10 Popular Species of Salvia

Growing and Care Tips for Popular Salvia Varieties

Purple salvia flowers

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle 

Salvia is quite a large genus of plants that includes annuals, perennials, and even shrubs. There are more than 1,000 species in the genus, many of which carry the common name "sage" and dozens of which are common garden plants.

The Salvia genus fits into the mint (Lamiaceae) family of plants, and, predictably, many of these species have a strong, pleasant scent, making them attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. While most salvia species are technically perennials, some of the most popular are more often planted as annuals in colder regions. The majority of salvia plants are known for their long bloom period, which sometimes can extend from late spring into fall. If nothing else, these plants are guaranteed to inject dependable color into your garden design.

Salvia Growing Tips

  • Plant salvia in the spring around late May or early June well after the last frost has passed.
  • The best place to plant any salvia is in a spot with full sun and well-draining soil.
  • Salvias do not have many problems with diseases and only a few pests bother the plants, such as aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. Be sure to use an insecticidal soap if you see evidence of an infestation.
  • Deadhead flowers in midsummer when they fade and become brown to encourage more blooms.

Read on for 10 popular salvia species to consider for your garden.

Gardening Tip

Salvia plants are known to thrive in dry, even rocky, soil, so they can be a good choice if you have poor soil. They're extremely easy to care for, but keep in mind that salvias won't do well in wet, boggy conditions.

  • 01 of 10

    Scarlet Sage (Salvia spendens)

    Red blooms of the scarlet sage

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

    A familiar plant, scarlet sage, also known simply as red salvia, is technically a tropical perennial, but it's more commonly grown as an annual. The species has bright scarlet flowers, but there are some cultivars that offer white, salmon, pink, lavender, burgundy, and orange blossoms. These workhorses bloom from June all the way to frost. Scarlet sage is used so often that many people consider it dull, but, if you need to inject a splash of red into a sunny landscape, few plants outperform this one.

    • Native Area: Brazil
    • USDA Growing Zones: 10–11 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
    • Height: 12–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 02 of 10

    Mealycup Sage (Salvia farinacea)

    Purple flowers on the mealycup sage
    All American Selections

    Mealycup sage comes in a variety of blue, purple, and lavender cultivars, including the popular Victoria Blue and Evolution. The former has genuinely blue flowers, which is somewhat unusual and thus highly desirable. Mealycup sage has an even longer bloom period than scarlet sage, producing flowers from May until frost.

    • Native Area: Texas, Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7–11 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
    • Height: 1–3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 03 of 10

    Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea)

    Red flowers on the Texas sage

    The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

    Texas sage is another red-flowered salvia, but there are also cultivars of it with pink and coral blooms. Summer Jewel Pink, one of the prettiest salvias, is a smaller plant (20 inches) that blooms with dainty but profuse flowers from late spring to early fall. It's most commonly grown as a perennial in warm climates but can also be used as an annual if seeds are started indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost.

    • Native Area: Southern United States, Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–10 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
    • Height: 1–2 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 04 of 10

    Woodland Sage (Salvia nemerosa)

    Purple flowers on the woodland sage
    Hana Richterova / Getty Images

    Woodland sage, also known as violet sage, is a perennial salvia that blooms in various hues of purple and lavender from June to September. These vigorous plants bear lance-shaped leaves and many spikes of purplish-blue blooms. Many gardeners deadhead the spent flowers (or trim them with pruning shears), but they sometimes bloom throughout the summer even without deadheading. Removing the spent flowers keeps the plant looking tidy. Popular cultivars include 'Marcus', 'Caradonna', 'Sensation', and 'Blue Hill'.

    • Native Area: Europe, west-central Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Height: 8–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full
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  • 05 of 10

    Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)

    Autumn sage with magenta flowers
    Christi Carter Photography / Getty Images

    Autumn sage is a perennial, shrubby salvia plant that blooms with hot pink flowers from summer through early fall. Two popular cultivars are Wild Thing, which has pink-hued flowers and is considered a more cold-hardy plant, and Raspberry Delight, which has deeper pink blooms. In very hot climates, this plant will appreciate a bit of afternoon shade. Like other salvias, autumn sage will attract bees and butterflies to your garden.

    • Native Area: Texas, northern Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6–9
    • Height: 2–3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 06 of 10

    Wood Sage (Salvia x sylvestris)

    Purple flowers of the wood sage

    By Eve Livesey / Getty Images

    In addition to the popular salvia species and their cultivars, there are also hybrid salvias, such as Salvia x sylvestris, commonly known as wood sage. This plant is a cross between S. nemorosa and S. pratensis. A very popular cultivar of this hybrid is 'May Night' (Mainacht), which blooms with blue-violet flowers from May to June. Another good cultivar is 'Pink Dawn', a shorter plant (18 inches) with pink flowers.

    • Native Area: Hybrid; parent species native to Europe, western Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Height: 18–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 07 of 10

    Common Sage (Salvia officinalis)

    Green leaves of the common sage
    Gabriele Hanke / Getty Images

    Common sage, the familiar culinary herb, is also a member of the Salvia genus. This woody-stemmed perennial, which will sprawl unless it receives full sun, works both in herb gardens or as an ornamental plant in border gardens or rock gardens. The lavender-blue flowers bloom on spikes in June.

    • Native Area: Mediterranean, North Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Height: 24–30 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 08 of 10

    Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

    Pineapple sage with scarlet flowers
    David Russell / Getty Images

    Pineapple sage is a shrubby, tender perennial that earns its name from its pineapple-like scent, which is evident when the leaves are crushed. Wispy scarlet flowers bloom from late summer to mid fall. Some gardeners grow this salvia plant in containers and overwinter them indoors. It tolerates light shade and prefers very warm climates.

    • Native Area: Mexico, Guatemala
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–10 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
    • Height: 3–4 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
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  • 09 of 10

    Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)

    Mexican bush sage with purple flowers

    Photos Lamontagne / Getty Images

    An evergreen perennial with a shrubby growth habit, Mexican bush sage blooms with purple or white-and-purple flowers from late summer until frost. The blossoms are unusually attractive and profuse, making this salvia plant a favorite for late-season container gardens. Butterflies and hummingbirds are very fond of this species, which has velvety, grayish-green leaves.

    • Native Area: Central America, Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–10 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
    • Height: 2–3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 10 of 10

    Diviner's Sage (Salvia divinorum)

    Green leaves of the diviner's sage

    David J. Stang/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 

    Diviner's sage, known among its enthusiasts simply as "salvia," is rarely grown as an ornamental. While it has attractive purple flowers, the plants don't bloom readily, and the stalks are prone to breaking. The plant has a long history of ceremonial use by the Mazatec tribes of southern Mexico.

    This salvia rarely produces viable seeds, so those who seek to grow it usually obtain plant cuttings or buy live plants from online vendors. The legal status of diviner's sage is evolving: The plant is now illegal in some U.S. states and decriminalized in others. Before growing it, always check your state laws.

    • Native Area: Southern Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
    • Height: 3–5 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • Are salvia plants annuals or perennials?

    There are over 1,000 species of salvia. Many are annuals, but some are hardy or are tender perennials that can come back every year. Mostly, they are treated as annuals in colder American regions.

  • Do salvias prefer sun or shade?

    Most salvias thrive in the full sun but can also handle living in partial shade. However, expect that your plants living in partial shade may experience a diminished bloom output.

  • Should you deadhead salvia flowers?

    When the flowers have died off, you should remove or "deadhead" them, taking them off the plant. Deadheading will stimulate your plant to grow.