-maintenance easy keeper. All it demands is relatively fertile, well-drained soil, and plenty of sunshine. It's an excellent border plant, and also will add greatly to a rock garden setting. Most varieties bloom in mid to late spring, and if the spent blossoms are promptly removed, the plant will normally continue blooming throughout the summer. Flowers appear on stalks which may reach 2' to 3' in height, and the blossoms can be a variety of colors with blue, scarlet, and shades of rose or violet predominating. Root division is a common method of propagation. In fact a salvia plant will sometimes indicate it's time to divide the roots by becoming somewhat floppy in appearance. Once the plant is divided, the stalks come back as sturdy as ever.
A Nice, If Not Wonderful Fragrance - Most perennial salvia plants have a pleasant aroma, though there are those who disagree. The aroma may not be quite as pleasant as that of mint or lavender, but certainly more so than the musty smell of marigolds. In any event, deer and rabbits dislike the scent, and will not bother salvia plants.
The salvia plant, especially the perennial salvia, is often overlooked by beginning gardeners, who generally start a garden with some of the more popular annual flowers. Because it is an easy to care for plant, the perennial salvia is an excellent choice as a starter perennial for the less experienced gardener.