Because Salvias are so adaptable, they have become a favorite in gardens around the world, from traditional cottages to the most minimalistic. Pruning Salvias is necessary to maintain the health and aesthetics of the plants as well as to promote flowering.
They thrive in California’s Mediterranean environment (where I spent 30 years of my life), which is ideal for growing them. They are loved for their broad diversity of flower colors and types, as well as their long bloom period. An extra benefit is that their water-saving practices are ideal for the dry West Coast of the United States.
I first learned all about perennial Salvias in the San Francisco Bay Area where I was a professional gardener for over 15 years. I worked at a Berkeley nursery that sold a wide variety of plants.
All around the United States, as well as other countries, they can be found in abundance. Depending on your climate zone and the type of Salvia you have, you can either perform the major pruning in the spring or the fall.
During my childhood in the northeast, my father clipped our two or three winter-hardy salvias in the fall. He trimmed them down to the ground and piled mulch on top of them to keep them warm in the winter. Consult your local extension office or garden center to find out what they recommend for your region.
Perennial salvias, such as those you may have in your own yard, can benefit from a good pruning (the large cut down, not the summertime deadheading) and I’ll explain how to do it with the two most common species. A third type, which you may not be familiar with, is also mentioned.
When it comes to deadheading Salvias, this is a recommended practice to keep up throughout the season.
A few years back, I wrote a blog entry about pruning perennial salvias, but the accompanying video was just 2 minutes long. It’s time for a much more comprehensive update. In the beginning of December, I shot this lengthier video in the yard of one of my clients in Pacifica, CA (a suburb south of San Francisco).
HOW TO PRUNE SALVIAS
Coastal California Salvia trimming is what I’ll be discussing here. The technique can be tailored to your local climate zone if the plants are perennials.
Salvias have long been the subject of a spirited discussion about whether or not they should be pruned heavily in the fall or the spring. It all comes down to personal preference.
I’ve vacillated back and forth on this issue, but I’m now leaning toward advocating for winter/fall pruning. I’ve also had to conduct a little “clean up” pruning in the early spring on occasion.
Because coastal California gardens attract visitors year-round, I prefer to plant them in the late fall or early winter. In this way, the plant will appear nicer in the winter and grow more quickly in the spring.
To avoid the risk of frost in colder climates, you should prune your trees in fall or spring, depending on the time of year.
Before you begin pruning your salvias, it is critical that you clean and sharpen your pruning tools. The plant will be harmed and you may have a difficult time pruning if your instruments aren’t sharp. Any plant’s health and appearance depend on precise, clean cuttings.
Type #1 The Deciduous Herbaceous Salvias
A few examples of Salvia elegans are “Black & Blue,” Salvia guaranitica (including the well-known variety), Salvia leucantha, Salvia waverley, and Salvia patens.
With these salvias, the old-growth eventually dies out and the fresh new growth emerges from the base of the base. They have stems that either die off or freeze over, depending on the kind. Salvias of this variety should be pruned in the spring (in colder locations) to preserve their fleshy new growth from freezing temperatures.
Salvias such as this one produce new growth from the base of their roots after the old growth dies off. These plants have weaker stems, which either die off or freeze over in the winter months. In colder locations, it is best to cut these sorts of salvias in the spring since the old-growth will protect the succulent new growth.
Cut the stems all the way to the ground when these Salvias have finished flowering. It should be carried out once or twice a year at the very least. If you don’t, they’ll still bloom the following year, but you’ll receive a lot more blooms and the plant will look a lot better.
I spent 10 years in Santa Barbara, where Salvia leucanthas and waverleys grow to enormous sizes. In many cases, the plants are left untrimmed, and the result is an untidy mass of dead, twisting stalks. The only problem was that I didn’t want to risk getting jailed for trespassing by cutting them all down!
As a result, it’s better to return the shearing they demand, as this allows for the light and air they require to regenerate. Soft new growth can now show at the base of the tree.
These Salvias, which are not directly relevant to this pruning topic, will spread as they mature, so you may have to divide them.
Type #2 The Herbaceous Salvias With Woody Stems
Salvia greggii, Salvia chamaedryoides, Salvia coccinea, and Salvia microphylla (the popular “Hot Lips” seen above) are all included in this group. These are salvias that grow in the ground.
After flowering, these salvias are pruned down, but not completely. This could be as little as a pinch, but if necessary, you can take them further down the stem to where the first set of foliage begins.
When I trimmed a well-established plant down to 3 inches, I discovered this the hard way. It never entirely returned…. It was thrown out and put in the compost bin.
I cut the stems in the middle of these salvias and then shape the plant to look good. In coastal California, they often go through three bloom periods per year. Yes, the growth season is lengthy.
Large pruning occurs in late fall or early winter, with smaller cuts occurring in the spring/early summer.
Make sure to remove any dead vegetation that has accumulated over the winter. They’ll get incredibly woody and stop blooming as you want them to if you don’t prune these salvias regularly. They become unkempt and sparse, making the garden look unkempt and unattractive.
I’ve discovered that some of these woody, shrubby salvias need to be replaced before or around the 5-year mark in my years of working with them. After all, perennials don’t live indefinitely.
