Growing Salvia in Orange County, California
Salvia is a gorgeous plant with tubular blossoms and often velvety and aromatic leaves that add color and texture to California’s landscapes. You can find blooms in blue, purple, pink, red, and even yellow! Growing salvia is great for our local ecosystem, but certain varieties have special considerations for healthy and ethical growth. Whichever variety you grow, salvia is a great option to keep your garden sustainable and eco-friendly.
Why Should You Grow Salvia?
Salvia, which is part of the mint family but is commonly known as sage, is a valuable plant to grow in SoCal gardens for several reasons:
- Many varieties are California native plants, which means they can tolerate heat and drought very well; we highly recommend these salvia species on our list of Water-Wise plants for Southern California gardens.
- Its strong fragrance repels pests and makes it unappealing to rabbits and rodents.
- It is a great plant to support pollinators and support our local ecosystems.
Types of Salvia
There are various types of salvia, namely ornamental and culinary varieties. Here are some common types of salvia for Southern California.
Salvia officinalis, or Garden Sage
If you’re in the grocery store and spot fresh sage for sale, Salvia officinalis is what you’ll see! Common sage has the highest culinary value out of the salvia species, with a delicious, earthy flavor that’s perfect for savory dishes and cocktails. Garden sage makes an excellent addition to your herb gardens and has similar care requirements to other salvias, but it may require some afternoon shade in hot, inland areas during the summer.
Salvia apiana, or White Sage
Salvia apiana is native to Orange County and most of Southern California, with beautiful ashy-white leaves and stiff branches. Pollinators love this variety of sage, especially bees and hummingbirds.
It is a sacred variety of sage to many Indigenous peoples, commonly grown for smudging, healing, and ceremony. Due to the illegal poaching for the sage smudge industry, there are conservation challenges for this variety. If you choose to grow Salvia apiana in your garden, we recommend learning more about the challenges this variety faces so that you can grow it responsibly and ethically. We are hosting a promotion on November 6, 2022, if you’re interested in learning more, and you can view our webpage on “Sage in Every Garden” here.
Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’
If you’re looking for a perennial variety that offers beautiful blooms over many months, ‘Mystic Spires’ is an excellent choice! This type of salvia grows quite compactly and has dark green leaves that provide a lovely backdrop for a flourish of true-blue flowers. ‘Mystic Spires’ love the heat and will thrive in garden beds or containers.
Salvia coccinea or splendens, or Scarlet Sage
Attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden with scarlet sage! This perennial salvia has tubular red flowers—a favorite for these pollinators—and is easy to grow in Southern California. Scarlet sage can grow in the shade, but you may notice fewer blooms on it in exchange.
Planting and Caring for Salvia
When planting salvia, ensure you leave enough room between plants so they have enough space to fill in as they grow; this may vary depending on the variety, but 2 feet is a good general rule. Salvia varieties generally prefer to grow in full sun, but some varieties can tolerate light shade. They prefer well-draining soil and don’t need fertilizer during the growing season. Deadheading is key to keeping your salvia blooming, but you can leave flowers on the stems at the end of the season for seed and to feed birds like goldfinch and sparrows.
To keep your soil nutritious and sustain continuous growth each year, we recommend adding compost to your garden in the spring and fall and a generous layer of mulch over the soil to help conserve moisture, especially at the onset of summer. Water your salvia in the summer to help withstand the heat, but it will only need about one inch of water per week—this drought-tolerant plant is very easy to maintain!
For more information on growing salvia near you, visit us at Roger’s Gardens in Orange County. Our garden experts can help support your native and habitat gardens and provide further information on salvia conservation in California.