Salvia Leucantha: Pruning & Propagating

Aug 5, 2019

The Salvia family is a beautiful one. We’re slowly but surely planting a large range of them in our garden. My current favourite is the Mexican bush sage (Salvia Leucantha) – I love it for its vibrant purple flowers which come in autumn and winter, exactly when we need them (it gets a bit grey here around then). Every so often we’ll seen a brave bumble or honey bee feeding off them in this time of the year when most other garden flowers are sleeping – so its everyone’s friend.

We’ve planted them at the base of a row of native Hop bushes (Dodonaea viscosa) which will eventually be hedged tight, with all the prunings being fed to our goats.

How to prune

In order to keep this glorious colour and fresh looking foliage coming back again and again, you need to prune them *hard* once a year. All you need to do is cut all the one year old growth to the ground once you see their flowers dying and fresh, new shoots coming out of the base.

The flowers start to fade towards the end of winter – this is the time to prune them. 

A fresh shoot (white stem) next to an older shoot (purple stem)

If you look to the base of the plant, you’ll see new shoots popping up next to the older shoots as seen above. Simply cut all the old shoots off at ground level. Because I wait for the shoots to come, I never have any bare ground. Below you can see a freshly pruned shrub in the foreground and an older one about to be pruned in the background.

Edit: A very helpful person on social media pointed out that they wait until there’s no risk of frost happening in their region before cutting the old growth out. So might not cut it until mid/late spring. We have a warm(er) microclimate in Hobart, close to the ocean, so don’t have serious frost issues. 

How to propagate from cuttings

You’ll be left with *a lot* of vegetation. Instead of just throwing this in the compost or chook run, you can make many, many cuttings from it to grow more plants. Because you can never have too many Salvias.

To propagate salvia from cuttings, cut a piece of the hardwood from the old wood with 4 – 5 nodes showing. Nodes are the part of a plant stem from which leaves or roots emerge, often forming a slight swelling. Make sure you have a node near the bottom of the stem.

Strip all the leaves from stems. As you can see below, I’ll often leave one small leaf at the top to help photosynthesise. But if any of the leaves start to wilt and die, nip them off and don’t worry, the cutting will still strike :-).

A cutting with a small leaf left on the top and 7 nodes. 

You can then plant up to 5 cuttings in each pot. Once they start setting roots in the warmth of spring you can move them up into their own pots to grow nice and big before eventually putting them into the garden.

For this batch I made the potting mix out of 40% compost (but really you don’t even need this) and 60% coco peat (to hold onto moisture) as this is all I had available. I could have done the whole lot just in coco peat and it would have been fine as well. Usually you’d also put some sand in there for good drainage – but these are hardy cuttings that don’t need pampering.

And that’s it. I now have 65 Salvia Leucantha cuttings which will grow into vigorous bushes of glory.  And no, that’s not too many – I will happily home them all throughout our garden.

 

your thoughts:

25 Comments

  1. Shu Lin

    Hi,

    I’d like to know how long mexican sage flowers (with leaves, on a stem) will last after being cut and put in water. I’m thinking of using it in a floral arrangement.

    Thanks much!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      IF you mean in a vase with water, around a few days before they start wilting. Just experiment 🙂

      Reply
  2. Lu

    I just found a house near mine with this incredible flower in Sydney, Australia. I picked a few flowers and love them so much sitting on my kitchen counter that I had to know what it is! Wasn’t hard to find the furry purple flower bush to be Mexican Sage. Your explanation for propagating cuttings is excellent, I’ll be visiting my neighbour’s bush again soon to get some old wood with nodes.

    Thanks so much for the informative page and photos, much appreciated.

    Cheers
    Lu

    Reply
  3. Melanie

    So impressed, you answered all I needed to know so thoroughly it was a real delight to see. Thankyou.

    Reply
  4. Clairie

    Thank you! I just got given 9 cuttings (he’s Serbian and only gives plants in threes) from a friend.

    He said to just dig them in, but I might do half your way and half his way to experiment. They are great flowers especially at this time of year!

    Reply
  5. Celeste

    Thank you so much for your great article! I was going to take some cuttings but had a few questions:
    – When is the best time to take cuttings and propagate Mexican sage?
    – How long do I have to grow them in pots before I can plant them?
    – It looks like you have 4-5 shoots in the one pot… do you plant them all together in the ground or separate them?
    Thank you so much for your help!!!!

    Reply
  6. Hope

    Thank you for your very helpful article!! I just purchased my first Mexican bush sage from our local nursery, I had never seen or heard of this plant, so I was really excited to find it on their clearance sale. I have a greenhouse herb garden in my office (I am a chef), and I have a bunch of “mother plants” that I keep in here to rejuvenate my soul (😊) and propagate from. I use T5 and full spectrum led grow lights.

    The plants I bought (there are 4 rooted together), compared to the pictures I’ve seen, are more tree-like, as the leaves on the bottom 3/4 of the plants have been pulled off, leaving only the woody stems. I do have bushy-type foliage at the top. I have only had these for a little over a week, and I transplanted them into a large pot with a low-growing fern plant. I didn’t notice any immediate changes after transplant. The soil did get a dry a few days after, so I watered it and it has been living under the led lights. In the last few days, I have had to pull off a bunch of yellow leaves. I was careful to not over-water, but I’m wondering if I did, not sure if these plants need less water or a different soil? Also not sure about the led lights? It is full spectrum, so I was hoping it would be appropriate to get those gorgeous flowers growing. This morning I moved it under the T5, will see if that helps. But I was wondering if you maybe have any experience or knowledge of keeping one of these indoors? Thank you so much for all of the helpful information you’ve already given!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Sorry Hope, I haven’t got experience growing under lights. Good luck!

