How to Grow Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage)

Mexican Bush Sage

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Mexican bush sage, or Salvia leucantha, is an evergreen shrubby perennial that's prized for its dense, arching spikes and ability to produce an attractive late summer bloom of showy flowers.

The plant feels soft and hairy to the touch, and the bi-color blooms include white corollas and purple calyces. In the fall, you can expect to see lovely cascades of velvety purple flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and other beneficial pollinators and wildlife.

The Mexican bush sage makes an excellent companion plant for mixed beds and gardens, and it also makes gorgeous, long-lasting additions to floral arrangements.

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 about 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 grown on pairs on square stems.

Botanical Name Salvia leucantha
Common Name Mexican bush sage
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 4 feet tall, 3 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Fertile, well-drained
Soil pH 4.5-8
Bloom Time Late Summer
Flower Color Purple, white, blue
Hardiness Zones 8-11
Native Area Mexico, Central America

Salvia leucantha Care

Typically speaking, the Mexican bush sage is used solely for ornamental purposes, and it shouldn't be confused with the culinary sage herb that is used for seasoning. It's generally considered to be a low-maintenance plant that requires only routine care to thrive within any home garden.

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 a one-inch layer of aged manure can be incorporated into the soil to promote its best growth. Be sure to space Salvia leucantha plants 36 inches apart, and opt for a thick mulch to help protect your plants, such as evergreen boughs or wood chips.

Light

Though the Mexican bush sage prefers full sun, it can tolerate light shade--however, your plant may not be as full and lush.

Water

Though these plants are drought-tolerant, Salvia leucantha does require adequate water during hot summers, and be sure to water the shrub weekly during its initial growing season to help it develop strong roots.

You can water Mexican bush sage during periods of drought or when more than two weeks have passed without significant rainfall.

Soil

These plants require heavier soils than some of the other related salvia plants, which means it is 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, and this will improve drainage and provide fertility to the Mexican bush sage.

Temperature and Humidity

Salvia leucantha is a warm-weather plant that is considered a late bloomer, as it comes to life at the end of summer and into the early fall. It can tolerate drought and is suitable for warmer climates.

In colder winter climates, the Mexican bush sage makes for a bold and unique summer container plant for overwintering indoors.

Fertilizer

You can feed the Mexican bush sage a general-purpose, 12-12-12 fertilizer each year before its new shoots emerge in the spring. Just be sure to apply the fertilizer at the manufacturer's recommended rate.

Varieties of Mexican Bush Sage

Below are examples of some of the more popular and widely available Salvia leucantha cultivars.

  • Midnight Mexican Bush Sage: Deep purple flowers
  • Pink Mexican Bush Sage: Rosebud pink flowers, white bracts
  • White Mexican Bush Sage: Large white flowers, mint green stems

Pruning

The plant can freeze and experience some dieback of the stems in winter, but, when cut back in February, new growth will come up.

You can shear the plant two or three times during the spring and summer months to promote a denser, more compact growth and heavier bloom. Shear it to the ground in the winter to ensure that it grows back quickly into a full bush with lots of flowers. Flowers should be deadheaded once they fade to keep the blooms coming.

Propagating Salvia Leucantha

The Mexican bush sage can be propagated by seed or overwintering cuttings taken in late summer.

You'll want to either purchase potted plants in spring or start seeding indoors six to eight weeks before the last spring frost date.