Russian sage adds maximum beauty with minimal care

Here I go again, driving around town looking at gardens.

This one caught me off guard as I was running errands in downtown Charleston. I even circled the block to take a second look at the landscaping. Large billowing sections of pale blue and silver forming a border around the property looked perfect on a hot afternoon. I fell in love.

Russian sage is a perennial that grows 2 to 3 feet tall and often 2 to 4 feet wide. It needs sun — the more the better, but at least six hours each day. When planted in a shady spot, the stems may droop over or spread apart. You can add support to the plant, or in the early late spring cut a few inches off the top to encourage upright growth.

The plant has the prettiest blue blossoms, and they appear from early summer to late fall. Small greyish leaves compliment these flowers. Birds, bees and butterflies love these blossoms, too. You can prune in the fall, but the woody stems give interest to a winter garden. Flowers form on new growth, so if you are like me and wait until spring to prune, trim the old wood back to the lowest set of leaves — or about 6 inches from the ground.

When planting, it is a good idea to water weekly until the young plant has established a strong root system. As the plant matures, cut back on the water, it does not like wet feet and is actually quite hardy and drought resistant. Keep this in mind when mulching, and don’t cover up the base of the plant. For Russian sage, unlike many other plants in your garden, you want the moisture to evaporate from the soil around the base.

Blue Spire is the most common cultivar and was given the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993. It sounds like a fancy award, and tells me this plant is as special as I think it is.

Planted en masse or alternated in a border, the blooms create a cloud of blueish lavender that is breathtaking. Depending on your design, sun-loving companion plants can include day lilies, bee balm, yarrow, coneflowers or butterfly bushes.

Here’s a new word: xeriscape. This landscape design reduces or eliminates the need for excessive watering. I think of gardens out west with gravel and cactus, but it is so much more and is becoming increasingly common among water conserving gardeners.

This design takes into account rain runoff and plants that thrive with reduced water. It is more than choosing native plants; it involves choosing plants that require little extra irrigation. Russian sage is a good choice for these gardens. It thrives in less-than-perfect soil and can withstand the heat and drought-like conditions.
Despite the name, Russian sage is not edible. Even the deer and rabbits will pass on this one. The long silver stems and blueish flowers make lovely additions to summer bouquets. Plant as a filler or as a graceful border to a sunny spot.

However you choose to use this plant in your landscape, with minimal care you will be rewarded with maxed out beauty.

Jane Powell