Time to Prune Salvias

Salvias are sometimes called “super shrubs,” at least in this column, because they are easy to cultivate; diverse in form, size and blossom color; and well suited for gardens in summer-dry climates, like that of the Monterey Bay area.

Many salvias have blossoms in shades of red and blue. Some uncommon varieties have white or yellow blossoms. A very uncommon species is the Beach Salvia (Salvia Africana-lutea), which has rusty orange upper petals that turn to a russet-brown color.

Salvia shrub
Salvia africana-lutea (Beach Salvia)

These form, size and blossom color qualities have supported the development of a growing collection of salvias in my garden, to the point that I have lost track of the number of plants, and of their names. I do recognize the genus salvia when I come upon it; on a good day I can name several of the cultivars. My digital files include just about all these plants in my garden, and I do intend to map their locations, one of these days, as part of the ongoing mapping project.

The recent annual Hard Pruning of the Salvias in my garden required substantial help. This necessary pruning process both supports and hinders the mapping objective.

When salvias grow closely together their branches intermingle and merge into a botanical mass that defies mapping. Gardeners who grow salvias know that they benefit from hard pruning in late winter or early spring, as new growth appears at the base of the plant. Hard pruning reduces the plants to six-to-twelve inches tall. This treatment counters ranginess and promotes bushiness, which adds to their value in the landscape. It also supports mapping by enabling the determined mapper to distinguish each plant from its neighbors.

Many salvias bloom throughout the year in our moderate climate, and many have distinctive leaf forms that can be essential clues for identifying the cultivars. These characteristics certainly help in mapping, but hard pruning hinders the process by removing all blossoms and perhaps all leaves.

The ideal time for mapping a mature salvia bed, then, occurs after pruning (while the plants are small in size) and after they begin producing leaves and blooms (which happens in early spring). Salvias’ growth cycles differ somewhat, so the plants are not all in lock-step, but this strategy should work fairly well.

Another consideration related to hard pruning salvias: after plants have been pruned seasonally, they are most visible as individual plants, ready for transplanting. As with any plant, transplanting should be done as promptly to avoid drying the roots. A good practice is to dig the hole for the plant’s new location before digging the plant. This strategy avoids any lag time between listing the plant and placing it in the new hole.

Salvias can be propagated also during the pruning season through stem cuttings.

Salvia plants also can be divided at pruning time, but this method is not recommended generally because it leaves each division with a minimal boot structure.

Finally, salvia propagation can be done from seeds collected in the early fall, i.e., around September.

One or several salvias can be botanical assets in your garden.

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