Autumn Sage for Hot Gardens

Hot Lips.jpg

There’s a hot side to every homesite.  It’s the place where all your flowers wither in the afternoon sun.  The soil dries out and may even crack from lack of moisture.  No matter how often you water, it never seems to catch up to the rest of  your garden.  Year after year the hot side becomes your landscape’s bad side.  Salvia greggii ‘Hot Lips’ Chances are you’ve tried a half dozen solutions here from drip systems to truckloads of compost with little success.  The reason for failure isn’t cultural at all.  You simply you’re trying to force the wrong plants to grow there.    When a plant in the garden center is labeled “full sun” or “sun loving”, there’s no stipulation whether this is full Vermont sun or Arizona sun.  The two are very different conditions illustrating how relative this designation can be.  Vermont sun plants are unlikely to survive the bake off every summer afternoon in the south or far west states.    There is a specific group of plants that are guaranteed to love these conditions, and may even thrive under them.  They are members of the salvia clan, but more specifically they are known as the Autumn Sage hybrids.  Those in my blistering hot Palm Springs garden bloom up a storm in the toastiest time of year.   They remain in flower for almost ten months of the year due to our frost free climate.  Only those planted in the shade become too leafy and refuse to flower.   Do not confuse these with European Salvia nemorosa hybrids or the annual garden sage or even culinary Salvia officinalis.  No, these are rugged Mexican species that bear the most remarkable blossoms.    All of these hybrids bloom in a single color range from white through pinks into dark red.  The true carmine reds are the most vigorous as they are closest to the species.  Some newer varieties such as ‘Hot Lips’ produces a two tone flower that’s white on top and a vivid coral red below.  Breeders have also developed ‘Navajo Dark Purple’, but it may not be as rugged as the reds.    This sage is a semi-woody perennial hardy to USDA Zone 8.  That means it gets stiff twiggy stems at the base that give it a larger bushy form at maturity.  The twigs push a lot of fresh fine growth at the tips that produce the flowers.  One drawback to these sages is the brittleness of the twiggy stems and trunk.  They break off too easily at the joints if you kick a plant, step on it, roll over a part with the wheelbarrow etc.  This unforgiving quality means they are best located away from locations where they can be disturbed by kids and pets.  However, you can incorporate driftwood and boulders with the planting to protect them from trespassers.    Their botanical names can be rather confusing because three species are involved.  The primary is Salvia greggii, the true Autumn Sage, under which a vast
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