      Reply
  7. PJE

    I was looking for information on gleaning & then growing them from seed. Guess I’ll just keep looking. Thank You!

    Reply
  8. Hannah

    Thanks so much for an informative article. I am in Melbourne and have now pruned my Salvias in time for Spring. I have also used your propagating method and now have 25 potentially new plants!

    I have a couple of questions regarding propagation, do I need to water the cuttings regularly? I know the big salvias don’t seem to need much water at all. Also how will I know the cuttings have struck roots?

    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Hannah :-). Don’t overwater your cuttings – simply check the mix by putting your finger in the soil. If it’s damp, there’s no need to water. After a month or soil you can gently dig some out with a butter knife to see if they’re struck roots. Eventually you’ll also see them put on leaves 🙂

      Reply
  9. Suzanne

    Hello, just came across your article. I have some salvias that grow with a thick carpet of osteospermum at their base. I’ve not pruned them for a long while. Is it too late to prune now as we head into Oct? I can’t get to the base due to the osteospermum…can I grow from cuttings nearer top?

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Suzanne, In the southern hemisphere (where I am) in cool temperate Tas you could still prune them low and they’d grow back over spring/summer. You need to propagate them from the hardwood stems 🙂

      Reply
  10. Jayatma (JJ)

    Hi Hannah,
    You mention native hop (Dodonaea viscosa) as a goat fodder. Can you mention where you found this info and if you have another source or info on native plants which are good sheep, goat or cow fodder?
    Thanks JJ

    Reply
  11. Michelle Bryant

    Hi – great article!! I’m from Rhode Island (USA) so it is an annual for me. Do you think I could propagate indoors over the winter (not in a greenhouse)? Thanks! Michelle

    Reply
  12. Linda Redden

    Hi Hannah,
    We’ve recently discovered a hop bush on our property and I’m trying to propagate it to make a hedge (hopefully… newby propogator 🪴) but I was interested if you know if it’s possible to use it to make beer 🤔🍻🤞
    Thanks
    Linda

    Reply
  13. Joanne Schultz

    Hello Hannah and thanks so much for the most informative site on propagating my beautiful Mexican Sage. We live in a mountainous area of the state of Georgia in the U.S. and my Mexican Sage must absolutely love the climate here and has been a showoff for weeks and weeks. It is almost Nov. and the flowers are still bright and show no signs of drying. I’m afraid a hard frost will come and zap (!!) the flowers and leaves before I have a chance to make my cuttings. Can I cut some now even though the flowers haven’t started to dry up some??? Also, when nursing the cuttings in a pot (or 2) should the pot(s) be in a window with some sun or abundant sun? I’m assuming once the rooting takes place, the cuttings will have to be separated into their own pots?? Thanks for the info.

    Reply
  14. Tarina

    Fantastic information, every time Hannah! You are an inspiration, thank you so much for all your hard work and sharing 🙂

    Reply
  15. Shiv

    Hi Hannah
    Thank you so much for the amazing article. I have two Salvias that I have rescued from a discounted plant section. I was looking for the name of the plant when I came across your article. It’s so informative and helpful. Now I know how to propergate more plants. I have just one question. Can I grow this in a pot?
    Thank you.
    Shiv

    Reply
  16. Anton

    Just love them as well. Leafless semi-old wood sticks are fine for cuttings. When I prune back in our early winter (different to Australia) after the spent blooms I simply push the sticks in the ground letting them grow in situ. We have good humidity year round.

    In our climte which is more like Brisbane they have two flushes of flowers a year so I cut back two times a year.

    My favorite is “Phyllis Fancy” which is a hybrid. Gets manmy many soft lilac and white flowers which in their profusion give a wonderful colourful misty effect.

    My family live in Hobart Australia and I’m aways completely blown over by the incredible variety of plants and bulbs that grow there so close to the Antartic! Not unlike Cape Town in floral diversity only introduced. The sky is the limit in that direction.

    Reply
  17. Iveta

    Thank you for a very useful article on how to prune and propagate salvia. I have a plant growing in my vegetable patch that looks like clary salvia sclarea based on photos on the internet. I’m not sure though, the first year only leaves grew and now it looks like this. I placed the photo here on my website https://www.iveta-proradost.cz/blog/post/23/salvej-muskatova . The leaves are really big. If it is salvia, it should be blooming this year. Can you please confirm if it is really clary salvia or something else. Or a completely different plant? Thank you very much 🙂 I like salvia very much and would like to have it in my garden, that’s why I’m asking.

    Reply
  18. Sally Dillon

    Thank you, mum just shared this with me and it’s explained so clearly and very informative compared to so many websites and YouTube videos which are loud, pretty useless and full of ads.

    I adore my Mexican sage, and my pineapple sage which brings all the honey eaters into my garden.

    Reply

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