Snip, Snip the Summer Salvias

Brad Wier

Salvias are among the most forgiving and satisfying of pruning subjects. They bloom better on fresh growth, so last year’s old wood is often unnecessary for a healthy, attractive specimen.

On the whole it’s been a fairly mild winter, and even a few summer perennials are lingering in warmer parts of town. Even a few Texas mountain laurels started blooming and plants that are often bare and frozen by January — esperanzas and Turk’s cap — are still green.

But it was the summer Salvias that caught our eyes on a recent gloomy morning that was too rainy to walk in the park, but perfect for a quick yard intervention.

Among the weeds flushing out at ground level, we fixed on a pile of fresh new growth at the base of the mealy blue sage. Mealy cup blue (Salvia farnesiana) is a southeast Texas native perennial, growing up to four feet like a wildflower on steroids. With a pleasant rosette of minty new leaves bunching up under a lattice of last summer’s thin dry stalks, it looked like an ice cream cone turned upside down: an inverted form showing that, for mealy blue at least, spring had begun. I needed no further invitation.

Out came the clippers for about sixty seconds of feverish pruning. Salvias are among the most forgiving and satisfying of pruning subjects. Since they bloom better on fresh growth, last year’s old wood is often unnecessary for a healthy, attractive specimen. I picked a spot close enough to the ground to gather a few lazy handfuls and with about nine clips of the raconteurs three mealy blues were ready for spring. Free of last year’s burdens, the remaining leaves wafted in a suddenly fragrant breeze. Happy belated New Year.

Similar purple-type salvias like ‘Evolution’ and ‘Indigo Spires’ were still blooming so lushly that they earned a reprieve for now. Same with the ‘Redneck’ Salvia madrensis. But in about a month all the salvias above will likely be ready for the same treatment.

Haircuts were unleashed, however, for a couple of tropical sages (S. coccinea) and a single red mountain sage (S. darcyi) — mostly to show off the bulbines that were exploding behind them.

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