Everything You Need to Know About Growing and Caring for Salvia nemorosa at Home

Salvia nemorosa, or woodland sage, brightens the landscape with spikes of blue-violet flowers above gray-green foliage. A member of the mint family, this easy-to-grow perennial is deer- and rabbit resistant. It’s also relatively pest-free and handles occasional drought and dry soil with ease. Woodland sage is a great choice for sunny parts of the garden and is sure to bring bees, butterflies, and birds to your landscape. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about growing and caring for Salvia nemorosa at home including planting, soil considerations, light preferences, feeding, pruning, and over-winter care. 


How to Grow Salvia nemorosa (Woodland sage) – The Essentials:

Botanical Name:Salvia nemorosa
Also Known As:Woodland sage, Balkan Clary, meadow sage, violet sage
Hardiness Zones:USDA zones 4a to 8a
Flowering Months:June through September
Growing Difficulty:Easy to grow, low maintenance, suitable for beginners
Type of Plant:Perennial
Light Requirements:Full sun to partial shade
Temp & Humidity:Thrives in ambient temperatures with average humidity
Watering Needs:Drought-tolerant; water moderately once per week
Soil Preferences:Well-drained soil that’s high in organic matter and a slightly acidic pH
Feeding:Apply a balanced fertilizer such as 15-15-15 in early spring and again in summer
Growth Expectations:Up to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide
Toxicity:Non-toxic to humans and pets

About Salvia nemorosa (Woodland sage)

About Salvia nemorosa (Woodland sage)

Genus, species, and plant family

Woodland sage belongs to the Salvia genus, which contains about 1,000 species. Salvia is part of Lamiaceae, also known as the mint or sage family. Well-known members of the family include herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, and mint, and other popular ornamental plants such as lavender, bee balm, and catmint.

Salvia nemorosa origins & history

S. nemorosa is native to temperate woodlands of Europe and Asia, where it’s been cultivated for hundreds of years. Linnaeus classified the plant in 1762; the name nemorosa comes from the Latin for growing in the woods or groves. This refers to the plant’s natural habitat.

In 1836, English botanist George Bentham completed an extensive documentation of the Salvia genus. In the mid-1900s, German growers developed several cultivars and hybrids that further cemented this plant’s lasting popularity as an ornamental.

General botanical characteristics

General botanical characteristics

Woodland sage is a clump-formed perennial that grows to about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Plants have aromatic, gray-green leaves with toothed margins.

Showy blue-violet flowers bloom on racemes that spike above the foliage. The blossoms are set in small, red-purple bracts.

Uses & benefits

Pollinators flock to woodland sage’s flowers. They’re especially attractive to bees and butterflies, but also attract bats, songbirds, and hummingbirds.

In parts of the Middle East, including Iran and Turkey, the plants’ foliage was used as food additives. They also played a role in traditional medicine; leaves were applied topically to help stop bleeding. Scientific research indicates that the plant’s essential oils have antimicrobial, cytotoxic, and enzyme-inhibiting properties.

The plants have symbolic value, as well. The ancient Romans linked sage to knowledge and wisdom and used it to sharpen thinking skills. In the language of flowers, the blooms symbolize wisdom, good health, esteem, and knowledge. A gift of salvia flowers may indicate admiration and respect.

When will they typically bloom & how long is the flowering season

When will they typically bloom & how long is the flowering season

Woodland sage usually blooms from early summer to fall, starting in June. When flowers are spent, cutting stems back to the basal growth will spark another flush of blooms. Often, the plants can be encouraged to bloom multiple times in a season.

Growth expectations: How big and how fast will Woodland Sage generally grow?

S. nemorosa will grow up to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The plants grow quickly under the right conditions.

Best Companion Plants in the Garden for Woodland Sage

Best Companion Plants in the Garden for Woodland Sage

S. nemorosa’s gray-green foliage and blue-violet flowers look amazing with these companion plants, all of which have similar growing requirements:

  • Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), a low-maintenance ornamental grass that grow to about 2 feet tall
  • Coral bells (Heuchera ‘Venus’), a drought-tolerant perennial with white foliage and flowers
  • Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) blooms from May through September
  • Yarrow (Achillea ‘Terracotta’) plays complementary splashes of peachy orange off S. nemorosa’s blue-violet flowers
  • Vervain (Verbena bonariensis) adds height to the back of a sunny border and attracts pollinators.

How to Grow Salvia nemorosa (Woodland sage)

How to Grow Salvia nemorosa (Woodland sage)

What are the best locations to plant Woodland Sage?

Given its 3-foot-tall height, woodland sage is a great choice for mid-borders or along paths. It also grows well in rock gardens, butterfly gardens, and sunny spots in the landscape.

Growing Woodland Sage plants from seed vs planting young nursery plants

If growing S. nemorosa from seed, you may sow indoors from 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost. Press seeds lightly into potting soil and keep moist. Once seedlings emerge — usually 15 to 21 days later — place the seedlings in direct light.