But don’t worry, they’re growing quickly. Buying and planting a 1-gallon plant in the spring will result in a large plant with many blooms by the end of the season.
Type #3 The Rosette Forming Herbaceous Salvias
Salvia nemorosa, S. x superba, and S. penstemonoides are included in this category.
The evergreen rosettes of these salvias can be seen throughout the coast of California. The blooms and more greenery develop from the stems. In the video, you can see me pruning Salvia nemorosa (Meadow or Woodland Sage), which has a very lengthy bloom time and comes in a variety of hues, including white.
Salvia nemerosa was also named plant of the year by the National Garden Bureau in 2019. It’s a great award, and you deserve it!
To get rid of any dead leaves, I’d cut the stems all the way down to the rosette in the fall. This tree’s leaves tend to grow profusely, smothering the undergrowth.
In the end, it’s better to know what kind of salvia you have before you start pruning. All three perennial salvias can greatly benefit from a trim.. To get the best results, you should follow these instructions.
What time of year you prune depends on where you live and the environment. The hummingbirds and butterflies want more salvia blooms, so please keep them coming!
HOW TO PRUNE SALVIAS: ALL THE TIPS YOU NEED
Maintaining the aesthetic appeal of your flowerbeds is as simple as learning how to prune salvias. Everything you need to know is provided for you in the information that follows.
Our tips on how to prune roses and how to prune hydrangeas can also come in helpful if you need additional pruning assistance.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SALVIA?
The RHS website provides a wide variety of salvias, including annuals, biennials, perennials, and shrubs. However, they all share a few similar characteristics, such as two-lipped blooms clustered in whorls or racemes, and paired, typically scented leaves.
Just pull them out of the ground and put them in your compost bin at the end of the year with annuals. Perennials, on the other hand, require a yearly chopping to keep them in check and promote long-term health. If you’re interested in learning how to prune salvias, remember that each variety has a somewhat different technique. Deciduous herbaceous, shrubby, and rosette-forming bushes and trees are all covered in detail in the sections that follow.
HOW TO PRUNE DECIDUOUS HERBACEOUS SALVIAS
In the winter, this salvia variety, particularly if it is chilly, tends to die back. Plants that have pineapple-scented foliage and red flowers include Salvia elegans ‘Scarlet Pineapple’ (with red blooms) and Salvia Guaranitica ‘Black and Blue.
Pruning them is as simple as this:
- Invest in a good set of secateurs and make sure they are well-kept and razor-sharp.
- Cut old stems all the way down to the smallest shooting node before replanting. You should only clip the stems back to where new growth should have developed if they’ve died off completely throughout the winter months.
- Deadheading is essential in the hot months. It is best to make your incision directly above one of the leaf sets. Taking care of the plants will make them seem better and encourage them to bloom again.
HOW TO PRUNE SHRUBBY SALVIAS WITH WOODY STEMS
Every spring, Anne Swithinbank of Amateur Gardening recommends pruning hardy shrubby salvias to keep them compact. Don’t let this type get out of hand, because it can grow enormous and its stems can become too woody and straggly if you don’t.
Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ and Salvia greggii ‘Flame’ are just two of the many options available.
To keep yours organized, follow these steps:
- Get rid of any and all unhealthy or dead stems.
- A pair of leaves should be trimmed off roughly a third of the plant. As a result, the structure will be preserved and a solid foundation will be laid for future growth.
- Instead, you can go even further back in the tree and remove all of the nodes that aren’t necessary.
- Make sure to remove dead blooms and cut stems to a couple of leaves during the summer months. This will enable more light into the heart of the plant, which will encourage new growth, as well as cutting back any criss-crossing stems in the summer.
HOW TO PRUNE ROSETTE-FORMING SALVIAS
Tall flower spikes appear on this salvia variety, which develops from rosettes of evergreen leaves (in warmer climates). ‘Caradonna’ and ‘May Night’ are only two of the many varieties.
Getting rid of them is a cinch:
- Cut the stems all the way back to the ground once the flowers have faded (usually in early June). This will result in a second blooming season.
- Protect new growth from frosts by leaving the second set of stems in place over the winter. Then, in the spring, remove all of the previous year’s growth, only leaving the fresh, green growth. If you live in a warm climate, you can trim the plant back to the ground in the fall for a more tidy appearance.
WHEN SHOULD YOU PRUNE SALVIAS?
Salvias need to be pruned once a year. If you grow hardy varieties and live in a warm region, you can prune your big salvias in late fall. For those who are uncertain, put it on your spring garden to-do list as soon as there is no longer a chance of frost. In order to prevent frost damage, keep the old stems intact until then.
Summer is the best time to perform minimal pruning and deadheading on the plant.
HOW LONG DO SALVIA PLANTS LAST?
Pruning salvias properly can extend their life expectancy to almost ten years in the ideal conditions. For 20 years, Anne Swithinbank has pruned her ‘Lemon Pie’ salvia hard every spring, and it’s still going strong.
Anne recommends taking summer cuttings as a backup in colder places because of the variety’s hardiness. In July or August, she recommends collecting 3–4in heel cuttings or shoot tips for this purpose. You can find out more about cuttings in our dedicated guide.