Are Salvias Perennial? Plus 6 Salvia Alternatives

Salvias are a much loved plant that can be found in many gardens. The salvia family includes culinary sage and ornamental flowering plants. Here, we tell you what's perennial and what's not. The answer may surprise you.
Are Salvias Perennial? Plus 6 Salvia Alternatives

What is the difference between annuals and perennials?

Annuals are flowers that grow, flower, seed, and die off in a single year.

Some plants cannot tolerate frost, so in cooler zones, they will die off. Some plants can survive warmer winters, so an annual in a cold zone may be considered a perennial in a warmer zone.

Perennials are plants that grow, flower, seed, and return year after year.

Many perennials are frost-hardy meaning that they will survive cold weather. While their green, vegetative growth may die off in winter, the roots keep living. Then in spring or summer, the plant will grow and bloom just as it did the year before.

Are all salvias perennial?

The answer is: it depends.

Salvia encompasses a large family of plants from herbal sage to ornamental annuals. The herb sage, or Salvia officinalis, is a perennial in most USDA zones. Salvia splendens, the ornamental red-flowered bloomer, is an annual in almost every USDA zone.

Are any salvias perennial?

Yes, herbal or culinary sage is perennial in most areas of the US. Ornamental salvias are perennial only in warmer growing zones. If you live in a warm climate, most salvias will be perennial. If you live in a very cold climate, no salvias will be perennial (unless you bring them indoors for winter).

What zones are salvias perennial in?

Here is a breakdown of some salvias and what USDA zones they can survive in. Most salvias will survive in zones 8 through 10 and few varieties will survive in cooler zones. This is not an exhaustive list, but most salvias will be similar in zonal requirements.

  • Pineapple sage (Salvia elegens) is a salvia perennial in USDA zones 8 to 10
  • Scarlet sage (Salvia splendens) is a salvia perennial in USDA zones 8 to 10
  • Mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea) is a salvia perennial in USDA zones 8 to 10
  • Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) is a salvia perennial in USDA zones 8 to 10
  • Anise-scented sage (Salvia guaranitica) 'Black and Blue' is a slavia perennial in USDA zones 8 to 10
  • Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) is a salvia perennial in USDA zones 8 to 10
  • Silver sage (Salvia argentea) is a salvia perennial in USDA zones 5 to 8
  • Yellow Japanese Sage (Salvia koyamae) is a salvia perennial in USDA zones 5 to 9
  • Herbal sage (Salvia officinalis) is a salvia perennial in USDA zones 4 to 8

How do I take care of my salvias?

Salvias are easy to take care of and are a low-maintenance plant.

Salvias are somewhat drought and heat tolerant. This means they can grow in full sun and slightly sandy conditions. That being said, they can tolerate a wide range of conditions from moderate clay soil to partial shade.

Here are some key points to consider when growing your salvias:
  • Plant level with the soil, do not cover the stem or leaves with soil
  • Plant in the front or middle of flower beds, in containers, or hanging baskets
  • Plant in groups for a fuller appearance
  • Leave flower heads on in the fall to allow for seeding, this encourages their return the following year (not always will they self-seed, but it’s worth testing)
  • Collect and store seeds for the following year

How do I keep my salvias blooming?

Salvia is a beloved flower. Why? Because they have many repeat blooms, often all summer long! For maximum flowering we recommend dead-heading.

Deadheading is the removal of dead or spent flowers from the plant

Deadheading encourages more blooms. When a flower dwindles, the plant works to create seeds from that flower. A lot of energy is spent on making seeds.

When the dead flowers are removed, the plant can redirect its energy into creating new flowers. This also helps strengthen the root system. It takes a bit of work, but the result of having more, vibrant blooms is well worth it.

Best salvia alternatives that are perennial:

Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

Wands of blazing star stand tall and firm

USDA zones: 3 to 9
Sun requirements: Full sun
Mature height: 2 to 4 feet
Perfect for the back of borders and rain gardens

The blazing star is a unique purple flower with tall, round blooms. It tolerates different soil types and can grow in moderate clay soils. It makes a good salvia alternative because it can be grown in 7 different zones! It blooms in summer and is a total show-stopper. Plus it's pollinator friendly! What’s not to love?

Check out the Blazing Star product page here

Bugleweed plant (Ajuga reptans)

Low-growing bugleweed creates a carpet of flower spires

USDA zones: 3 to 10
Sun requirements: Full sun to part shade
Mature height: up to 8 inches
Perfect for bare spots and as a groundcover

If you are looking for a groundcover that's a perennial salvia alternative, bugleweed may be for you. It is a low grower and can fill in those bare spots in flower beds. It is low maintenance and fills in the empty spots easily.

Check out the Bugleweed Plant product page here

Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Frothy fronds of the foam flower are soft to the touch

USDA zones: 4 to 9
Sun requirements: Part shade to full shade
Mature height: up to 2 feet tall
Perfect for woodland gardens, under trees, and shaded flower beds

The foam flower is the frothier cousin of salvia. It has pillars of stems from which many tiny, white flowers grow. This shade-loving plant is a spring bloomer and draws in beneficial insects and pollinators.

Check out the Foam Flower product page here

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Blue vervain grows fronds of tiny flowers

USDA zones: 3 to 8
Sun requirements: Full sun
Mature height: 2 to 6 feet
Perfect for rain gardens, rock gardens, clay soils, borders, and woodland or creekside

The blue vervain thrives in moist soil making it an ideal rain garden plant. It has spindles of flowers that bloom at cone-shaped tips. It is a late summer bloomer that will restore much-needed color to fall gardens.

Check out the Blue Vervian product page here

Red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Red cardinal flowers grow many tall spikes

USDA zones: 3 to 9
Sun requirements: Full sun to part shade
Mature height: 2 to 4 feet
Perfect for hummingbird and pollinator gardens, cottage gardens, and rain gardens

The red cardinal flower is a good salvia-like perennial alternative as it resembles a tall Salvia splendens. It is a moisture-loving plant that needs a regular flow of water to thrive. While it is an uncommon plant in gardens but is native to North America. Additionally, this plant is deer and rabbit resistant.

Check out the Red Cardinal Flower product page here

Flowering Perennial Grab Bag

A flower bed of perennials sways in the breeze

The flowering perennial grab bag is a wonderful choice for gardeners who have a tough time choosing! Why settle on one perennial when you can have 10? This way, you can grow a variety of plants and determine your favorites. This is also a useful option if you have a lot of garden space to cover and don’t want to purchase plants individually.

Some of the plants you may find in the grab bag include (but are not limited to):
  • Yellow Coneflower
  • Vinca Minor
  • Phlox
  • Stella de Oro Daylily
  • Yellow and White Daffodils

For $26.99 you get 10 plants– that’s less than $3 per plant. Because perennials are long-lived, you can enjoy these plants for years or even decades to come! Not too shabby…

Check out the Perennial Grab Bag product page here