CO-Horts

CO-Horts

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Plant This Not That: Russian Sage Edition


 
Eric Hammond Adams County
 
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Let me start by saying that I’m sure there are places for Russian sage in the landscape.   They are tough plants and I’m told they are very unappetizing to deer.  It’s just that I’m sick of seeing their leggy, sprawling and spreading forms in every hell strip, median, shrub border and foundation planting along the Front Range.   Plus, my neighbor has one along our shared fence and it’s continually trying to colonize my yard- oh the indignity. 

 
Russian sage suckering its way under my fence



So I thought I might try and encourage a little diversity by highlighting some similar plants that are a little better behaved and, at least to my eyes, more attractive.   There are actually quite a few smallish shrubs or shrub-like plants that have similar ornamental attributes to Russian Sage.

 
Blue mist spirea (Caryopteris incana and Caryopteris × clandonensis)-

 
Blue Mist Spirea Flower

Blue mist spirea has very similar flower color and timing to Russian Sage.   However, it lacks its sprawling and uneven habit and though it will occasionally come up from seed it does not spread nearly as aggressively.  The remnants of its fruit also add texture to a landscape in the winter months. They are fairly common and easy to find.
Blue Mist Spirea Winter Texture
Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphylla)-




This sage develops showy purple flowers mid-summer.  The foliage is fragrant and semi-evergreen remaining silvery-green late in the fall and early winter.   Once established, plants require little water and in our demonstration garden tend to struggle during wet winters.
Inflorescence of Mojave sage late in the summer

 

Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens and A. fruiticosa)-

 
 Lead plant

There are two species of lead plant commonly grown along the Front Range, A. fruiticosa and A. canescens.  Both are attractive landscape plants which develop purple flowers midsummer and have blue green foliage.  A. fruiticosa is the taller of the two species.  They are low water use once established and are tolerant of infertile soils.  They are native to the plains and in my opinion seem to fit more naturally into western landscapes.    


Lead plant flower
Newly planted lead plant

Catmint- (Nepeta sp.)-

Catmint

There are a number of different species, hybrids and clones of catmint.  They come in a variety of different heights and several flower colors, but most of those which are common to Front Range landscapes have purple flowers which provide color throughout late spring and summer, especially when deadheaded.   Catmint also attracts a variety of pollinators and butterflies to the garden.
Pollinators are often attracted to catmint



18 comments:

  1. Sorry, I must disagree. While I'm not familiar with Mojave Sage, nothing blooms as long as Russian Sage and it's upright form is a plus. It's more a problem of 'right plant in the right space'. Has anyone experience with the dwarf 'Little Spire'?

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    1. To each their own! There are definitely sites that Russian sage is better suited for. I know a lot of people swear by it for its deer resistance.

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  2. I paid quite a premium for "Little Spire' when it was only offered in catalogues years ago. I can't see any difference in my garden and if anything it is floppier. On Mohave Sage: if anyone knows a trick for keeping it alive more than one season, I'd love to know. I have tried it in what I thought would be ideal locations in my own garden and then in a city water-wise garden I designed and have had no success. The ones that took off and bloomed well croaked last winter, even though they were planted in a nice scree mulched low berm in full sun.

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    1. We have had peaty good success with Mojave sage in our demo garden planting it in sites that are well drained and nearly north facing- like the north-west side of a berm. Last winter was very hard on them. They were slow to leaf-out and have be creeping along most of the summer. Maybe this was related to the wet spring and cold soil temperatures?

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  3. Russian Sage is a bit better than junipers. I know junipers are shrubs, but many people plant the Russian Sage as a shrub-like plant. Junipers turn brown when not pruned correctly (1/10 of people actually take the time to prune junipers the proper way, the rests hack it). I have Russian Sage in the shade, that I whack every year, and it still comes back. It is a pain, but the juniper is more of a pain. To each their own, right!

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    1. Eric, other than my side commentary, I love the suggestions. Depending on situations, some of the plants will actually be a great choice.

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  4. While I love my Russian Sage hedge which divides my yard from my neighbors Russian Thistle yard, the sage has begun a quest for world domination with little end in sight.
    Anyone have any suggestions for controlling it?

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    1. I have grown Russian Sage for years, and it has never been invasive. And Monarch butterflies love it!

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  5. I have tried lead plant three times, and each time it was devoured by something. Deer? Rabbit? This,in spite of copious amounts of repellent.Gave up. Definitely like the Blue Mist. I tried rejuvenation pruning them back to the ground (plants are 7 years and I only tried this once, last year) in early March and this kept them low and rounded. We have the Mojave sage in the Demonstration garden in Durango. It has been in the ground three seasons and blooms well. Gets little water. Catmint get very leggy too, even with little water. I'm about to dig them up. Anyone have experience with Little Trudy?

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    1. We have Little Trudy at a couple sites in the our demo. garden. One where it receives little irrigation and one which is pretty mesic. In the first site is it is well behaved and the later it looks a little overgrown and more prone to self seed.

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  6. I'm surprised that catmint was included as an alternative that would not dominate. I have not seen a catmint that didn't take over a garden or given area. Walker's Low is not low and is very invasive, and Little Trudy is more compact but continues to reseed at high levels. Both disappoint.

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  7. I believe that Russian sage will be designated a noxious weed in the future. We will regret introducing it just like Russian olive, tamarisk, etc.

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  8. I think Russian Sage is pretty but I do not like the way it spreads. I had nine I dug out a couple of years back. I am growing the Russian Sage that is claimed not to spread. Little Spire? Not sure. Two of them. This is their second year and they are tall but not spreading so far.
    Not sure what Catmint I have but it does not reseeds. It stays low but spreads very large. I like it though.

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  9. I had several of what were labeled as "Blue mist spirea" by my landscaper and they look like the photo above but they went to seed something fierce and years after removing them I am still pulling dozens of sprouts from my landscaping every year! It was definitely not Russian Sage but what could these have been since everyone says BMS is a lovely shrub and does not go to seed? It is vexing to me.

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  10. Great selection here! I wasn't aware of Russian sage before this, this was a handy guide!

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  11. Will Mojave sage grow in near-sea level altitudes, such as South Texas? I fear it will need a higher altitude/cooler nights/less humid conditions. Fell in love with this plant in Santa Fe, NM.

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  12. I love Russian Sage, and so do Monarch butterflies!

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  13. From my observations I think there has been some muddying of the water with Walker's Low catmint. I have gotten some from box stores, nurseries that reseeded much more than I liked. Others hardly reseed at all. I now only purchase vegetatively propagated ones from a single source, which I trust (though they were bought a couple of years ago so hopefully they will remain careful). My thought is that there have been plants that have been brought into cultivation that were either sports, seeded plants, etc. that are now sold under the name, but aren't genetically identical. I wipe out the few seedlings that do appear in case they are genetically capable of being crazed reseeders and taking over the well-behaved ones.

    I have "Little Trudy" but only in one location. I haven't noted it reseeding yet.

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