Landscape Spotlight: Russian Sage, ‘Perovskia atriplicifolia’

Posted March 28, 2019 in Plant and Tree

Not truly Russian or a sage, it’s hard not to love this month’s landscape spotlight despite being introduced on an untruth.  This stunning perennial will turn heads with its supreme color and texture for more than one sequential season and provide so much exquisiteness and benefit to the landscape.

An ascension of purple showers atop grey-green leaves and silver-white stems, this spikey-stemmed beauty will mature to a height and spread of about 3-4’ and flower from summer to autumn.  From a distance, Russian sage looks like a purple haze among the landscape, but up close, the sweet and fuzzy purple blooms along the light-colored stems creates an artful and soothing contrast.

Mentioned earlier, in spite of being called a sage, this plant is not related to the botanical sages at all!  This perennial is actually a member of the mint family, which can be foretold by its square-shaped stems and its ability to fill in the empty spaces within the garden.  Its vertical interest makes Russian sage a lovely focal point and its naturally fragrant nature makes it deer, rabbit and pest resistant, yet very attractive to butterflies, bees and hummingbirds…perfect for our northeast PA gardens!

Hardy in zones 5-9, this plant is low-maintenance needing little care and is very versatile and resilient.  However, for best results, plant in an area that receives full sun and has well-draining soil.  While this landscape spotlight requires regular watering when first introduced into the landscape, once established it becomes quite drought-tolerant and thrives in the sunny and hot area of your landscape.

Being a member of the mint family, this plant can start to take over, if left to its own devices.  Perfectly suited to do its own thing in a native or countryside setting where pruning isn’t a common activity, but trust us when we say that Russian sage is easily controllable within a more manicured setting.  This plant will spread by runners, so keep an eye and pluck any suckers from places you don’t want them to be…it’s that easy!

Early spring is a good time to do the pruning, which can happen in one of two ways.  Some homeowners like to do a hard prune, down to a few inches of ground level and others like to wait until mid-spring.  During mid-spring, the plant will begin to fill in with leaves, making it easy to identify dead branches and make on-the-spot judgments of other branches needing to be removed.  If you employ a landscape company to perform your spring maintenances, they surely have a set formula to trim each plant they come in contact with, so trust their judgment!

So, we know that this plant loves sunny and hot areas of the landscape, but how should it be incorporated within a landscape design?  To start, you must always account for a plant’s full mature height and spread when introducing it into a landscape bed or garden.  Since certain varieties of Russian sage can have a significant girth, it is best to capitalize on its vertical interest!  Its prominent stature makes it an amazing candidate for an eventual seasonal screen or as the tallest row of an impressive landscape bed.  In more natural situations or rock gardens, this plant makes a great focal point, especially when planted en masse!  The grouped plantings will act as a focal point within the landscape, and its attractiveness can also be heightened by companion plantings.

Not only do companion plants make each other look more beautiful, but many plants actually grow better alongside their neighbors!  As a general rule, make sure all companions prefer the same growing conditions, such as soil and water requirements as well as sunlight needs.  Next, compare the mature size of each plant, to make sure you have plenty of room and that they won’t be competing next to each other in height or spread.  Contrasting textures and colors are a welcomed in the mix, as it keeps the garden interesting, just be sure to group a few of the same plants together in the plan, this will avoid technicolor-chaos and give a more designer appeal.  As for Russian sage, it blends beautifully along ornamental grasses, hostas and colorful perennials like black-eyed susan, purple coneflower, yarrow, roses and lilies!  Whether incorporated into wildlife gardens or refined landscaping beds, Russian sage is a uniquely beautiful classic that deserves to be on the roster.

For those who live in the Poconos, Lehigh Valley through the Main Line of Philadelphia and western New Jersey who are searching for their own landscape inspiration, backyard reimagination or total outdoor living transformation, MasterPLAN Outdoor Living would love to help you uncover the true beautiful potential of your property! From modest makeovers to magnificent retreats, MasterPLAN has the experience, expertise and passion to guide our clients in their outdoor journey.  Creating outdoor living spaces to be cohesive with the home, incorporating both structure and landscape, we know that a timeless outdoor living plan is the first step to living your best life outdoors.  When you are ready, reach out to MasterPLAN to open the conversation, we would love to hear from you!

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