Photo of Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’ taken in January 2020
Photo of Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’ taken in January 2020 before being pruned.

Low Down on Leucantha

By Taylor Lewis, nursery manager

If it’s January in the Valley and you’ve got a Salvia leucantha planted in your yard, there’s a good chance it looks very much like this one.

Mexican bush sage is a herbaceous perennial Salvia that grows about 3 feet tall and slowing clumping. There are many cultivars of this sage ranging from double purple ‘Midnight’ to lush pink and creamy white. These grow very easily in a hot sunny spot.

But they still look like this in the winter: bloomed out, birds fed, green on the top-half of the stems only. And you’re left wondering just what to do with it. Realistically it doesn’t look “bad” now, but if left untended until spring, it will.

I promise you they appreciate a hard cut in the winter. If you look down at the base of your plant, you’ll notice this year’s growth already pushing. If you keep last year’s growth, it will continue to block the sunlight that this year’s need to flourish.

Photo of pruned salvia
15 minutes later...

I like to sit down eye level with the plant and use my felcos to prune a path into the plant. The edges seem intimidating because the plant is grown over and hard to see where to start. Lift up the edge and prune the half naked stems (old growth) all the way back into the emerging green growth. Don’t feel bad if you nip a few new leaves in the process. I think this is a job that doesn’t need to be pretty, it just needs to be done soon.

YES! All that green you see is this years Salvia.

If you aren’t seeing much new growth, or if your plant is young and not yet established, go ahead and fertilize with a multi purpose food (5-5-5, 10-10-10 etc). Try to avoid excessive Nitrogen.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to prune Salvia leucantha, hard, in the winter.

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