3 favorite salvias, all of them (screaming) red

salvia van houttii detail
THE LAST OF THE FEMALE HUMMINGBIRDS have just departed for points south, following the males who left well ahead of time as if to set up camp. But onward bloom three of my favorite hummingbird plants, three red-flowered salvias I always include in the garden somewhere, year to year. Meet Salvia van houttii, Salvia coccinea ‘Lady in Red’ and the gold-leaf pineapple sage, Salvia elegans ‘Aurea,’ sometimes marketed as ‘Golden Delicious.’

salvia elegans aurea
Pineapple sage is the biggest plant, and latest of all to start to bloom here, but the last female ruby-throateds got a few sips in this year, at least.  The plain green form, which like the golden-leaf one smells like pineapple when the foliage is touched, gets to more than 3 feet tall for me—taller in climates more favorable to this Zone 8-hardy beauty (a commenter says hers, in Humboldt County, California, is 7 feet tall). The gold one (above in detail) is beautiful in a very big pot.

salvia van houttii
Salvia van houttii is big, too. But it’s a little more sideways than stiffly upright, all lax and loose in a sort of crazy, unpredictable way that I like, or at least when grown as an annual in cold zones like mine. (It would be hardy in about Zone 9-11, and become a 4-foot high and wide shrub.) The garden photo above is actually a grouping of three plants. Its flowers are lush and bigger than many of the other sages’, more on a par with those of the all-too-familiar Salvia splendens, and in fact Salvia splendens ‘Van Houttii’ is another name this one goes under. Apparently van houtii was a version of Salvia splendens before breeders “improved” splendens into a stiffer, more upright thing. I’ll take the unimproved one, thank you.

There is a gold-leaf form of Salvia van houttii, too—but it’s variegated, and even with my ultra-high color tolerance (remember, the trim on my dark green house is painted orange!) I couldn’t stomach ‘Dancing Flame,’ with its hot red blooms. The van houtti that I favor has plain green foliage, and flowers whose buds are tucked into wine colored calyxes, then open up a deep red (glowing especially red on a sunny day, as in the top photo).

salvia coccinea lady in red
The smallest of the three red sages I grow is a variety of the Texas sage, Salvia coccinea ‘Lady in Red,’ just a couple of feet tall with hot red blooms. You can grown this one from seed, though I just pick up a few plants at the nursery and tuck them in one end of a raised vegetable bed. Nothing like being dive-bombed by hummingbirds while weeding and watering.

Any favorite salvias–and any still in bloom for you?

for future reference

  1. Helen Malandrakis says:

    I have red salvias in bloom. I love pineapple sage, but have not grown it for a few years. I have to give it a go next year.

  2. Brian G. says:

    I haven’t been to the house for three weeks and I’m encouraged to hear the pineapple sage may be blooming when i get there this Saturday. I have mine in the ground and i’m amazed by how large and woody it gets in just one season. It has become one of my all time favorites and I learned about it from you, Margaret. Thanks once again!

  3. Susan says:

    Went to the garden this morning to find only deer prints. They ate the whole garden overnight. Even the rhubarb leaves are gone. I never saw them eat green tomatoes before. It must have been some party!

    1. Margaret says:

      Oh, Susan, I am so sorry. I have a fence now because I couldn’t deal with them any longer. Can’t believe they ate the rhubarb even. Yikes.

  4. kathleen riley says:

    I am hooked on manual edging! Good for the soul. I am opening up my vegetable garden on two sides and all the accompaning soil preparation has left messy edges. I like your D-handled edger. The handle looks easier on the body than the long wooden handles. Is there a source? You light up my day, Margaret.

  5. Irena Jankunas says:

    This year, inspired by a stunning display at Longwood Gardens I saw a couple of years ago, I planted Salvia leucantha.

    None of the pictures I saw truly represent it’s beauty. It is not red, but bluish purple. The whole plant is silver-green, has velvety texture, and narrow leaves grow in very “orderly” manner – if looked at from the top, they make a perfect cross pattern, with equal distance between each row of leaves and always a perfect 90 degree angle.

