Mexican sage is an ornamental, perennial sage that many people choose to grow as an annual during the summer months in northern planting zones. It will only survive your winters in northern climates where the temperatures don’t dip below 18°F, so most people treat it like an annual that only survives for one season in everywhere but the warmest regions. This plant is native to Mexico, as you may have guessed by the name, and it’s a heat-loving plant that offers greenish-gray foliage that does very well in very hot summers. If you live in a cold region, it is possible to overwinter Mexican sage, and we’ll touch on that later.
Mexican sage usually tops out between four and five feet wide at full maturity, and it has an open, soft growth habit. It features tapered leaves that are a greenish-silver color on the bottom and a medium-green color on top. Unlike culinary sage, Mexican sage leaves aren’t flavorful. Instead, you grow it as an ornamental. During the fall months, this plant produces spires of light purple, fuzzy blooms in white and purple colors that last for weeks. Hummingbirds adore Mexican sage’s nectar, and bees do too. If you’re curious how to grow this plant and have it flower late in the season, read on.
Mexican sage is a very pretty ornamental shrub that looks like it would be a lot of work to grow and maintain, but it’s actually very beginner-friendly.
Mexican Sage Quick Overview
|Bloom Time:||Late summer|
|Botanical Name:||Salvia leucantha|
|Common Name:||Mexican Sage|
|Flower Color:||White, purple, bi-colored|
|Hardiness Zones:||8 to 11|
|Mature Size:||Three to five feet wide by four feet tall|
|Native Area:||Central America and Mexico|
|Soil pH:||4.5 to 8|
|Soil Type:||Well-drained by fertile|
|Sun Exposure:||Full sun|
Popular Mexican Sage Varieties
While regular Mexican sage comes with many merits, there are several types of Mexican sage that offer specific traits that can help them suit your garden better. A few popular ones include:
This is a pink-flowering cultivar of Mexican sage, and it can be more tricky to find on the market. However, it’s well-worth finding. You may hear this plant called Velour Pink, FerPink,, and Wellington Pink. It gets between two and three feet high at full maturity.
This cultivar comes with dark purple flowers and a very compact growth habit. It tops out at four feet high, and it gets between four and six feet wide. You may hear it called All Purple or Purple Velvet, and it’s a very quick-growing plant that has foliage with fuzzy hair coverage. In warmer areas, this cultivar will bloom from spring until well into the fall months, and it’s slightly less hardy than original Mexican sage.
As a more compact cultivar, this one tops out at three feet high. It looks very nice planted in containers or in beds or borders when you mix it with other late-blooming plants. The flowers are a slightly deeper purple color.
When to Plant Mexican Sage
In areas where you grow your Mexican sage as an annual, you should plant your transplants only after the last frost date of the spring has passed and the soil warmed up. If you live in a cold or cool climate, planting Mexican sage too early in the season can lead to delayed growth due to frost damage or cold soil. You can wait until as late as early June to plant them when you buy them from your local garden center or use cuttings you overwintered. You don’t want to plant too soon and risk losing your plants to frost.
In regions where Mexican sage can survive the winter, you can plant it at any time as long as you avoid the hottest months of the year. Early spring or late winter planting times are best, and this will allow you to get well-established plants to enjoy the late season blooms. The new growth these plants produce will ensure you get lots of flower spikes.
Mexican Sage – General Care
Generally speaking, Mexican sage is one bush you’ll plant for ornamental purposes, and you don’t want to confuse it with culinary sage that you use for seasoning. It’s generally a low-maintenance addition to your garden that requires routine care to grow very well in most gardens.
When you plant it, you’ll want to pick out a very sunny location and start it early in the spring. The soil should be well-drained and fertile, and you can mix in a one-inch layer of aged manure to promote healthy growth. Be sure to put your plants at least 36 inches apart, and opt for a thick layer of mulch to help protect your plants, including wood chips or evergreen boughs.
As long as you get the growth conditions right, you should have no trouble getting plenty of blooms at the end of summer.
You can fertilize your Mexican sage using a 12-12-12 general purpose fertilizer mix each year. You should apply it before the new shoots emerge in the spring, and you should apply it at the recommended rate the manufacturer suggests.
Mexican sage thrives under full sun conditions. However, it can survive in partial shade too. The more sun you give it, the fuller and bigger it’ll grow. You also want to be careful that you don’t plant it in a space that is too dim or has too much shade as this will cause the plant to grow leggy, sickly-looking, and thin as it leans toward any light source.
So, when you pick out a space for this plant, you want to put it somewhere where it’ll get a lot of bright light for a minimum of six to eight hours a day. This will give the plant the best chances to grow and produce pretty flowers. Since its native to Mexico’s conifer forests and Central America, it’s used to getting a lot of natural sunlight all year round.
This plant loves well-draining but rich soil. And, although it’s tolerant to drought, this plant likes to be in evenly-moist soil when you water it. You can incorporate a thicker layer of compost into the soil to improve the drainage. The high humus content can increase the soil’s fertility level. Since Mexican sage grows to form a dense shrub, you want to leave three feet between your plants to ensure that it has a lot of room to spread without getting crowded. It’s not invasive in the United States, so you won’t have to worry about it taking over.
