Salvia nemorosa [SAL-vee-uh, nem-or-OH-suh] are herbaceous perennial plants and a member of the mint family or sage family, Lamiaceae. The genus Salvia is large and contains more than 700 species.
They are native to Europe and Western Asia, grown and propagated for their showy flowers. This is an easy plant to grow in full sun to partial shade in average, moist, well-drained soil. It prefers sandy or gravelly soil but tolerates most well-drained soils, even dry soils.
Common names for this Salvia plant include:
- Woodland sage
- Meadow sage
- Balkan clary
…. all referencing where it grows and its native habitat.
Its overall success, long history, and heavy cultivation have led to the creation of various award-winning cultivars.
Some examples include Salvia nemorosa ‘caradonna’, ‘Mainacht’ (May Night), ‘Blue Hill’, ‘Snow Hill,’ and various others.
Salvia Nemorosa Care
Size and Growth Habit
This perennial Salvia plant type has a moderate to fast growth rate when grown from healthy cuttings or seeds.
Meadow sage plants are easy-to-grow clump-forming plants with a woody base.
The dark purple stems (often square stems) grow upright to a height of 18” to 36” inches with a spread of around 24” inches.
The green leaves are notched and wrinkled, around 4” inches long.
They are oblong or lanceolate-shaped and medium to gray-green in color.
One interesting thing about the foliage is its fragrance, which smells when the leaves are bruised.
Flowering and Fragrance
Autumn is an ideal time for planting or separating sage, not only to extend the flowering season in your garden but also to provide the plant with the opportunity to establish a healthy root system before its winter dormancy so it is ready to burst into life the following spring.
The fragrant foliage is accentuated with a beautiful show of brightly colored violet or blue flowers.
The inflorescence appears in whorls of small flowers with calyces. The bloom time typically falls between late spring and early summer.
The flower color varies between blue and violet, depending on the variety.
Each flower is about half an inch long, growing in dense terminal spike-like racemes.
These upright racemes grow taller than the foliage, becoming more noticeable.
Light and Temperature
The right hardiness zone is crucial for these plants to succeed. Ensure at least 6 hours of sunlight per day for better blooms.
Even though these perennial flowering plants can live with only three hours of direct sunlight, they won’t be able to thrive like they would in sunnier conditions.
For the most part, they are hardy to USDA Zones 4 to 8.
They enjoy the full sun but can tolerate some light shade when they are still seedlings.
Watering and Feeding
The drought tolerant Salvia nemorosa is used for xeriscaping, meaning they have fairly low water requirements.
Irrigate the plant well and then let the soil dry before the next watering. The amount of water you add should be enough to cause excess water to flow through the drainage holes at the bottom of your pot.
Be very careful about overwatering as it may lead to root or crown rot.
You may feed the plants with a slow-release fertilizer when planting or transplanting new divisions/cuttings.
Established plants should be fed in early spring and halfway through the growing season. Avoid applying fertilizer late in the growing season. Or use a liquid fertilizer each time you water the plants.
Make sure you are delivering 50 parts per million nitrates.
Overfeeding can cause leggy growth, so be careful if your soil is already humusy.
Soil and Transplanting
While these drought-tolerant plants can survive in dry soil, it prefers moist soils with good drainage.
A neutral soil with medium to regular moisture and a gravelly or sandy texture ensures excellent drainage. Add organic matter such as manure, peat moss, or garden compost until the soil is loose and easy to work.
Late spring or late summer is the optimal time to split and transplant perennial Salvia plants.
Choose a day that is not too hot or too cold to encourage better rooting. Finish up with a 2” (5cm) layer of mulch, such as shredded bark or compost, to make the garden look tidy, reduce weeds, and retain soil moisture.
Use an average potting mixture with a mildly acidic, neutral, or mildly alkaline soil pH and good drainage.
Plant woodland sage at a depth the parent plant was in.
If you’re dividing the root ball, make sure you don’t bend or warp long roots.
Snipping them off is a better option so it doesn’t interfere with other plants.
Grooming and Maintenance
These rabbit-resistant and deer-resistant plants are low maintenance. Pruning stimulates tender new growth that will damage easily when the first frosts arrive. Perennial plants need time to prepare for winter or “harden off.”
Cut back after flowering the spent flowers or flower spikes to encourage the plant to rebloom for an extended show.
Once the plant has flowered and a bloom season has passed, cut back the plant to encourage better growth.
More Salvia Plants
How to Propagate Woodland Sage
These plants are propagated with vegetative cuttings in early spring or early summer or with seeds in any season.
To propagate via vegetative cuttings, harvest them before the bloom time arrives and plant them in their permanent locations.
The cuttings should get at least 10-12 hours of light and 12 hours of shade.
To germinate the plants from seeds, sow them in plug trays and cover them lightly with vermiculite.
Let the seeds germinate for the next 7 to 10 days at a temperature ranging between 68° – 72° degrees Fahrenheit (20° – 22° C).
Once the seeds have germinated, let the seedlings germinate for another 4 to 6 weeks before transplanting them to their permanent locations.
Woodland Sage Pests or Diseases
Perennial Salvia nemorosa plants are generally free of the most serious disease and pest problems.
However, there is some care required as the plants have some susceptibility to powdery mildew, rust, botrytis, and leaf spot.
As long as pests are concerned, whiteflies, aphids, thrips, and scale are occasional visitors.
Fortunately, these are relatively easy to get rid of and prevent with prompt action.
Suggested Salvia Nemorosa Uses
Woodland sage plants have always held significance in garden use.
The whimsical easy to grow fragrant flowers look magnificent in woodland gardens, cottage gardens, and wild gardens.
They also look beautiful when combined with other perennials.
Line them in borders of flowers or along pathways and driveways around your home.
They also make good accent plants and are used for mass planting and for using the blooms as a cut flower for your home.
The blue flower attracts butterflies and other pollinators.
Use Salvia nemorosa in butterfly gardens or typical pollinator gardens to attract bees and hummingbirds as well.
In Turkey, practitioners of traditional medicine use the leaves of S. nemorosa to stop bleeding. They apply the gray-green leaves externally to do so.
Additionally, aerial parts of this plant are used to extract various terpenes, flavonoids, and more.