Annual Salvias – Not Just Red Bedding Plants Anymore

Salvia confertiflora

Salvia confertiflora

To talk about salvias might elicit a few yawns and groans from the we’ve-heard-it-all crowd.


However, in these times when we are all looking for the newest and the best, we might look to some of the annual sages already around. They often get overlooked because they may be too tall for easy shipping, may not be in flower for the spring traffic at the garden centers or are simply not available in large numbers.

Salvias are popular — and they need not all be the same. Here are a few you know well, and perhaps a few you do not. All are easy to grow and may be found through a broker or grower.

Six Annual Salvias For Everyone

Mealy-cup sage (S. farinacea) is the second most popular annual salvia after bedding sage.

Cultivars I recommend: ‘Victoria’ is nothing new, but the standard for excellence. ‘Rhea’ is an excellent performer. The Cathedral series is relatively new and bold, and I can’t wait to see more of ‘Mannequin Blue Mountain.’

Pineapple sage (S. elegans) has large, fragrant foliage and blooms in late summer and fall. It may be hardy in Zones 8 to 10.

Cultivars I recommend: ‘Golden Delicious’ has extraordinary foliage, which is a great contrast to its red flowers.




The Wishes are hybrids of unknown parentage that provide vigor and outstanding colors. Proceeds of sales go to Australia’s Make-A-Wish foundation.

Cultivars I recommend: ‘Wendy’s Wish’ was the first of the Wish series — very big and eye-catching. ‘Ember’s Wish’ has beautiful color on a compact plant. It was named for Australian teenagers Emma and Brett Shegog, who died from a genetic disorder, the name being a combination of the two. ‘Love & Wishes’ is the third member, but I have not seen it in the ground yet.

Anise sage (S. guaranitica) is perhaps the tallest of the annual salvias. It flowers throughout most of the summer and fall.

Cultivars I recommend: ‘Black & Blue’ is the best known and loved. It is big and bodacious. ‘Argentina Skies’ has handsome light-blue flowers, but is not nearly as floriferous as the species or the former cultivar.

Velvet sage (S. leucantha). Touching the foliage reveals the origin of the common name. Plants are most popular in the South because they only flower in the fall. Early cold fronts in the North limit their use. The flowers are purple/white.

Cultivars I recommend: ‘Midnight’ has purple flowers, with no white at all. Pink and white flowering cultivars appeared briefly, but I don’t see them anymore.

Red velvet sage, spike sage (S. confertiflora) is hardly known at all, but I see it in public gardens everywhere, so someone is growing it. It has outstanding, reddish-brown spikes and reaches three to four feet in flower, blooming late summer and fall. Red velvet sage may never be common, but it should not be ignored.