How to Grow and Care for the Mexican Bush Sage

Mexican bush sage

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) is an evergreen shrubby perennial prized for its dense, arching spikes and ability to produce an attractive late summer bloom of showy flowers. The plant is soft and hairy to the touch, and its bi-color blooms include white corollas and purple calyces. In the fall, you can expect lovely cascades of velvety purple flowers attracting butterflies, hummingbirds and other beneficial pollinators and wildlife. Native to Central America and Mexico, it can be grown as an annual that typically rises to about two to three feet tall within one growing season. The Mexican bush sage's flowers are approximately ten inches long and extend above its soft green foliage, which has a slight silvery tint. Its gray-green leaves have a velvet-like texture and grow in pairs on square stems.

Common Name Mexican bush sage
Botanical Name Salvia leucantha
Family Lamiaceae
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 4 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Purple, white, blue
Hardiness Zones 8-11 (USDA)
Native Area North America, Central America
closeup of Mexican bush sage

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

closeup of Mexican bush sage detail

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

closeup of Mexican bush sage

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Mexican Bush Sage Care

When first planting, you'll want to choose a sunny location and begin in the early spring. Soil should be fertile and well-drained, and you can incorporate a one-inch layer of aged manure into the soil to promote its best growth. Be sure to space the plants 36 inches apart, and opt for a thick mulch to help protect your bushes, such as evergreen boughs or wood chips.

Mexican bush sages can be propagated with cuttings, and overwintering can be done indoors or outdoors, depending on the winter temperatures of your area. The plant can develop various infestations and fungal diseases, although you generally won't have problems caring for this easygoing bush.

Light

The Mexican bush sage prefers full sun, but it can tolerate partial sun. Still, in partial sun, your plant may not be as dense and lush.

Water

Though Mexican bush sages are drought-tolerant, they require watering during hot summers. Be sure to water the shrub weekly during its initial growing season to help develop strong roots. You can water Mexican bush sage during periods of drought longer than two weeks without significant rainfall.

Soil

Mexican bush sages require heavier soils than other plants in their family and are not prone to rot in heavy soil. You can work a three- or four-inch layer of organic compost into the soil with a tiller, improving drainage and providing additional protection.

Temperature and Humidity

The Mexican bush sage is a warm-weather plant and blooms at the end of summer and into the early fall. It will only survive winters warmer than 18°F.

Fertilizer

You can fertilize the Mexican bush sage with an all-purpose, 12-12-12 fertilizer each year before new shoots emerge in the spring. Be sure to apply the fertilizer at the manufacturer's recommended rate. Regular fertilization is typically unnecessary.

Types of Mexican Bush Sage

  • Midnight Mexican Bush Sage
  • Pink Mexican Bush Sage
  • White Mexican Bush Sage
purple Mexican sage

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Pink Mexican sage

Charles Schug / Getty Images

white Mexican sage bush

Karin de Mamiel / Getty Images

Pruning

You can shear the Mexican bush sage two or three times during the spring and summer to promote denser, more compact growth and heavier bloom. Shear the plant to the ground in the winter to ensure it grows back quickly into a full bush with abundant flowers. You should deadhead flowers once they fade.

Propagating Mexican Bush Sage

The Mexican bush sage can be propagated with cuttings taken in spring or summer. While you can plant from seeds, propagating promotes universal growth and is a productive use for excess branching. Here's how to propagate the Mexican bush sage with cuttings:

  1. Cut a piece of hardwood bearing four to five nodes
  2. Strip leaves
  3. Dip the ends of the cuttings into a rooting hormone
  4. Place the cuttings into a pot filled with peat
  5. Water well and plant the growing bush in the late spring

Overwintering

The Mexican bush sage can freeze and experience some dieback of the stems in winter, but when cut back in February, new growth will come up. You may overwinter the plant indoors in a pot with good drainage and exposure to ample sunlight. Transfer the Mexican bush sage indoors before the first frost. However, you can leave the plant outdoors if the winter weather stays slightly above freezing temperatures.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

The Mexican bush sage is susceptible to several pests and diseases. Pest risks include whiteflies, aphids, and spider mites. However, these insects usually attack Mexican bush sages grown inside a greenhouse. The plant can also develop diseases such as rust and leaf spot.

How to Get Mexican Bush Sage to Bloom

You can encourage a healthy bloom on your Mexican bush sage with appropriate care in the early stages of growth. When in bloom, the flowers are bright and fragrant, and the leaves are soft and hairy. Full bloom occurs in the summer and annually or perennially after. You should deadhead the flowers and maintain proper moisture during bloom to promote full and healthy flowers.

Common Problems With Mexican Bush Sage

The plant is generally low-maintenance and problem-free but is prone to issues common to all bushes.

Plant Leaves Falling Off

Leaves infected with rust can cause leaf drop. Rust is a fungal disease that thrives in overly wet soil, so you should adjust your watering practices if you notice leaves falling off your Mexican bush sage.

Yellow Leaves

Like leaf loss, yellow leaves on your Mexican bush sage are often caused by overwatering or an overly nitrogen-rich fertilizer. You can address this issue preemptively by mixing at least 20% sand or grit with compost into your soil. If you notice yellow leaves, check the soil to ensure it's dry enough or well enough drained.

FAQ
  • What plants are similar to Mexican bush sages?

    The White Mischief is similar to the Mexican bush sage, but it's better for flower cuttings and bears white flowers rather than purple.

  • Do Mexican bush sages attract animals?

    The Mexican bush sage attracts hummingbirds and butterflies and is an ideal choice for a pollinator garden.