The Russian Sage is for any gardener who desires to just plant and ignore. This fuss-free garden perennial displays large masses of grey-green leaves on stems that explode into a mass of hazy purple flowers are sure to turn heads and catch the eye of all passers-by.
It is a drought-tolerant plant that will create an eye-catching display and treat you to an almost iridescent explosion of purple flowers during midsummer, all the way through to the first fall frosts.
It features strong woody stems and prefers warmer climates in USDA zones 5 to 9. The plant will do quite well in average or clay soils as long it drains well. Grow Russian sage where it will receive lots of full sun to promote sturdy stems and flower growth.
Read on to learn more about how to grow, care, and use this fascinating plant.
How to Plant Russian Sage
It can be planted in the ground anytime between early spring and late fall. Select a site that receives full sun and sandy loam soil to ensure adequate drainage.
Soil Types: You can use poorer quality soils that may be a little too rocky for other plants. It won’t tolerate acid or boggy soils, so make sure the area has a pH of around 7 and is well-draining.
Plant Spacing: Keep around 24″ of space between each plant when first planting Russian sage. It’s a slow grower but does grow wide on a base of woody stems once it matures. It’s not a prolific spreader, but it will develop mini offsets at the base of the plant.
Light: Your Russian Sage plant will prefer a position where it can receive full light for most of the day. You will know if the plant isn’t receiving adequate sunlight as it will tend to flop and droop over.
When to Plant: Early spring or early fall are the best times to plant Russian sage. Planting during these times will give the roots adequate time to grow deep and establish the plant.
Hot to Grow Russian Sage in Containers
You can grow Russian Sage in containers, and it will do quite well when planted in late spring after the soil has warmed up a bit. It’s possible to plant them earlier, but late spring is best for encouraging faster growth.
If you are planting in late summer, make sure to get the plant in the ground about six weeks before the first hard frost arrives.
How to Grow Russian Sage from Seed
It is a little more challenging to grow Russian Sage from seed, but the seeds might be hard to come by, and their germination can take a while. If you are determined to start from seed, look for a fast bloomer like blue steel.
Seeds should also be started indoors and only transplanted once the last of the frost have passed.
How to Care for Russian Sage
A mature Russian Sage plant will reach around 3 to 5 feet high with a spread between 2 or 3 feet. The grey-green foliage reminds most of the lavender plant, and the tall finely furred flowers supported by tall panicles feel light and airy to the touch. A woody base forms over time, which requires cutting back during early spring for a more prolific bloom.
Watering: Mature Russian Sage are extremely drought tolerant. However, they require regular watering to get them through the first year to encourage the roots to grow deep.
Once firmly established, Russian sage will shrug off long hot summers with minimal watering.
Staking: The Russian Sage is a relatively tall plant, but the strong foliage produced when it’s planted in a suitably sunny position means it rarely needs staking.
There are taller varieties that may droop over, but this can be rectified by planting these specimens next to supportive perennials.
Fertilizing: A light topping of compost in the first week of spring is all your Russian sage needs fertilizer-wise.
Trimming and Pruning: You can deadhead Russian sage, but it won’t affect the bloom times. It will benefit from a cutting back every year in the early spring to around 12-15″.
The plant may die back completely in colder climates, so cutting back in the fall and a light covering of straw mulch or garden debris can help protect it against frost.
Take care that the plant is not in a position that will collect water in the winter because that will be fatal.
Transplanting and Dividing: You won’t have much success dividing Russian sage because of its woody stems and static growth. However, you can propagate new plants by stem-cutting shoots in spring.
In summer, you can try ripe semi-cuttings with a heel. Another method is to use a clipper and trowel to remove tiny offsets growing at the base of the plant.
Pests and Disease: There are no major diseases to afflict the plant, and it doesn’t attract any pests. The biggest challenge Russian sage will face will be root rot should you overwater it.
Using Russian Sage – Info and Tips
Russian Sage possesses an airy, ethereal appearance that can be particularly striking on a cool and foggy morning. Strategic planting can create interesting contrasts throughout your garden when planted next to other plants with bold and striking colors.
Plant large swathes of it to enhance the explosion of purple during spring and summer.
Other varieties of Russian sage are more compact and dwarf-like, perfect as small and colorful hedge plants and borders or edging on pathways and driveways.
Due to its extreme drought tolerance, Russian sage makes a colorful addition to water wise gardens.
Is Russian Sage Edible?
While it does have sage in the name and the odor of the leaves bears a resemblance to the popular herb, Russian sage is not a sage. You can take advantage of the aromatic leaves by crushing them and adding them to potpourri, but they are toxic and should not be consumed.
Russian sage is an easy, attractive plant to grow for time-poor or water-wise gardeners who enjoy colorful blooms that last ages. It’s a tough plant that will always look good without much nurturing, and while it might get off to a slow start in spring, the wait is always worth it. Keep in mind that it’s a disease, pest, and deer-resistant plant that will also attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your garden.