Day 30 of the perennial plant challenge, completing the month of September! For this last day, I want to discuss one of our most common fall blooming perennials, Salvia leucantha. Also commonly called Mexican Bush Sage, this plant is found in residential settings, parks, schools, even parking lots and areas where major plant abuse can occur!
Salvia leucantha is a large growing herbaceous perennial, dying back to the ground in the winter, and growing gangbusters from early spring on. Flowers usually begin in early September and will bloom until heavy freeze. In parts of the Bay Area this plant never dies back or stops blooming, and at the end of the winter you just have to cut it back to get new growth and blooms to begin. It can grow very large, up to 5 feet tall and even wider, so it takes up some space in your garden.
Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’ is a great choice if you want those beautiful flowers without that huge size. ‘Santa Barbara’ grows to 3 feet tall and wide, and has lovely deep violet blooms that emerge from dark purple fuzzy calyces. It is a real stunner in the garden, and will bloom from Sept until a hard freeze.
All is not purple in the world of Mexican Bush Sage anymore! Salvia leucantha ‘Danielle’s Dream’ is a gorgeous pink with silvery white calyces that really stand out, and ‘White Mischief’ is pure white! Both of these selections have similar growth habits, grows wing to 3 feet by 3 feet, and they are great choices for the night garden or moon garden.
All of the Salvia leucantha have long slender green grey leaves that are lightly furry, and will die back to the ground with a hard freeze. They are hardy down between 15 and 20 degrees F. They may need to have their roots protected as the temperatures drop. To best protect the crown of Mexican Bush Sage, leave the dead or dying foliage until late winter or early spring. They can slowly expand in diameter, so if the soil is particularly good you may need to dig up the plant and divide it after a few years. Mexican Bush Sage can grow and thrive in very hot sunny conditions, both with quite a bit of drought and also with average garden water.
No part of Salvia leucantha is really edible by people, but if you are a hummingbird or honeybee, you will truly love when the blooms open up on the long stems. If you harvest the flowering stems and hang them upside down, the lovely calyces will remain on the stems and maintain their colors. They are lovely additions to wreaths and dried arrangements, and also will maintain fresh in a vase for up to a week.