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Scarlet sage shows off throughout the South
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
As I drive around Mississippi this summer, it seems the old-fashioned scarlet sage is still the showiest plant in the garden. Scarlet sage is our annual salvia known botanically as Salvia splendens.
Though I say old-fashioned, rest assured plant breeders have been working the past decade to bring us new colors and two-toned selections that will add razzle-dazzle to the landscape. The name "scarlet" is actually a bit misleading because there are so many other colors available now.
One thing I really appreciate about these workhorse flowers is that those I see in neighborhoods now will double in size by fall. They put on a show that is really hard to beat.
Color from spring through frost means this annual form of salvia is an exceptional buy and ranks as a stalwart performer. Its spiky texture is most welcome in a garden world dominated by round flowers.
Scarlet sage can still be planted with great success if you're lucky enough to find any remaining at the local garden center. The ideal site would get morning sun and afternoon shade. The soil should be very well drained. Plant on raised beds or amend heavy soils with the addition of compost or humus.
While preparing the soil, incorporate two pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6-fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. Space the plants 10 to 12 inches apart, planting at the same depth they are growing in the container.
Water deeply once a week, particularly during long dry periods. If your area is like mine, this hasn't been an issue so far. In fact, I'm considering using a canoe to get to my plants.
Adding a good layer of mulch will reward the gardener with happier plants by keeping the root zone cooler and the moisture from quickly evaporating. Prune spent flowers to encourage branching and blossoms. This will really be important for your late summer and fall display.
Feed a month after planting with a light application of fertilizer and every six to eight weeks through September.
For the best landscape impact, mass plant the salvia. The scarlet sage comes in almost any color, including two tones, so it helps to know your color combinations. Try a red variety like Vista Red in front of bush allamanda or with yellow marigolds.
Try lavender to purple forms with the two-toned petunias of the same colors. Use underneath cleome of the same color. They are also very well suited to large, mixed containers.
Red forms like Vista Red, Red Hot Sally, St. John's Fire and Flare are still among the most popular. The Salsa series is popular because of its bi-colored varieties. Another that is most unique and beautiful is called Sangria and features white to creamy yellow bracts and a scarlet tube floret.
Hummingbird lovers will relish the fact that these acrobatic visitors find the scarlet sage among the most delectable plants in the garden. What could be better -- beauty, toughness and scores of ruby-throated hummingbirds, too.
You too will have all of this, plus a sense of "green thumb satisfaction" when you grow the scarlet sage.