My Best Low-maintenance Plants: Part I (Salvias)

Time is a luxury. Although I throughly enjoy working in the garden, I like to spend more hours - just being in the garden.

When I began my extreme makeover garden project this fall, I realized that not only was I keeping the best bloomers, but the easiest plants to maintain. I ruthlessly culled out poor performers, aggressive or high maintenance plants and threw those on the compost heap.

My garden conditions:

Zone 7b
full sun all day
outside the fence, deer resistance is critical
drought tolerant, once plants are established


Salvias provide a long bloom season and there are varieties available for many growing zones. This is important - choose salvias that are appropriate for your zone. Salvias that grow in New Mexico may not grow in your zone.

To help the perennial salvias overwinter, I do not cut them back in the fall. Some varieties of salvia require slightly more attention than others, but I still consider all of those in my garden to be low-maintenance. There are also annual salvias that can be grown for color all summer and then pulled out if they don't overwinter.

Photographing salvias is difficult, but otherwise, they are great plants!

It is November and almost every salvia in my garden is still in bloom. Only the salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' and uliginosa (bog sage) are not in bloom. The nemorosa blooms in spring and may be deadheaded for lesser repeat blooms (they reseed, but that's okay). I'm not a big fan of nemorosa because there are so many other salvias that bloom longer, however I like 'Caradonna' for the spring blooms and nice foliage.

The bog sage blooms non-stop all summer and takes a break only when the temperatures drop. It can be aggressive, but the stolons are easy to pull when it wanders too far.

For year-round, the salvia greggii varieties are my absolute favorites and I have them in violet, dark purple, deep red, cherry red, magenta, white and grape. They are semi-evergreen to evergreen in my garden. These salvias will put on a big spring bloom display, bloom off-and-on all summer and then put on the best display in autumn when so many other flowers have stopped blooming. In very late winter, all I do is a little shaping of the shrub-like plants to prevent stem breakage.

If you asked a hummingbird to select their favorite, it would be salvia guaranitica 'Black & Blue' so I have at least fifteen of these! This is a tender perennial for my zone, but I've had good luck with overwintering. This salvia can take a bit more summer moisture, richer soil and partial shade than other salvias. Still, it cannot be in a wet winter location in the garden. Black & Blue blooms from summer until fall freezes.

I've added salvia 'Mystic Spires Blue' as well as it's larger parent 'Indigo Spires' to the garden this summer. I have high hopes that these non-stop bloomers will overwinter here as they are truly beautiful and the color works with all other colors.

There are literally hundreds of salvias from which to choose, but I don't consider myself a collector, just a gardener who loves to grow great plants. These low-maintenance, deer resistant, rabbit resistant, drought tolerant plants work hard for me, so I'll keep them!

For more information on salvias, I can think of no better resources than Robin's Salvias (United Kingdom) for an incredible gallery and Rich Dufresne, a salvia expert right here in North Carolina who has introduced so many salvias to gardeners. Both gentlemen participate regularly on the GardenWeb Salvia Forum.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron; Home garden; 2009


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