The woodland sage (Salvia nemorosa), also known as wild sage, blue sage, or Balkan clary, belongs in every perennial bed.
The easy-care labiate with its tightly upright-growing flower corollas is a tireless perennial bloomer. It can often even be coaxed into a second flush of flowers by pruning it close to the ground.
In addition, the aromatically fragrant and nectar-rich flowering plant is an important food plant for bees and butterflies.
Origin and Spread
In contrast to the common sage (Salvia officinalis), which originates from the Mediterranean region in Europe, the woodland sage (Salvia nemorosa) is a purely ornamental plant.
The pretty, rather low perennial blooms beautifully and smells very intense. But is not edible and can not be used as a medicinal plant.
However, it delights with its long-lasting blooms instead. It is an important food plant for bees and butterflies due to its abundance of nectar.
The woodland sage is widespread between Russia and Europe. There, it is mainly at home in dry meadows, along roadsides, and – as the name suggests – in the vast steppes. Furthermore, the plant can also be found in higher mountainous areas.
The woodland sage looks particularly good as a gap filler or foreground planting in sunny beds. The plant, which often forms wide cushions, feels especially at home in rock or prairie gardens.
There, it combines very well with other herbs and perennials as well as with ornamental grasses.
Furthermore, the woodland sage is a perfect companion to roses, especially since the flowering seasons of the two species coincide.
Appearance and Growth
Botanically, the woodland sage belongs to the Lamiaceae family. Together with about 900 other species distributed almost all over the globe, it also forms the extremely species-rich genus of sage (Salvia).
The growth of the woodland sage is compact and with a height of between 8 and 24 inches (20 and 60 cm) comparatively low.
The plants grow in a densely caespitose or bushy manner, whereby some varieties can form dense cushions.
The perennial, which is also hardy in most regions, has a ground-covered rosette. From this, the shoots and leaves, which are covered with numerous short hairs, grow tightly upright.
The attractive, up to 7 inches (18 cm) long and green leaves of the woodland sage have a lanceolate shape. Their edge has a slight serration, the leaf blade is wrinkled to coarse.
Flowering and Flowering Time for Woodland Sage
Most varieties of the woodland sage show their attractive flower splendor between June and July. And this lasts for a very long time with an average of eight weeks.
Some varieties even start the flowering season already from mid to late May.
Provided you cut back the faded shoots severely, the woodland sage will develop a second bloom until September, the strength of which varies between the individual varieties.
The tiny and usually very dense individual flowers arrange into slender, spike-shaped flower clusters that reach upright into the air.
The color palette of the inflorescences ranges from white to various shades of pink to light or even dark shades of purple and blue.
Unless the withered inflorescences are cut off, inconspicuous, small nutlets develop. These contain the tiny seeds of the woodland sage, which open on their own when ripe.
The perennial has a strong tendency to self-seed. However, you can also collect the fruits along with seeds for selective breeding.
Is the Woodland Sage Poisonous?
The woodland sage is not poisonous, but you cannot use it in the kitchen or for the medicine cabinet. For this purpose, it is better to grow the aromatic common sage (Salvia officinalis).
Location and Soil for Woodland Sage
The woodland sage feels most comfortable in full sun and dry location with well-drained soil. Ideally, plant the perennial in a moderately nutrient-rich to sandy, calcareous, and loosened subsoil with a pH between 6 and 8.
The only important thing is that rain and water, in general, can drain away quickly and do not accumulate, as the tumbleweed does not appreciate wet feet at all.
Planting Woodlage Sage Properly
In principle, you can plant woodland sage throughout the growing season. Usually, it is sold as balled or containerized plants.
If you plant the perennials as early as spring, they will bloom the same year, whereas specimens planted later will not show their flowering splendor until the following year.
In the planting bed, before planting, dig in plenty of well-rotted manure or even compost, and in loamy soils, ensure good drainage, for example, by loosening the soil with sand.
The ideal planting distance between individual plants is about half the expected final height, even when planted in a group or in an area. So, you want to plant woodland sage, which grows up to 24 inches (60 cm) tall, about 12 inches (30 cm) apart in the bed.
