Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Lamb’s Ears with its fuzzy leaves is very popular in gardens, but in my opinion when it comes to fuzzy leaves, nothing beats silver sage. Its leaves are fuzzy, huge and just beg you to touch them. If you allow it to flower, the flowers are spectacular similar to its cousin, clary sage.
What is Silver Sage?
Silver sage (Salvia argentea) is a biennial or short lived perennial that is a member of the salvia family. It is native to southern Europe. The plant has been awarded the Royal Horticulture Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit.
Silver sage is grown for its large silver fuzzy leaves. It is a good choice for moon gardens. A moon garden is a garden that contains plants whose flowers or foliage are white or silver. In the moonlight, the plants appear to glow.
The leaves of silver sage are covered with fine silver hairs giving them their fuzziness and silver color. Individual leaves grow up to 8 inches wide and 12 inches in length. They grow in a rosette which can be 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Plants should be spaced 2 – 3 feet apart.
The flowers, which appear in the second year of growth, grow on a branched stem that is often compared to a candelabra in shape. The stem can be up to 3 feet tall. The individual flowers are small and white tinged with yellow or pink. Bloom time is late spring through early summer.
How to Grow Silver Sage
Silver sage is hardy in zones 5 – 9. If you leave the flowers on and allow them to go to seed, the plant will act like a biennial and die in the fall. If you instead remove the flower stalk are soon as it appears, the plant is more likely to act like a perennial and survive for a few more years.
Silver sage prefers full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. It needs well-drained soil. Rocky or sandy soil, resembling its native Mediterranean environment, works best. Drainage is especially important in the winter. If the soil is too wet during the winter, the plant will die. In the fall, leave the dead leaves on the plant to protect the crown from excessive moisture during the winter. In the spring, you can remove the unsightly dead foliage as the new foliage begins to grow.
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Silver sage is drought tolerant. It doesn’t need a lot of water. Unless you are experiencing drought conditions, you don’t need to water this plant at all. Normal rainfall should be sufficient.
You also don’t need to fertilize these plants. They prefer poor soils without a lot of nutrients.
When the flowers appear, you can either remove them to prolong the life of your plants or allow the plants to flower and set seed. If you opt to allow them to bloom and go to seed, the plants will readily self-sow in your garden resulting in a new crop of plants.
How to Divide Silver Sage
Silver sage is easy to divide. The crowns develop offshoots. An offshoot is a small plant that is produced by the mother plant. It is usually attached to the mother plant by an underground rhizome.
In the spring, carefully dig up the rosette of leaves that you want to divide. Gently break off any offshoots that have their own roots. Replant the crown and the newly separated offshoots at least 2 feet apart.
How to Grow Silver Sage From Seed
Silver sage is easily grown from seed. You can start your seeds indoors 4 - 6 weeks before your last frost. Sow them in a container filled with pre-moistened soil. Barely cover them with soil, about 1/8 inch deep. With seeds that are sown on the surface of the soil or barely covered with soil, I like to moisten the soil before I plant the seeds. I have found that if the soil is dry when I plant the seeds, when I try to water afterwards, the soil and seeds have a tendency to wash away.
Germination should occur in 21 – 30 days. You can transplant your seedlings into your garden after your last frost. Space them 2 – 3 feet apart.
The first year, your seedlings will grow their rosette of leaves. The following year, the flowers will appear.
© 2020 Caren White