Image by Sue Nichols
By Jackie Carroll
Admired for its silvery gray, fragrant foliage as much as its lavender-purple flowers, Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) makes a bold statement in the garden. The abundant, spiky clusters of flowers bloom from late spring until autumn, almost completely obscuring the leaves. Use Russian sage as a ground cover for open areas or as a specimen plant. Learning how to grow Russian sage plants is easy, as is Russian sage care. It prefers very dry conditions, making it an ideal plant for xeriscaping.
How to Grow Russian Sage
Russian sage is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture Zones 5 through 10. Choose a location with very well-drained soil of average fertility in full sun. Growing Russian sage in partly shaded locations may cause the plants to sprawl.
Set out new plants in early spring, spacing them 2 to 3 feet apart. Water the plants occasionally during dry spells until they are established and growing. If you would like to apply mulch around the plants, gravel is a better choice than organic mulch because it allows better moisture evaporation.
Russian Sage Care
Watering care for Russian sage plants is minimal. In fact, Russian sage thrives in dry soil and rarely needs watering once established.
Scatter a handful of general-purpose fertilizer or a shovelful of compost around each plant every other year in late fall.
North of USDA Zone 6, provide a 2-inch layer of pine needles over winter and remove them in spring when new growth emerges.
While allowing the stems and seed pods to remain in the garden until spring creates winter interest, if you prefer a tidier appearance, you can cut the stems back to a foot above the ground.
Spring and summer care for Russian sage consists mainly of pruning. When new spring growth emerges, cut the old stems back to just above the lowest set of leaves. If the plant begins to spread open or sprawl in late spring or summer, shear off the top 1/3 of the stems to encourage upright growth. Remove the top half of the stems if the plant stops blooming in summer. This encourages new growth and a fresh flush of flowers.
Propagate Russian sage plants by dividing the clumps or taking cuttings in spring. Dividing the clumps every four to six years reinvigorates the plants and helps to control their spread.