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Get it Growing: A super salvia for Louisiana gardens

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Evolution Violet salvia provides abundant flowers spring through fall on compact plants. Photo by Dan Gill

Evolution salvia has been named a Louisiana Super Plant selection for spring 2016. This salvia is a cultivar of mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea) and comes in two colors. Salvia Evolution Violet (Salvia farinacea Evolution Violet) is the first cultivar of mealycup sage with striking intense violet flower spikes. Evolution White (Salvia farinacea Evolution White) produces flower spikes of silvery white.

Mealycup sage is a native wildflower of Texas and is well adapted to hot summer weather. Cultivars of this species have the tough constitution of the original wildflower and have been popular in Louisiana landscapes for a long time. Victoria mealycup sage is a popular bedding plant often found in nurseries that produces dark blue flowers.

Evolution salvia was chosen as a Louisiana Super Plant selection because of the unique intense purple or silvery white of its flower spikes, along with exceptional performance in LSU AgCenter bedding plant trials at the Hammond Research Station.

Evolution White salvia attracts bees and other pollinators. Photo by Dan Gill
Evolution White salvia attracts bees and other pollinators. Photo by Dan Gill

Like other cultivars of this species, Evolution mealycup sage is a semi-hardy perennial. This plant is hardy down to about 20 degrees and will often survive Louisiana winters. However, it would be best to grow it as an annual in north Louisiana where winter temperatures regularly go into the teens. In south Louisiana, mealycup sage will survive most winters to provide several years of summer-long color.

April is an excellent month to plant Evolution salvia into flower gardens. It also makes a great addition to container plantings. The plants will grow vigorously and be well-established by the time summer heat arrives. But the heat won’t slow them down.

Heavy flower production occurs through summer and into fall.

The flower spikes are held well above the foliage, making them particularly ornamental.

The flowers are clustered tightly on the stem, and the flower spikes resembles lavender, which we have trouble growing this far south. There is no need to deadhead faded flowers as they fall cleanly from the plant.

The flowers can be cut and look nice in small flower arrangements. You may also cut flower spikes when they are in full bloom and hang them upside down to dry. When dry, the flowers will retain their color and can be used in dried flower arrangements.

The flowers are not fragrant, but they are full of nectar. Bees of all types love salvias, and you are bound to see bees feeding on your Evolution salvia plants. They make excellent additions to plantings done to encourage pollinators. Butterflies will also readily visit plantings of Evolution salvia, and you can add them to your butterfly garden.

Evolution salvia does not grow overly large. Plants generally reach about 16 to 20 inches tall by 14 to 16 inches wide in late summer. Feel free to trim back the plants as needed through the summer. They will come back into bloom after being cut back.

The size of this salvia also makes it a great addition to container plantings. Plant the Evolution salvia in the middle of the pot and surround it with plants that will drape over the sides, such as purslane, scaevola or trailing coleus in colors that look good with the salvia.

The violet and white flower spikes combine beautifully with a wide range of colors.

When it comes to planting, choose a location that gets plenty of sun. Despite its heat tolerance, mealycup sage sometimes slows down in late summer, and flowering is reduced, although it will pick up again in fall. For this reason, planting in a location that has sun most of the day but some shade in the afternoon is ideal. Avoid shady areas, however, as flowering will not be as good.

Good drainage is important. This is not an issue. But when planting in the ground, remember that we commonly have periods of heavy rains during the summer. Heat and overly moist soil encourage root rot organisms. At the Hammond Research Station, Evolution salvia was planted into raised beds to ensure good drainage – and this is how you should plant yours. Make sure your flowerbed is about 8 inches higher than the lawn.
When preparing the bed, turn the soil to a depth of about 8 inches, spread about 4 inches of organic matter over the bed and apply general-purpose fertilizer following package recommendations. Compost is a great choice for adding organic matter, or use bagged manure or composted soil conditioner. Thoroughly incorporate the organic matter and fertilizer into the bed, rake it smooth, and you are ready to plant.

Place the plants no deeper than they were growing in the pots, spacing them about 12 to 14 inches apart. After planting apply 1 or 2 inches of your favorite mulch and thoroughly water the bed.

Pay attention to watering the first few weeks after planting, but as the plants get established they will need far less watering. Be careful not to water excessively during summer as this encourages disease problems and root rot. With proper care and the right location, these plants rarely have major insect or disease problem.

The Louisiana Super Plants program is an educational and marketing campaign of the LSU AgCenter that highlights tough and beautiful plants that perform well in Louisiana landscapes. New selections are announced and promoted each year in spring and fall.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu.