The Ultimate Salvia Plant Growing Guide

Updated: May 23, 2024

Besides it being a pollinator magnet, there are countless reasons to add a salvia plant to your yard. Get expert salvia plant care tips.

Salvia Plant Benefits for Gardeners

Ruby Throated Hummingbird Feeding On NectarMichael Lee/Getty Images
Female ruby-throated hummingbird

To birders, there are endless reasons to love salvia—this spectacular plant does a lot of good. “It is easy to grow, a prolific bloomer that comes in a variety of colors and is very versatile,” says Wendy Wilber, the Florida statewide master gardener volunteer coordinator for the University of Florida, IFAS Extension Service.

Are Salvia Plants Annuals or Perennials?

Pw Salvia Pink Profusion Apj22
Pink Profusion

This member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) is low maintenance and resistant to deer and disease, in addition to being a great garden pick to attract pollinators. There are hundreds of annual and perennial species of salvia available worldwide.

Are Salvia Plants Edible?

Salvia also has an aromatic allure. “You take that leaf and scrunch it up in your hand, and it smells awesome,” says Luke Nygaard, owner of Nygaard Nursery in Dilworth, Minnesota. A variety of this plant produces the sage used in seasonings, while others’ flowers provide an attractive garnish for dishes including salads, butters and soft cheeses.

History of Salvia as Natural Medicine

Salvia comes from the Latin word salvere, which means “to heal.” According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Ancient Romans believed that salvia stimulated the brain and memory; they also used it to clean their teeth.” The National Library of Medicine recognizes salvia as a traditional medicine that was used to reduce pain and inflammation, and to protect against oxidative stress and free radical damage.

Salvia Plant Varieties

Walters Salvia Nemorosa May NightWalters Gardens, Inc
May Night

Salvia’s bright blooms are visible through midsummer and fall—whenever it gets hot in your zone. Amid velvet leaves, the flowers come in plenty of colors, from purples and pinks to blues, reds and whites. Salvia’s incredible colors are often captured in each cultivar’s name.

“May Night is a perennial salvia that is drop-dead gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful,” Luke says of its bright purple spikes.

Wendy’s Wish

“My favorite, which is Wendy’s Wish, is a hot pink,” says Wendy, who appreciates that a portion of each sale of a Wendy’s Wish salvia benefits Make-A-Wish Australia. Ask your local garden center about new cultivars.

Pw Salvia Rockin
Rockin’ Fuchsia

“Proven Winners is doing a lot of work on these. They have a series called Rockin’,” Wendy says. Rockin’ Deep Purple blooms a bold, royal purple. Rockin’ Fuchsia is a new cultivar featuring a flush of alluring pink.

Attract a crowd of hummingbirds to Playin’ the Blues salvia.

Look for Native Salvia Plants

If you are looking for nectar and seed production for pollinators, Wendy encourages searching for native options, as they will be the best at attracting the wildlife in your zone.

Ideal Salvia Plant Growing Conditions

Pw Salvia Snow
Color Spires Snow Kiss

Most salvias thrive in bright, full sun and require good drainage. Make sure to provide enough room for growth. These plants range from 1 to 6 feet tall and wide, though most average 2 to 3 feet. Salvias can be planted in the spring or fall in a variety of soils. “They’re jolly either way,” Luke says.

Organic mulch benefits these plants by protecting their roots, helping maintain a suitable soil temperature and keeping moisture consistent. For those with heavy or clay soil, plant “proud,” meaning the plant should sit slightly higher than the surrounding ground.

Do Salvias Need Deadheading?

Pw Container Lake
Rockin Deep Purple salvia, Supertunia Priscilla, Diamond Snow euphorbia

Salvias create dramatic displays in cottage gardens—and they’re a great option if you want to soften borders and pathways. They also spill beautifully from containers.

To continue encouraging blooms, prune this plant. “As soon as those blooms are spent, instead of going just below the flower spike, I go one more node down to stimulate new growth to come out of the sides of the stems,” says Wendy, who does this to boost the chance of two new stems.

Pollinator Benefits

Salvia And The BeeJane Thirsk/Getty Images
Bee on salvia

Salvias rely on bees, butterflies and birds. And hummingbirds are drawn to this nectar-packed plant’s colorful spikes of tubular flowers. To further support visiting pollinators, place a water source nearby, offer open soil for ground burrowers and provide shelter through a small brush pile. You can also install bee boxes.

Can You Grow Salvia Plants From Seeds?

If you are new to salvia and are starting plants from seed, make sure conditions are consistent and aligned with recommendations. Start them six to eight weeks before your zone’s final frost.

When bringing them outside, “Do a good job of hardening them off, which means preparing them for their life outdoors, or you may get frustrated,” says Luke, whose nursery is in Zone 4. “You’ve got to give them tough love.”

Use Salvia in Flower Arrangements

Use salvia as cut flowers for arrangements and bouquets

Salvia’s slender blooms contribute to long-lasting, beautiful bouquets when you:

  • Identify one of salvia’s main stems
  • Cut 1 inch above the stem’s bottom
  • Slice the stem at a 45-degree angle
  • Arrange in your favorite vase
  • Remove submerged foliage

About the Experts

Wendy Wilber is the Florida statewide master gardener volunteer coordinator for the University of Florida, IFAS Extension Service. She received her master’s degree in horticultural sciences at the University of Florida.

Luke Nygaard is the owner of Nygaard Nursery in Dilworth, Minnesota, which sells a wide variety of garden plants, flowers and vegetables, as well as offering classes on gardening and plant care.