If you enjoy seeing hummingbirds and butterflies in your garden, the grape-scented sage (Salvia melissodora) makes a good perennial shrub choice. Also attracting bumblebees and honeybees, this sage truly is a flurry of activity when blooming in late summer and fall. Even the foliage is fragrant when rubbed. Grow it in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 8b and warmer where temperatures never drop below 20 degrees F.
Grape-scented sage hails from the highlands of the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains of Mexico. It grows in the rocky soils at an elevation of 4,000 to 8,000 feet.
Growing 6 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide, grape-scented sage develops upright branches that create a wispy, open-structured shrub. The oval medium green to grayish leaves are scented when crushed. From midsummer to autumn, upright flower spikes with lavender-lilac flowers grace the branch tips. The blossoms smell of sweet grapes or the herb lavender. In warm regions, flowering begins earlier and may continue into early winter if temperatures are not too chilly.
Plant Salvia melissodora in a sunny location where it receives no less than eight hours of direct sunlight daily. The soil needs to be fast-draining and coarse so that irrigation or rainwater freely soaks away and never remains soggy. To develop a more compact plant, consider pruning back branches by one-half in early spring to rejuvenate. In regions where temps drop just below 20 degrees F, the shrub may be killed back to the base and rejuvenate in late spring.
A drought-tolerant plant, grape-scented sage makes an attractive fall-flowering shrub for water-conservation (xeriscape) gardens. It will also tolerate partially shaded exposures where irrigation is lacking or soils dry, such as near tall desert trees. Salvia melissodora attracts insects and its foliage can be dried and brewed into tea. The fragrant flowers make scented nosegays or bouquets. When small, it grows well as a patio container plant until it reaches a height over 3 feet tall.
The Salvia Study Group of Victoria, Australia noted that world-renowned Salvia specialist Christian Froissart's book, "La Connaissance des Sauges," states that Salvia melissodora is actually Salvia keerlii. After publication of this book, taxonomists confirmed that these two sage species are indeed separate species.