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Easy Blue Anise Sage Offers Color, Nectar
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
It was a fight worthy of a National Geographic special, but I was the only witness. Hummingbirds swept down from adjacent oaks to the deep-blue flowers of the anise sage only to be met with fierce resistance and a screeching warning from the protecting hummer.
I have always been a fan of the Blue Anise Sage (salvia guaranitica), but until I saw this fight for its nectar, I never fully appreciated all the attributes the plant offered.
The perennial garden I was visiting must have had a dozen plants that were 4-feet tall and as wide, and each plant had these acrobatic visitors feeding ferociously.
The Blue Anise Sage is native to Brazil and is also called the Brazilian sage. This 1995 Georgia Gold Medal winner is also native to Paraguay and Argentina, but you might assume it was born in Mississippi with the ease at which it grows.
The plants produce the deepest blue of all flowers. Some might consider them cobalt blue, but old-timers might say it is close to the Milk of Magnesia bottle.
The flowers are up to two inches long and are produced for months on 10-inch spikes tipping plants that have reached 3 to 4 feet in height and almost resemble shrubs.
Choose a site in full sun for best flowering. This plant is winter hardy throughout the state but only if there is good drainage. They can take our cold, but couple that with soggy soil, and it will be history.
Prepare the bed by adding 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like fine pine bark or compost and till to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. While preparing the bed, incorporate 2 pounds of a 12-6-6 slow-release fertilizer with minor nutrients. Plant in the spring after the soil has warmed at the same depth they are growing in the container. Water deeply and apply a good layer of mulch.
The Blue Anise Sage is great among yellow and golden flowers like the perennial black-eyed Susan, Goldsturm or behind a layer of New Gold lantana. The deep blue color also combines well with perennial pink verbenas like Port Gibson and Temari that would be planted in front.
Pink or white buddleias also make nice companion plants and appeal to hummingbirds and butterflies.
The Blue Anise Sage is an easy to care for plant. Deadhead as needed and do not be afraid to cut back for better branching. Should the plant look a little tired in mid-summer, give it a little pick-me-up with a light application of the above fertilizer.
The plant will probably need dividing in three years. Divide in early spring with the emergence of new growth. Like many salvias, this one is easy to propagate by cuttings. Make sure to go into winter with an added layer of mulch.
The Blue Anise Sage is usually sold generic, but there are superior selections in the marketplace from time to time. Costa Rica Blue is known to have the largest flowers. Purple Splendour has smaller dark blue flowers and Black and Blue produces the largest plants.