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Native Roots: Autumn Sage is an easy-to-grow, small flowering shrub for sun

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Becca Dickstein

Autumn sage is a popular small shrub for landscaping in North Texas. Although named "autumn" sage, it blooms from March through frost.

Some autumn sage varieties flower profusely in the spring and the fall, while others flower most abundantly in the summer. Most varieties also produce continuous blooms on and off throughout the season. Many colors are available too: cultivars with red, pink, orange, coral or purple blooms exist, some with white variegation.

Autumn sage's flowers are usually one-inch long and individually short lived. They are borne on racemes with new buds replacing spent flowers. After flowering, one can harvest small seeds from the dried seed capsules.

Autumn sage (Salvia greggii), also called cherry or Gregg sage, usually grows into a mounding shrub 2 to 3 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide, although an occasional plant may reach 5 feet tall. It has half- to one-inch green, smooth, aromatic leaves and is evergreen during most North Texas winters.

In addition to varieties available that differ in flower color, some differ in leaf color and growth habit. The species name honors naturalist Josiah Gregg (1806-1850), discoverer of Texas plant species in the 1840s. Autumn sage is native to Central, West and South Texas where it grows in rocky soils.

Plant autumn sage in full or partial sun. It grows well in a wide variation of garden soils, but is intolerant of poor drainage, especially in clay soils that shrink and swell. Water well after planting. Once established, autumn sage is extremely drought-tolerant.

Use autumn sage as an individual specimen or plant several in a row to form a low hedge. Although not necessary, one can easily prune autumn sage branches in the fall to shape it. The branches are somewhat brittle, making autumn sage better suited for areas away from where it will frequently be brushed against, though doing so releases a heavenly aroma.

For red to orange varieties, autumn sage's aromatic leaves find use in flavoring food or teas and the flowers are edible. Its flowers serve as a nectar source for bees and butterflies and attract hummingbirds. Consider planting autumn sage instead of exotic perennial shrubs like Indian Hawthorn, abelia, nandina, dwarf Burford holly and Japanese boxwood species.

Native Texas companion plants include red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), sundrops (Calylophus berlandieri), zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis), prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida) and various milkweeds (Asclepias spp.).

Look for the NICE! Plant of the Season signs and information sheets on your next visit to a participating North Texas nursery. Participating nurseries include Hartwell's Nursery in Lewisville, Denton's Meador Nursery and Painted Flower Farm, and Shades of Green Nursery in Frisco. Thank you for using native plants in your landscapes.

BECCA DICKSTEIN, a member of the Trinity Forks Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, is on the University of North Texas biological sciences faculty.

FEATURED PHOTO: Autumn sage's flowers are usually one-inch long and individually short lived. They are borne on racemes with new buds replacing spent flowers. After flowering, one can harvest small seeds from the dried seed capsules.
Courtesy/Kathy Saucier