One of the fall blooming perennials showing out in East Texas gardens right now is Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha). This stately beauty earned its stripes as a Texas Superstar selection by Texas A&M University because of its drought tolerance, pest resistance and adaptability to a wide range of soils, including everything from alkaline clays to acidic sands. It also is considered one of our more deer-proof flowering ornamentals.
Mexican bush sage is a late summer and fall blooming tender perennial from Mexico, as its name implies. The sturdy, silver-gray foliaged plants can easily reach 3 feet or more in height, and it is most typically crowned by spectacular, velvety spikes of violet-purple and white. There’s also a form with solid purple spikes as well as even more rare cultivars, including solid white flowers, pale pink flowers, variegated foliage and a dwarf form. In addition to their landscape appeal, the stately spikes also can be used as dramatic cut flowers.
Although perennial in its native habit, Salvia leucantha is only reliably perennial in the lower two-thirds of Texas (zones 7b to 10). The northern third of Texas can help the plant over winter by planting it in a well-drained location and protecting the roots and crown with a thick layer of insulating organic mulch (hay, straw, compost, etc.) or even better, a dry gravel mulch. Colder parts of the country even enjoy this popular plant as a fall blooming annual.
This drought tolerant Mexican native prefers sunny, well-drained sites and will survive with no supplemental irrigation is most parts of the state including all of East Texas. In order to promote an abundance of late summer and fall flowering spikes, the plant should be sheared several times during the summer months, or even once a month up until the first of September. At that point the shorter days of fall trigger the vegetative growth to begin flowers. The subsequent regrowth from the shearing produces a sturdier more compact plant as well as one that’s less prone to “flopping.”
Unlike the ever-popular annual red salvia (Salvia splendens), which often succumbs to intense heat and drought, Mexican bush sage actually thrives during our typical desert-like summers.
Mexican bush sage can be used a massed bedding plant, a container plant in large pots, as a part of a mixed perennial border, or as a landscape specimen. Its typical size is around three feet tall and three feet wide.