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Salvias - A Pruning Guide

Jo.Baker
Published on December 28th 2019
16
A close up of the purple flowers of a Saliva

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The weather has turned, and my woody Salvia has finally dropped all of its flowers after a stunning long display.
I am not alone in growing these beautiful plants, and we have seen a few questions being asked here on Candide on how to care for them. In particular when, and how to prune them.
A close up of the white flowers of a woody Salvia planted in a mix container
I'm unsure of the cultivar, as this Salvia plant was bought as a cutting from a church fete, but I've loved growing it this year

Sage

Salvia spp.

The Salvia genus contains almost a thousand species, from shrubs, perennials or annuals. Caring for each type of plant requires slightly different methods at different times of the year.
Hopefully, here I can make it as easy as possible for everyone to look after these plants.

Shrub or woody Salvias

These beauties can get carried away over time, outgrowing their space and, in the case of one of my clients, making paths unusable.
You can prune them annually to help keep them under control and prevent them from getting too woody. Pruning also helps to increase the number of flowers.
Most of these shrubs will survive an English winter, especially if planted in a sheltered position. But we do run the risk of losing them if we get a prolonged spell below minus 15 degrees Celsius.
One way to help these plants to survive is to leave the stems untouched until spring. The stems will provide a level of frost protection to the crown of the plant.
  • In spring, the whole plant can be cut back to roughly 10cm (4") above soil level, just above a set of new buds.
  • In summer, cut back any dead, diseased, deformed or crossing stems. Now is also the time to thin out the centre of the plant by cutting a third of the stems to roughly 15cm (6"). This will allow light in and encourages new growth.
  • Deadhead fading flowers throughout the year. Only cut back to the first pair of leaves on the stem.
A woody Salvia 'Hot Lips' in flower in a garden border, photo by Candide user paul_shoebridge
Salvia 'Hot Lips' Image by Candide user @paul_shoebridge

Evergreen Salvia's

You can treat evergreen salvias in almost the same way as the woody types. You should only cut back in Spring, but not as hard. Trim the plant lightly, without cutting back into brown wood, i.e. with some green leaves left on each stem.

Herbaceous perennials

These beautiful border plants can be deadheaded throughout the season to encourage new flowers. The main cut back should be in late winter or early spring.
Leaving the old stems will provide a level of frost protection to the new shoots, as well as a sheltered habitat for wildlife.
Having said this, my grandmother preferred a tidier border and would get me to cut her salvias back in late autumn, leaving a 10 to 15cm stem to remind us where the plant was.
Once the new shoots have appeared and you are past the last frost in your area, these stems can also be cut away.
A mass planting of *Salvia elegans* (pineapple sage) showing it's red flowers above a sea of green leaves. Photo taken by Candide user Jill Raggett, first shared on jillraggett.tumblr
Salvia elegans is a tender perennial frequently treated as an annual in the UK, Image courtesy of jillraggett.tumblr

Annual

These will die back in an average UK winter and will need clearing away on dry winter days. However, deadheading will prolong flowering until the first frosts, so is well worth doing.
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Rosette forming

S. nemorisa, S. x superba and S. penstemonoides are all species for whom this year's growth has appeared from a rosette-shaped crown.
The stems of these can be cut right the way back to the base after their first flowering in early summer. This will produce a second flush of flowers that will continue until the first frost.
The second lot of stems are then best left standing until early spring before being tidied away.
Salvias range from small leaves or tall flower spikes, in colours from the palest cream to the deepest purple. Whichever one you grow, they'll all flower better if given regular cutbacks and an annual feed and mulch.

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