#TeachingTuesday: Meadow/Wood Sage

#TeachingTuesday: Meadow/Wood Sage

By Myatt Landscaping, Posted in
June 02, 2020

#TeachingTuesday: Meadow/Wood Sage

Meadow or wood sage is a generic name for a few species of salvia that are similar. It includes Salvia nemerosa, Salvia pratensis, Salvia x sylvestris, and many other hybrids. Other common names applied to these sages include: violet sage, clary sage, meadow clary, Balkan clary, purple flowering sage, perennial woodland sage, or just salvia. Diverse plant groups like sage really underscore the importance of using Latin names when referring to one particular plant—one common name can refer to many different plants, and one plant may have many different common names. Technically, there’s no such thing as an “incorrect” common name. For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to all of these similar salvias as meadow sage in this post.

Meadow sage is a great, low-maintenance perennial for gardens in full sun. Gravelly or sandy soils are best for growing meadow sage, with regular moisture or slightly on the drier side, but they will also tolerate dry soils or even clay as long as it doesn’t stay too wet. Salvias are also tolerant of deer and air pollution, so they work well both in rural and urban areas. Like all plants in the Salvia genus, meadow sage has an aromatic scent to the leaves when they are bruised or crushed. Meadow sage blooms almost all summer long, from June to September or even later. The flowers are in the purple/blue range, with some white varieties available. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are attracted to the blooms. The mounding form of the foliage and the tall, thin flower spikes lend interest to perennial borders, cottage gardens, and natural plantings. Add one or two plants to a vegetable garden or raised beds to help attract pollinators and add some color. You can also use the cut flowers in arrangements.


You can deadhead meadow sage periodically to force more new blooms if you want, but this is not necessary. If you choose to, just wait until the first blooms have mostly turned brown and started forming seedheads, then cut back each stalk to the foliage. If you have a lot of plants to prune, you can take larger handfuls and cut the stems back to a 4-6” height with garden scissors. Again, you don’t have to do this, it’s fine to just leave it natural. It will still rebloom throughout the season.

In the humid summers of the American south, meadow sage may get floppy and fall open, splaying out on the ground. If you notice your plants starting to flop, you could try staking them, or wait until they flop and then cut the stalks back to the basal foliage. They will grow back, but it will take time for them to bloom again.

In the late fall after a hard frost, when you are prepping your garden for winter, you can go ahead and cut your meadow sage back if it looks very untidy and you wish to clean it up a bit, but make sure to leave 4-6” of the stalks. This will help you locate the plants in early spring, and will help protect the crown from frost. If the plants are still upright though, why not leave it for some winter interest in the garden? In the spring, cut back the dead stalks once you can see the new leaves sprouting from the crown, or to be more pollinator-friendly, leave them for native bees that like to lay their eggs in hollow stems. The new foliage will quickly hide the old stalks.

A small native bee nesting in a hollow stem.

ID Tips

Quite honestly, meadow sage looks a lot like many other perennials when it isn’t blooming, and many species of Salvia look very similar, so it’s not an easy task determining what exact cultivar of sage you have in your landscape unless you already know. But here are some of the key features of meadow or wood sage:

  • The leaves are somewhat wrinkled or pebbly in texture, have notched edges, grow in opposite pairs along the stem and are medium- to gray-green in color.
  • The leaves on the upper stems are sessile, which means they attach directly to the stem with no tiny stalk (petiole) in between the leaf and the stem, while the lower leaves DO have petioles.
  • The leaves have a strong aromatic scent, which is similar to garden sage—a close relative used for cooking.
  • The stems are square and dark purple, especially near the tips.
  • The flowers grow in tall spikes, usually blue to purple in color depending on the species or cultivar.
  • Each floret is a tiny tube with two lips.
  • The bracts (the part that opens up to release the flower petals) remain the dark purple color of the stems. The bracts remain attractive even after the flower petals drop.