Fertilize with a starter solution when plants are about a month old. Harden the seedlings off before planting outdoors by placing them in a sheltered place for a week. Keep them protected from frost and hot, intense sun.

When planting nursery stock, Plant in the afternoon or on a cloudy day. After planting, water thoroughly and apply up to two inches of mulch.

What to do Before Planting

Remove all weeds from the planting area. Using a hand rake, turn the soil from six to 12 inches deep. Add organic matter, such as compost or treated manure.

What’s the Best Soil for Woodland Sage?

What's the Best Soil for Woodland Sage?

S. nemorosa prefers sandy or gravelly soils with good drainage. Aim for a moderately acid soil, from 6.0 to 6.5 pH.

How to plant Woodland Sage

Plant in the afternoon or on a cloudy day to avoid direct sun during planting. Dig a hole as deep and slightly wider than the root ball. Holes should be 12 to 16 inches apart.

Loosen the plant’s root ball gently, then place the plant in the hole. The top of the root ball should be level with the surrounding soil. Fill in the hole and gently tamp. Water thoroughly. Apply one to two inches of mulch.

Woodland Sage Light preferences

Woodland sage prefers full sun exposures so aim for a location that receives as much direct light throughout the majority of the day.


How to Care for Salvia nemorosa (Woodland sage)

How to Care for Salvia nemorosa (Woodland sage)

Watering Woodland Sage

Woodland sage grows best in moist, well-drained soil. It will tolerate drought and occasional dry periods. Water about once a week, or when the soil feels dry to the touch.

When to Fertilize Woodland Sage

Apply a balanced fertilizer, such as 15-15-15, when the plants emerge from winter dormancy. Apply again in early summer to encourage growth and blooming.

Pruning & Cutting Back Woodland Sage

Pruning & Cutting Back Woodland Sage

After woodland sage’s first flush of flowers is over and flower stems brown, cut the plants back to about one-third their size. This will encourage a new flush of blossoms in a few weeks. Repeat this during the growing season for multiple blooms.

Propagation

Propagate S. nemorosa by taking cuttings in April, August, or September. Cut a non-flowering stem, remove lower foliage and cut each below a node.

Place stems into moist cutting compost and cover with a plastic bag. Keep cool and protect from strong sunlight. The cuttings should be ready for potting in about three weeks.

Overwintering Woodland Sage

Overwintering Woodland Sage

If you live in USDA zone 4a or below, you may overwinter woodland sage indoors. Dig up the plant and rinse foliage well. Drench the roots and attached soil and place in a close-fitting container. Place the pot in a second, bigger container and pack the space between the pots with crumpled paper or packing peanuts. Put the pot in a cool place and check regularly to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely.

When and How to Repot Woodland Sage Plants Grown in Containers

When growing woodland sage in containers, you may need to repot in the spring. Add fresh compost to the new pot this time. At the minimum, top-dress woodland sage grown in pots with fresh compost in spring.


Common Woodland Sage Problems & How to Treat Them

Common Woodland Sage Problems & How to Treat Them

S. nemorosa is drought, deer, and rabbit tolerant. When grown in their preferred conditions, these plants aren’t bothered by too many pests.

In wet climates, or when planted too close together, woodland sage may attract slugs, Aphids, scale, and whitefly.

Woodland sage has some susceptibility to leaf spot. Prevent leaf spot by keeping foliage dry and removing any infected parts of the plant. Avoid watering at night and provide good air circulation to help prevent botrytis, a gray, mold-like fungus, and powdery mildew.

If woodland sage is wilting or falling over, it may be getting too little or too much water. If plants are turning brown or yellow, provide a foliar feed spray. If this doesn’t help, repot plants in fresh compost.


Wrap Up 

With its 3-foot-tall spikes of blue-violet flowers, woodland sage is a beautiful addition to any border or bed. it’s a great choice when you want to attract pollinators, like bees, butterflies, and birds, to your garden. This low-maintenance perennial is also easy to grow; it’s relatively pest-free and tolerates drought and deer.


Growing Salvia nemorosa (Woodland sage) FAQs:

Woodland sage (Salvia nemorosa) is a perennial.

S. nemorosa flowers do come back every year. If you cut stems back after each flush of flowers, plants may bloom again and again from late spring through fall.

Woodland sage attracts pollinators, including bees, butterflies, songbirds, and hummingbirds.

You don’t need to deadhead woodland sage. Rather, cut stems back to the basal leaves after flowering ends. This will encourage the plants to bloom again.

Woodland sage is native to temperate woodlands of Asia and Europe.

Woodland sage is not considered an invasive plant.


More Salvia Flower Growing Guides:

For more essential step-by-step guides to growing and caring for Salvia plants at home, please see our in-depth features on Salvia coccinea (Texas Sage), Salvia greggii (Autumn sage), and Salvia splendens (Scarlet Sage)


Author

Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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