Scarlet sage brilliant flowers light up a garden like beacons summoning hordes of hummingbirds to come hither. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
Scarlet sage is a subshrub perennial in warmer climates and an annual where winter temperatures stay below freezing for more than a few hours at a time. Scarlet sage reaches 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) tall, with 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) triangular leaves on long petioles (leaf stems) opposite each other on a square stem. The showy flowers are bright red, about an inch long, and arranged in loose whorls along the upright stem. Blooms appear continuously from early summer to first frost. There are several cultivars, including pink ones, white ones and bicolored ones. Don't confuse this species with the popular bedding plant, Salvia splendens (also called scarlet sage), a frost-tender perennial from Brazil (usually grown as an annual), most of whose many flamboyant cultivars do not attract butterflies or hummingbirds, and do not reseed themselves.
Jack grows scarlet sage in a bed with other rowdy plants like the palm grass (Setaria palmifolia) in the background and crocosmia (Crocosmia X crocosmiiflora), trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), blue anise sage (Salvia guaranitica) among others. Maintenance most involves thinning whenever one species appears to be taking over. The hummingbird and butterflies love Jack's rowdy flower bed.
Scarlet sage occurs naturally in dry soils and waste places from South Carolina to Florida and west to Texas and Central America, and in the West Indies.
Culture Light: Does best in full sun but can tolerate intermittent shade. Moisture: Tolerates drought, but flowering suffers without supplemental watering during dry spells.
Hardiness: Can be planted from seed and grown as an annual to USDA Zone 4. Will survive the winters in Zones 9 and 10 and sometimes in Zone 8. Will reseed itself annually in zones 6-8. Propagation: By seeds. Established plantings will persist by reseeding.
White scarlet sage (!) is a robust beauty able to survive the hot sunny, sandy conditions up on The Hill at Jack's house. Click to download a large version of this image.
Scarlet sage is a good bedding plant and useful in borders where brilliant color is desired. This American mint is especially desirable in natural area gardens where it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and maintains itself year after year without dominating or becoming invasive.
Seeds of scarlet sage remain in the soil and germinate continuously all year except during freezing temperatures. Scarlet sage is just one of dozens of sages grown in the garden. Most are tough and durable and most are attractive to butterflies and many to hummingbirds as well. Some of our favorites are the blue anise sage (Salvia guaranitica), pineapple sage (S. elegans) and autumn sage (S. greggii) all of which bloom over a long period and happen to be real hummingbird magnets.
Steve Christman 02/12/97; updated 12/6/99, 05/28/03
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Tallahassee, Florida USA