Dwarf Mexican Bush Sage Salvia leucantha “Santa Barbara”

Plant of the Week
September 23, 2006

Dwarf Mexican Bush Sage Salvia leucantha "Santa Barbara"Salvias are classified into the mint family, Labiateae, which contains over 750 species of herbs and sub-shrubs from quasi-arid climates around the world. The “Santa Barbara” species of Salvia leucantha is a frost tender native from most of Mexico and was first classified at the University of Madrid by Antonio Jose Cavanilles (1745-1804). This cultivar, considered to be an improvement on the species, was discovered by Kathiann Brown, a gardener from Santa Barbara, California. It was named KAB in her honor and was later marketed as Dwarf Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’ selection.

So, how about a plant that is hardy, drought tolerant, usually deer resistant, and blooms spectacular lavender flower stalks throughout the fall season? That plant would be the Dwarf Mexican Bush Sage. The best selection of this compact plant, botanically speaking, is named ‘Santa Barbara,’ Salvia leucantha. It normally grows into a well-mounded mass of spiked flowers reaching up to three feet in height and spreads into a four foot mass clump.

Remembering that “Fall is for Planting”, this would be a great time for establishing this plant. If it is damaged by coldl winter, it will grow back, good as new. Remove damaged parts before the start of spring. If pruned to the ground, it will even bounce back. If there is no winter damage, pruning can wait until early summer. By pruning, you can keep the shrub compact and sturdy. In climates where it experiences no winter at all, it builds up over time into a substantially woody shrub with a year-round evergreen presence. In this situation, cutting the shrub back in mid-February is normally suggested.

This “Santa Barbara,” as compared to the common Mexican Bush Sage, is greatly favored by hummingbirds and butterflies. It has a more compact appearance, due to its dense foliage, and provides an colorful appearance to the garden.

The spikes of “Santa Barbara” Salvia are a rich, deep purple-bluish mass of flowers and have a velvety texture. This provides the species with another common name, Wooly of Velvet. It loves bright sun and needs little or no water. Although it is a desert-like plant, it easily adapts to cooler weather, as long as it is strategically located to get as little rainwater as possible, and placed in perfectly well-drained soil. It prefers soils enriched with compost and top-dressed occasionally with organic mulch.

This would be a great fall-blooming perennial for anyone’s garden to enjoy for many years. Who knows? You might even enjoy the flowers in a beautiful floral arrangement.

Remember, Learn and Have Fun!

David Rodriguez is the County Extension Agent-Horticulture for Bexar County. He represents Texas Cooperative Extension with the Texas A&M University System. For any landscape or gardening information, call the Bexar County Master Gardeners Hotline at (210) 467-6575, email questions to mg-bexar@tamu.edu, or visit our County Extension website at https://bexar-tx.tamu.edu/

Special Note: Listen to live broadcast of the Home & Garden Show with David Rodriguez & Bill Rohde on WOAI 1200 AM, every Saturday morning between 8:00-11:00 a.m., and call in your gardening questions at (210) 737-1200 or 1-800-383-9624. Check it out!

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