Salvia is a member of the mint family of plants, which has over 900 species of shrubs, perennials and annuals. The herbal classification of salvia is salvia officinalis; the perennial flower is salvia nemorosa. The perennial flower is popular in home gardens because of its adaptability to a range of growing conditions and its attractive, spiky flowers. Salvia blossoms in a wide range of colors and it is a long-lasting cut flower.
Salvias cross-pollinate easily and varieties are found on every continent in the world. The first written account of salvia is from Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder in the first century, who described it as a plant with healing qualities. Traditionally, salvia has been grown for its medicinal qualities and was described as such by the 17th century English botanist John Gerard. Many species of saliva are native to China and South America and were brought to Western Europe by explorers.
The perennial salvia flower plant grows in neat mounds with a continual show of spiky flowers. Cultivars such as Blue Hill and East Friesland grow 18 to 42 inches tall and have blue or purple flowers. Other varieties grow 2 to 3 feet tall and bloom in white. Hybrids in shades of red, pink, orchid, plum, salmon, burgundy and orange have been available since the 1990's. The bi-colored salvia Strata was introduced in 1996.
Salvia is a perennial that thrives in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 to 8. It grows well in moist but well-draining soil and full sun. Salvia adapts to partial shade in an eastern exposure in the garden with morning sun and afternoon shade. Soil that is too heavy and clay-like or too sandy will not encourage growth. Soil amended with compost creates the optimum growing environment for salvia. Once established, salvias are drought resistant. They bloom June to August.
Salvia varieties are grown from both seed and started plants. They are easily germinated when simple requirements for light and moisture are met. Salvia will not germinate in cold weather and prefers temperatures of 75 degrees F and above. Purchased plants are widely available at garden centers. They most often are labeled with the color of their flowers rather than their cultivar name.
Most gardeners find salvia to be relatively disease and problem free, but gray mold can sometimes develop. The symptoms are the appearance of brown dead areas on the leaves and gray fuzz if the area is moist. This mold over-winters on dead and live plant material and grows at temperatures between 32 and 84 degrees F. Good garden sanitation practices prevent its spread. Organic fungicides that are effective on mold include garlic spray and direct application of hydrogen peroxide.