Don't Say Nyet to Russian Sage
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 26, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Voted the Perennial of the Year in 1995 by the Perennial Plant Association, Russian Sage, aka Perovskia atriplicifolia, has been providing drought-tolerant lavender beauty to American gardens for many years. It is hardy to Zone 5 (at least - probably colder), requires little care and is a non-stop bloomer.
Reports of its origin are conflicting, but most horticulturists agree that Perovskia is neither Russian nor a sage, although it is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. Some have reported it is native to Pakistan; others say the plant originated in the dry rocky hills of Afghanistan. Whatever its background, Russian Sage should not be ignored as it is a carefree sun-loving selection for your garden.
The most important point to remember is that these plants are very herb-like, so they respond well to the same treatment your lavender or rosemary demands: sun, average (not enriched) soil, excellent drainage and very modest water. In fact, in my experience the only thing that will really rankle a Perovskia is over-watering.
Some of the bigger cultivars will flop a bit if you don't keep them lightly - emphasis on lightly - trimmed. Most woody perennials and herbs don't like being radically chopped, and Perovskia is no exception.
While several gardeners report seeing hummingbirds at their Perovskias, I myself have not witnessed this. However, you can bet your best trowel that it will attract tons of bees, though, so be mindful of where you position this plant if you have young children, curious pets, allergic family members, or all of the above.
Russian Sage also tends to "shed" its tiny blooms in a somewhat messy fashion, so don't repeat my mistake of planting it next to the swimming pool where it can hang over the water.
However, if you're just looking for something fragrant, upright, beautiful and carefree for filling a dry sunny spot or lining a driveway, here's all you need to know:
Flower color: purple/blue
Height & Width - 3 to 5 feet
Growth Habit: Upright
Cold hardy to nearly -40°F
Grows in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9.
Popular cultivars include ‘Blue Mist' (lighter blue flowers), ‘Blue Haze', ‘Blue Spire' (deep purple flowers and larger panicles), 'Longin' (lavender-blue, with stiff upright stems and a more formal appearance), ‘Little Spire' (a dwarf variety) and 'Filigran' (a cut leaf, lacier texture and more upright growth).
Beyond a light layer of mulch at first frost and a modest trim (down to about 6") in early spring, they are completely self-sufficient. I don't spray or fertilize them...heck, I don't even water them during the scorching depths of a Texas summer. And when you don't have to do anything at all to a plant, well, that's about as organic as it gets!
Check out the Dave's Garden Plant File entry on Russian Sage to see photos, get more information, or find online vendors who have this plant for sale.