    It is only now starting to flower (quite late, don’t you think so?), but I hope to be able to overwinter it under a big heap of leaf mulch, so hopefully next year it will delight me at least two months earlier.

    The red ones that you have have a place in my heart, too. I have planted them sporadically, and some of them did manage to successfully overwinter (in NYC).

    One year, I also plan to get a couple of bright blue ones that – what a contrast! – grow from black bracts. Too many salvias on the market for my too little space:)….

  6. TomW says:

    Do you find that Salvia coccinea is hardy for you in your zone? I just checked and it is supposed to be hardy down to zone 4. I acquired some several years ago and planted them in the driest of dry areas under the eaves of my house and they have been very happy there. The upside is that when they bloom, the hummingbirds indeed seek them out. If I am still, I will get a very up close view from the inside of the house since I have a window there.

  7. Mary Anna says:

    My two pineapple sages are about 3 foot tall. The crazy bit, it was originally one plant, but when I put it in (back in about May, I think?), one of the stems broke off. I just shoved it in the ground a few feet away (no rooting hormone, no coddling) and it rooted itself, and is now just as big, if not bigger, than the original plant. They’re just starting to flower – I can see red, but they’re not quite fully open yet.

  8. Tom says:

    Pineapple Sage is just now starting to show color here in NC, but not quite flowering. Lady in Red reseeds easily, so we always have that. Another we have is what’s commonly known as “Yvonne’s Salvia”. There’s quite a story behind it here http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/exseed/msg0116535317286.html . For us, it grows 4-6′ tall when the rains cooperate. Not red, but there’s a coccinea “Hummingbird Mix” we purchased a few years back that also reseeds freely – Whites, Pinks, and Pink and White blooms. True to it’s name, it is a hummingbird magnet. It’s supposed to be a smaller plant (24″), but some plants in our garden don’t follow the rules, and this year’s reseeds are well over 3′ :) We used to have some nice clumps of Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’, but over the years, yard dynamics have changed, and what was full/partial sun is now full shade. Time to relocate or repurchase, I think.

  9. bookboxer says:

    I picked up a pineapple sage at our first farmers’ market back in early spring … just on a whim because of its scent. I was s surprised by its height and by its recent red flowers – and what a happy coincidence too read about it here!

  10. Ann says:

    I have 3 planters of Salvias – beautiful red ones & I have NEVER seen a hummingbird even attempt to drink from them… what’s up with that?

  11. Margaret, I grow the first two. I dearly love them both. ‘Van Houtte’s’ is just the most delicious shade and a sideways take on it is ‘Wendy’s Wish’ a strange bi-color mauve pink/purple creation. I also have the dark purple which looks so nice with fall colors. Love it too. I don’t know what my summer and fall gardens would do without salvias. They are its backbone. Happy Fall.~~Dee

  12. Gayla Templeton says:

    I love your Splenda and very glad my pineapple doesn’t grow 7 ft. tall. Being only 5 ft myself, I wouldn’t like to look up for the flowers. Looking across is just right in my book. Mine is still going here on 11-11-11. We have had many nights when the weather man says it was 26 and 27 degrees but the only thing frozen is the tip tops of the coleus, about half way down a dalia and the north side where the wind got that part of yellow cannas. This is my first year at this house and I’m just so surprised. It’s a craftsman era bungalow with stucco on the porch pillars that must be holding the heat is all I can think of. My daughter lives two houses down and has lost about everything. Even things 6 ft from the house are ok. I’m moving all the pots to the glassed in back porch and I’m almost done so it can do what it wants now. If I would have hurried those beautiful coleus would not be nipped but they won’t look like the mind in a week or two. Everything thinks I’ve given them a greenhouse and they are so happy! Thanks for the vey nice article.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Gayla. Lucky you! You seem to have moved to a wonderful little microclimate. Funny how these little hotspots exist, isn’t it? Enjoy the extra days with your beauties.

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