Russian Sage In The Perennial Garden

Has the gardening world improved, or has it declined over the past century? I do a lot of thinking while I’m planting, pruning and weeding, and I’ve considered how fortunate we are to be gardening in our present time.

Take, for example, the number of perennial types that were unheard of when I was a boy. My mother and grandmother grew most of the perennials that could be grown, and I enjoyed watching. Unheard of was Russian Sage, a perennial that’s gained such popularity over the past decade.

Are you growing Russian Sage? Here are the characteristics of Perovskia atriplicifolia, it’s botanical name:

  • It’s generally rated as Hardiness Zone 4.
  • Flower spikes develop from late June through autumn, making it one of the longest blooming perennials.
  • Stems are silver-white with silver-green foliage. Stems and foliage have a sometimes pungent fragrance.
  • Highly attractive to bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Deer resistant, and probably rabbit resistant.
  • Drought tolerant
  • Enjoys hot, sunny locations. Weaker in shade or part shade. Full sun is best.
  • Growth habit depends on the named variety (cultivar.) Some types seed themselves and spread by rhizomes, which can be annoying.
  • Some cultivars become tall and wide – up to 4 feet high and wide. Other cultivars remain shorter and more compact. Examine the characteristics to choose which variety best meets your location.
  • Very useful in combination perennial beds where a taller accent is wanted.
  • Some varieties require caging or staking to prevent floppiness. 

Some of the best, newer cultivars that are also more compact, growing 2 to 3 feet instead of 4 feet include ‘Peek-a-Blue’, ‘Lacey Blue’, ‘Little Lace’, ‘Blue Steel’, ‘Crazy Blue’, and ‘Rocketman’, ‘Denim ‘n Lace’, and ‘Blue Jean Baby.’

History of Russian Sage: Russian sage was introduced into the United Kingdom in 1904 from its native Asia and Eastern Europe. Hybrids and cultivars began appearing in the 1930’s. Widespread popularity didn’t begin in the United States until the 1990’s, when the Perennial Plant Association named Russian Sage the 1995 Perennial of the Year.

For Best success with Russian Sage:

  • Locate in full sun, allowing enough room.
  • Although it can be cut back in fall, the woody stems are best pruned back in early spring to several inches above ground level.
  • Sometimes the central crown dies out with woody stumps, and new growth arises from around the perimeter of the clump. This fresh growth can be dug and reset in spring when new growth is tiny, while discarding the old central woody crown.
  • Select newer cultivars from garden centers, as the new types generally have better flower color, stronger, more compact habit, and less tendency to sprawl.

Happy Gardening!