pineapple sage, heroic late bloomer

pineapple sageISMILE AND NOD WHEN GARDENERS FROM ELSEWHERE tout pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) as a hummingbird plant. “Elsewhere,” as in wherever the plant blooms before the hummingbirds have been long-gone for six weeks, meaning decidedly not here. Yes, after probably 10 frosts, my pineapple sage decided to bloom the last week or so, even with its foliage all frost-tinged, brave soul that it is, sole survivor among the tender garden plants used as “annuals” here in 2009.

Flowers or not, I grow one pineapple sage plant each year because of its Jack-in-the-Beanstalk quality. A 3-inch pot containing a rooted cutting in May forms a shrubby 3-by-4-foot creature by high summer, and oh, the fragrance of those leaves—scenes of a sunny Hawaiian pineapple plantation in every stroke of the hand.

pineapple sage 2
In areas where it does bloom before this anti-climactic moment (which it’s doing even with much of its foliage battered by the intermittent cold), pineapple sage and other late salvias are appreciated by migrating hummingbirds. (For summering ruby-throated hummingbirds here, Salvia van houttii, S. coccinea and some of the other reds are more to the point, along with many other tender things like verbena and nicotiana, and keep going long after the little birds move on.)

Pineapple sage is hardy to Zone 8ish, some say 9, but I say simply “not here.” Some gardeners even in Zone 7 (including this one who wrote a thorough article on it in “The Herb Companion”) report that they grow pineapple sage like a tender sub-shrub: that it’s root-hardy many years if heavily mulched, and then they cut it to near the base and let it regrow, not unlike I’d do with a Buddleia davidii.

Like its other mint family cousins, the plant’s foliage is edible, and I’ve known people to chop it into fruit salads, put it into teas, make jelly from it, and even blend it into smoothies and such. Do you grow Salvia elegans, and what do you do with yours (besides wait a very long time for it to start to bloom)?

  1. Christy Thomas says:

    I Have had pineapple sage in a pot, but this year planted two in a sunny bed. Next to red/orange lantana. And columnar basil. The butterflies are enjoying it all here in Tulsa OK in October.( zone 7) I plan to dig the sages up and keep in my warm shed over the winter. Have not cooked with them but should. Shasta daisies nearby are also tall and complementary. Best pollinAtor attractors so far Agastaches, Lantanas. & annual pentas.

    1. Richard White says:

      The idea about potting them up and moving them inside sounds like a good one. I live in NW Louisiana and have had pineapple sage for 3 or 4 years. The first year it didn’t do much. I mulched it really good and the next two years it did great, makes a great looking plant and then when the blooms come on in about September, well I love it. This year has been a different year all together in my garden. We had a very mild winter. The lowest temperature was 19 and that was only once. I love and have a lot of daylilies and they started blooming a month early and I am having more rebloom than ever. But back to the Pineapple Sage. It started blooming I mid-March and bloomed like crazy for a couple of months. I wondered then if I might get a fall bloom. Well there are 4 blooms on it today. I just wonder if anyone knows if it will rebloom. I just found the a way to garden website and it looks like I will come back a lot.
      Richard White, Minden, La

      1. margaret says:

        Technically it’s only hardy to Zone 8-10, so much of the country would have to overwinter it indoors. In its native habitat (Mexico, Guatemala) it gets almost shrubby I think in stature. Here is what U of Florida says about it, and also care instructions from SFGate (the website of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper).

  2. JimB says:

    Last year I forced the pineapple sage into dormancy and kept it in a garage heated to 45 degrees. It was a little slow this spring to leaf out so this fall I moved the large pot into a walkout basement that is lighted with T-5s and stays at 55 degrees. Only then did it bloom out of sight both of hummingbirds and most people! Time will tell how the sage likes its new digs. Gardening is always a challenge of trying different methods, plants and ideas. No wonder I’ve been at it for more than 50 years. Jefferson, Maine.

  3. C says:

    just had a pot of this this year and it was rather tiny but then spread all over and started blooming like crazy while I was away the first week of October. Halloween here yesterday was 70F(crazy), but tonight it is supposed to be possibly 30F (also crazy) so I brought this humongous overgrown plant into the living room. I am loathe to cut it back while it is still blooming and I am not sure about putting it in the ground (Zone 6)… but my local County Master gardeners seem to over winter it.

    1. margaret says:

      I believe it’s a Zone 8 hardy plant, so that means ideally it has a winter (though one that only dips as low as, say, 10 or 20 degrees). But it doesn’t want to keep growing all year round, so is there a cool place it can live (even like 40 degrees?) that gives it a little protection, but not inside the house proper?

  4. Rodey R Varnell says:

    My pineapple sage is 3 years old and does back to the ground at about 22 degrees.It blooms in the 1st week of Oc6ober and continues until we have a good freeze.it is root hardy in zone 7a without mulching.

  5. SA Hernandez says:

    I have Pineapple Sage for the first time this summer. I have two plants in pots. They seem to struggle a little with the feels like 100 degrees (with the humidity) combined with burst out of now where torrential rains, but they are surviving. I would like to put one in a larger pot and one in the ground. The largest one is about 2′ x 2′. I noticed that one of the branches seems like it could easily break off the plant. Do they transplant well or should I leave them alone?

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