Watering Woodland Sage
You will only need to water woodland sage during prolonged dry spells during the summer months. Otherwise, additional watering is not necessary.
Fertilizing Woodland Sage Properly
You will also only need to fertilize the perennial if it is growing in lean, sandy soil. In this case, give it a starter fertilizer in the spring, for example, using compost or a universal fertilizer.
Second fertilization is also useful after summer pruning to encourage the plants to bloom a second time.
Pruning Woodland Sage Properly
Cut back woodland sage by about a third immediately after it flowers. Then, apply a universal mineral fertilizer and an extra slosh from the watering can.
After a few weeks, the perennial will bloom a second time, although not as much as it did in the spring bloom. If possible, perform the second pruning in the spring, as the withered shoots should remain on the plant for winter protection.
Propagating Woodland Sage
At intervals of about three years, it makes sense to divide the woodland sage. This measure not only serves to propagate the plant but also maintains its flowering and health.
Otherwise, older specimens tend to senesce and thus produce significantly fewer flowers. If possible, perform the division in the spring.
Carefully dig up the plants and pay attention to the usually formed root runners, which you just need to cut off and plant separately.
If you don’t want to wait that long to propagate, you can cut cuttings about 4 to 6 inches 10 to 15 cm) long in late summer and plant them directly in the bed.
Keep the soil slightly moist and the cuttings will take root within a few weeks. Furthermore, propagation via self-collected or purchased seeds is also possible without any problems.
You can sow the seeds from the end of February in a propagation container on the windowsill and thus pull up the young plantlets in good time before spring. Direct sowing into the bed is best done from the end of April.
Diseases and Pests
With regard to diseases and pests, the woodland sage is pleasantly robust and is rarely attacked.
Problems may arise if you plant them too densely or in a dark and/or damp location. The former results in fungal diseases that can destroy the entire stand, while failing to maintain plant spacing can result in mildew infestation or an aphid invasion.
Species and Varieties
The wild species of the woodland sage hardly plays a role in the garden. However, there is a wide range of cultivars with purple, pink, or white flowers.
The varieties all form dense clumps but differ in growth form and height. The varieties presented here are only a small selection from the wide range of products.
- ‘Adrian’: Numerous white flower spikes between June and September. Distinctive autumn after-flowering, compact and bushy growth. Low growth height between 12 and 16 inches (30 and 40 cm).
- ‘Blue Hill’: Single, violet-blue flower spikes between June and September. Distinctive post-flowering, dense bushy growth. Growth height up to 20 inches (50 cm).
- ‘Caradonna’: Single, dark purple flowers, slender, bushy growth. Growth height up to 20 inches (50 cm). Blooming time between June and September, very rich after-blooming.
- ‘Compact White’: Numerous white flowers between June and September. Autumn after-blooming, bushy. Very compact growth to a maximum of 14 inches (35 cm) in height.
- ‘Marcus’: Very dark, deep purple flower spikes between June and September. Autumn after-blooming, cushion-forming, low growth between 8 and 12 inches (20 and 30 cm) tall.
- ‘Merleau Blue’: Single, dark blue flowers, bushy growth. Growth height up to 20 inches (50 cm). Flowering between May and September, autumn after-blooming.
- ‘Merleau Rose’: Single, pink flowers, bushy growth. Growth height up to 20 inches (50 cm). Flowering time between June and September, autumn after-blooming.
- ‘Rose Queen’: Single, pink flowers, flowering time between June and September. Autumn after-flowering, bushy growth. Growth height between 12 and 16 inches (30 and 40 cm).
- ‘Sensation Deep Rose’: Numerous violet-pink flower spikes between June and September. Post-blooming in autumn, cushion-like, very compact growth to a maximum height of 12 inches (30 cm).
- ‘Sensation White’: Single white flowers between June and September. Autumn after-bloom, bushy habit. Low growth to a maximum of 12 inches (30 cm) in height.
- ‘Wesuwe’: Single, dark purple flower spikes, dark shoots and stems, bushy, strong growth. Growth height between 20 and 24 inches (50 and 60 cm). Flowering time between June and September, strong autumn after-flowering.