Rub a leaf between your fingers, and you’ll know instantly from the minty fresh aroma that Salvia nemorosa belongs to the mint family.
This charming, reliable and stalwart perennial should have a place in every flower border. It can be mass planted for impact, but salvia also looks lovely with daylilies, phlox, ornamental grasses, yarrows, baptisias, gaillardia and many other perennials.
The National Garden Bureau has named 2019 the “year of salvia nemorosa” in honor of the plant’s many attributes. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds adore it; deer and rabbits generally don’t.
Hardy salvia is sometimes called meadow sage, but it’s not the same as the culinary herb sage. All plants with the common name “sage” are salvia, including the herb, but the true genus name “salvia” is reserved for the ornamental species, according to NGB. Salvia’s cousins include nepeta (catmint) and monarda.
Probably the best-known salvia cultivar is the indigo blue “MayNight,” or “Mainacht,” named the 1997 perennial plant of the year. Other classics are the dark-stemmed “Caradonna” and deep purple “East Friesland” or “Ostfriesland.”
These salvias, while still available, are being supplanted by newer cultivars like “Blue Marvel” and “Rose Marvel,” along with “New Dimension,” “Salute” and “Swifty.” New introductions have better garden performance, larger flowers and come in more shades of purple and pink. Hybridizing S. nemorosa and S. pratensis has produced airier flowers in the “Fashionista” series and salvia “Blue By You.”
Salvia requires at least a half-day of direct sunlight and well-drained soil. Overwatering will cause root rot. Established plants are drought-tolerant. Fertilize in early spring and again in early summer, using 15-15-15 or other balanced fertilizer.
Once the first flush of flowers has finished and stems have turned brown, NGB suggests cutting back stems to about 1/3 of their original size to encourage a rebloom within four to six weeks. You can get as many as three flowerings in a season from spring to fall.