Mexican Bush Sage, a flowering shrub for Treasure Coast landscapes
A bed full of pretty silvery foliage and the beginnings of a mass of striking purple blooms caught my eye the other day and reminded me that the fall gardening season will soon be here. The plant that served the reminder is Mexican Bush Sage or Salvia leucantha.
A member of the mint family, Mexican or autumn bush sage is a perennial in Treasure Coast landscapes and other warm climates; however it is deciduous in cooler climates. It bears leaves that are gray or silver green in color, opposite each other on the stem and willow-like in shape. The leaves add texture to the landscape because they are wrinkled (AKA rugose) on the upper surface and white on the lower surface due to short woolly hairs (AKA tomentose). They are held on square woody stems that are also woolly.
Showy flowers are produced on loose spikes held well above the foliage. The individual flowers are small with 2 lips in strong, bright shades of lavender to rose-violet with some white accents. There are selections with blue, pink or white flowers. The outer petals known as the calyx persists after the main portion of the flower has fallen giving the appearance of very long-lasting blooms. Flowers usually appear from early summer until first cold weather which means in south Florida, blooms appear sporadically all year. The fuzzy flowers are very ornamental.
Native to Central America and Mexico, this sage grows 2 – 4 feet tall and to 2 - 3 feet wide. It requires full sun for best shape and color, however it will survive some afternoon shade. Mexican sage is not picky about soil and will grow just about anywhere as long as it is a well-drained location. This is a good choice for water-conscious gardens because it is very drought tolerant; however, flower production is best with an occasional application of water during times of prolonged drought.
Mexican Bush Sage can be used in beds either by itself or as a border, mass plantings are spectacular. It is good for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, also nice as a container plant. Plant it on 2 to 3 foot centers for dense plantings, though 3 to 4 feet between individual plants is better. Apply fertilize as needed up to 2-3 times per year and use a balanced, slow-release product. Prune or cut back when flowering slows or at the beginning of spring for a tidier, fuller look. Mulch well with 2 to4 inches of organic mulch kept away from the base of the plant and renew the mulch bi-annually.
Few pests bother this salvia other than the human pest with a water hose in hand, in fact it is known for its resistance to slugs, snails, deer, & rabbits if not over watered. Mexican autumn sage is a sturdy grower which produces a nice rounded shrub with little care.
Mexican Bush Sage is one of the few types of salvia that produces flowers good for cutting.