Are you looking for a plant that survives freezing winters and scorching summers, is drought tolerant, blooms all summer, and attracts bees and butterflies? Look no further, because it’s right here…Russian Sage. Its botanical name is Perovskia atriplicofolia. This tough beauty is originally from the region around Afghanistan, and it is one hardy (zones 4 through 9), gorgeous plant. But it’s not really Russian, and it’s not really sage either…
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicofolia) is one of my absolute favorite perennials. It is completely different from culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) and you do not cook with it. It is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) but is not generally considered edible. (If you smell it you will know why. It smells rather medicinal.) It is considered an herbaceous perennial. It is tough as nails once it gets established, and blooms nonstop midsummer to fall. I have it in my front flower bed with my Red Double Knockout roses; full sun, facing east, in a very well drained raised brick bed. This is a photo taken in late June.
It grows to a tall (around three feet) airy shrub with delicate gray-green leaves with tall spikes of tiny purple/blue flowers. It really is stunning. The bees love it too.
If it gets too tall for you or starts to flop over, just give it a trim and it will recover and be blooming again in just a few weeks.
Maintenance on this is super easy, I just give it a very hard pruning (to about 6 inches tall) in the late winter. If I find a plant in a spot where I don’t want it, I have the best luck moving them in winter while they are dormant. I have killed a few (ok, many) transplants during their active growing season. My gardening style is best described as “benign neglect” so this is an ideal plant for me.
When I first planted three of them behind my roses, the plant instructions said they rarely reseeded. Well, I beg to differ…I had dozens of tiny baby Perovskia coming up in the bed the next spring. Most of them were in desirable places so I let them be. I don’t really consider them invasive, but if I left them alone they would definitely take over the bed. This winter I have been able to share some of my extras with a couple of friends. Since that first season, they aren’t reseeding so much as rooting from flopped stems and spreading by runners, as mints will do. This year I will try some pinching back early in the season to see if I can reduce the flop factor. They get more water than they really need since they are in with my roses that are watered fairly regularly. That combined with their eastern exposure is causing them to be “floppy”.
To keep these happy plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Cut down almost to the ground in late winter or early spring, as they bloom on new wood. They are pretty drought tolerant once established.
Below is a photo of Russian Sage used as a tall bedding plant at MS&T in Rolla, Missouri. This was taken in late June.
Here’s a closer look at the flowers tucked behind some four o’clocks…
I highly recommend this plant if you have a well-drained spot for it. It won’t disappoint!