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Southern Gardening: Choose annual, perennial salvias for summer beauty

 

The Black and Bloom salvia is one of the first summer perennials to start blooming. This tough plant survives and thrives in hot summers.

The Black and Bloom salvia is one of the first summer perennials to start blooming. This tough plant survives and thrives in hot summers. Photo by: Gary Bachman/MSU Extension Service

 

Dr. Gary Bachman

 

 

Home gardeners in Mississippi need colorful plants that hold up to the hot conditions we have every year. One group of plants that is a great choice for summer color is salvia, which includes both perennial and annual top performers. 

 

The annual Salvia Splendens, as the name suggests, can't be beat. It is commonly called scarlet salvia, but it comes in a variety of bright colors. 

 

The Vista series is one of my favorites. These plants are well behaved, and their growth tops out at a compact 12 inches. The flowers on the spikes are densely packed. I have seen these plants in the summer trials at both the Mississippi State University Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs and the Louisiana State University AgCenter in Hammond. Both the red and purple varieties looked great despite the high summer heat and humidity. 

 

Perennial salvia varieties typically are not as flashy and are a bit subdued compared to the annuals, but they still deserve a place in your landscape. 

 

In 1998, Victoria Blue salvia was selected as a Mississippi Medallion winner. This is an upright perennial that needs some winter protection in northern Mississippi. The rich, deep-blue flowers are displayed on spikes and produced through summer and into fall. This plant grows to about 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide. 

 

There is a white variety called Victoria White. Check on this plant's availability with your local garden center. 

 

I'm growing a new salvia this summer called Rockin' Playin' the Blues. So far, it has been a wonderful annual salvia, although I'm hoping it will be a perennial in my Ocean Springs landscape. 

 

Rockin' Playin' the Blues, which has richly colored foliage and flowers, is described as compact. Right now, it's about 24 inches tall and showing no signs of stopping. 

 

This plant is one of the latest hybrids coming out of Salvia longispicata x farinacea breeding. That is a lot "botanicalese" that simply means Rockin' Playin' the Blues is sterile and will keep blooming all season until the first hard frost comes along. 

 

Rockin' Playin' the Blues produces beautiful blue flowers -- and I do love blue flowers -- all summer. It is fascinating that the calyx, which are the whorls that enclose the actual flower, remain blue after the flowers fade, giving the impression of a greater floral presence in your garden. 

 

I'm impressed with the number of native bumblebees attracted to these flowers. Even during the lulls between rainy tropical onslaughts, I've been fascinated by the bumble activity. 

 

Another of my newer salvia favorites is Black and Bloom. It is perennial in my Ocean Springs landscape, growing in a big container. I really like that it's one of the first of my summer perennials to start blooming. The flowers are large, and the plant has dark leaves and black stems and calyces that accentuate the deep-blue flowers. 

 

This is a truly tough plant that survives our hot summers and meets my standard for survival of the garden fittest. A great companion plant is one of the euphorbias like Diamond Frost, with its wispy cloud-like masses of white flowers. 

 

I have the most success with my salvia, especially the perennial varieties, growing them in big containers to get better drainage. Choose some today for your landscape. 

 

Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi and hosts Southern Gardening TV and radio programs. Contact him at southerngardening@msstate.edu.

 

 

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