Salvia (Salvia splendens) is also known as Scarlett Sage. This plant has green leaves and striking red flowers on tall stalks. Salvia is very fragrant. This native of Brazil does self seed some, but not enough to cause a problem. Salvia is considered non-invasive. It is deer resistant and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Salvia is a perennial in zones ten and eleven, but is treated as an annual in cooler climates.
Salvia grows to between one and two feet high. It spreads from nine inches to fifteen inches. It blooms from mid-summer to mid-fall. In addition to the red color that the species plant grows, the flowers on hybrids come in a variety of colors from white to red.
Salvia needs to be in full sun in cool climates. In hot climates it appreciates some shade during the heat of day.
Salvia needs well-drained soil. Before planting salvia, till the earth down to a depth of six inches. Spread three inches of compost on the tilled soil, then till the compost into the soil. This will leave you with the fertile, well-drained soil salvia requires. Salvia is not picky about the soil pH, growing in moderately acid, neutral, or alkaline soils.
Salvia should be watered often enough to keep the soil moist but not often enough to leave it soggy. It does not like soggy soil and can get root rot if kept too wet.
This plant should be propagated by seed. About eight weeks before the last frost, start salvia by seed indoors. Sow the seed over the tray, but do not cover the seeds. They need light to germinate. It takes about fourteen days for the seeds to germinate. The tray they are planted in needs to be warmed from below to between sixty-five to seventy degrees F. When the plants have two true leaves, replant them in three inch peat pots. You can transplant them after all danger of frost has passed.
Salvia is most attractive when planted in mass plantings mixed in with other annuals. It can be used as an edging plant. Salvia also makes a beautiful cut flower.
Salvias will drop their flowers and leave a ragged spike behind. When this happens, cut the plant back. It will emerge again refreshed and ready to grow more flowers.
Slugs and snails love salvia. The best way to combat them is to use iron phosphate based bait such as Escar-go or Sluggo. These products are not as toxic to pets and children than the old copper based poison.
Some varieties of salvia and their characteristics:
‘Salsa’ series: 1.5′ tall plants which retain their compact growth habit all summer. Flowers in shades of red, purple, pink and white. Bicolors are also available, with red, rose or salmon colored flowers with white tips.
‘Firecracker’ Series: Dwarf, compact. Flower colors include blue, orange, white, pink and bicolors. Blooms continuously.
‘Sizzler’ series: wide variety of flower colors in bright and pastel shades of pink, red, maroon, purple and white. A salmon and white bicolor is also available.
‘Bonfire’ series: bright red flowers on 2’+ tall plants. Flowers late into the season.
‘Red Arrow’: early blooming 1’ tall plants with spikes of large, brilliant red flowers.