Temperature and Humidity
As we mentioned, Mexican sage does well in warmer weather. You’ll see it growing in zones 8 to 11 because these areas have warmer weather every month of the year. These zones include Florida, Texas, Arizona, Texas, and Alabama. Unlike a lot of houseplants that will bloom in summer and spring only, Mexican sage will start to bloom later in the summer and well into the fall months. So, you can use it to add color to a fall garden.
If you choose to grow it in containers, Mexican sage will survive being brought indoors when winter arrives. This is also the best option if you live in an area that gets too cold for the plant to survive. If you grow it in the ground, you can overwinter it by cutting it back to the ground and adding a very thick layer of mulch to protect it from the freezing temperatures and frost. This is very true for younger plants. During this time, your Mexican sage will flower and die back in cold conditions, and it can tolerate very mild frost.
Mexican sage is very drought tolerant. However, they do need routine watering sessions during the summer months when the weather gets hot to keep them hydrated. If you grow them outside, the rain is usually enough water to sustain them. The only time you need to water is if it’s been two or more weeks since the last rainfall. Weekly watering before the growing season starts helps to develop strong, healthy roots. During the winter, you want to keep the soil dry. Wet soil in the winter months can kill your Mexican sage.
Pruning Mexican Sage
If the winter temperatures don’t dip below 18°F and you live in a warm climate, your Mexican sage will return year after year. You won’t need to prune it back until the late winter or early spring months. Pruning it in the fall could impact your plant’s ability to survive the winter months. You want to wait until you see new growth in the spring and prune it back to the point of the new growth.
If you live in a colder climate and want to grow it as an annual, you won’t have to prune anything. In fact, pruning during the active growing season can delay flowering and prevent you from seeing any flowers before the frost comes and kills it off. Once the plant gets black from frost, you can pull it up and put it in the compost pile.
When you finish pruning your Mexican Sage plant, you can toss the cuttings into your compost pile or bin to break down.
Propagating Mexican Sage
Propagating your Mexican sage is a very easy process that won’t take a huge amount of effort or time. You can buy a mature plant, use stem cuttings, or grow it from seeds. Keep in mind that this plant does best in zones 8b to 11. So, if you have winters that fall outside of these zones, you should put it in a container so you can move inside when the temperature drops. To propagate it using cuttings, you should:
Step One – Get a Mexican Sage Cutting
Get pruning shears and cut a piece of your mature Mexican sage that has a minimum of four to five nodes or leaf stems on it. Remove any leaves from the stem except for one leaf by the top to help encourage photosynthesis.
Step Two – Put Soil Mixture Into a Tray
Mexican sage prefers to be in a well-draining but rich soil with a lot of nutrients. You can get a seedling trap or pot ready by filling it with this type of soil.
Step Three – Plant Your Cutting
Dip the bottom inch of the cutting you took into a rooting hormone and plant it into your seed tray or pot. Press down very gently on the soil around the cutting to ensure that it sits upright. Water the cutting right away when you finish planting and keep the soil moist as it grows.
Step Four – Transplant to Your Garden
You should allow the cutting to establish itself with a root system for three weeks to a month. At this point, you can transplant it into a pot or straight into the garden. You want to gently remove the plant from the seedling tray or pot and transplant it. Pick a spot that gets a lot of sunlight, and you want to water it right after you finish transplanting it. Continue to water it once a week for the first few months so it develops healthy, strong roots.
Repotting Mexican Sage
The best time to think about repotting Mexican sage is when there is moderate weather in the forecast. You don’t want to do this right in summer’s hottest points, and you don’t want to do it in the colder winter temperatures. The reason for this is that it’s important to keep the soil moist, and this is challenging when it gets very cold or hot out. To transplant it to your garden, you’ll:
- Pick a good location before you do anything. Mexican sage requires full sun, so pick a space where it gets six to eight hours of sun each day. Also, it tends to spread sideways to roughly three feet wide. So, you’ll need to leave enough space between each plant.
- When it comes to the soil, good drainage is the most important aspect. The plant loves fertile soil, and you may need to add compost to help lighten it up and add more nutrients in.
- Once you get all of your logistics figured out, you can start digging. You want to dig your spot ahead of time so you can insert the plant directly into the ground when you remove it from the container.
- Take the plant out of the current container and put the root ball into the hole you dug.
- If you want to add amendments to the soil, you can do so now before you finish by covering the rest of the hole around the root ball with soil.
Overwintering Mexican Sage
If you think that you want to overwinter your Mexican sage but it gets far too cold for your plant to survive if you leave it outside, you have three main choices on how to overwinter it. They include:
If you don’t have room in your home to overwinter the entire Mexican sage plant, you can take a bunch of cuttings like we described above and grow them in a sunny window or put them under grow lights until spring comes back around. When you use this method, you’ll have to pinch your plants back three or four times throughout the winter.
Entire Plant Inside
To overwinter your Mexican sage and turn it into a houseplant, you should dig them up before the first frost arrives and put them into a larger container with plenty of drainage holes. Cut the plant to ⅓ of the current size and move it to a very well-lit room or space with grow lights. Water it sparingly throughout the winter, roughly once every four to six weeks. Slowly reintroduce the plant to outside during the spring, once the final frost of the season passes.
Entire Plant in a Semi-Dormant State
The third option is to pot up your Mexican sage and move it to the shed or garage as long as it stays just above freezing during the winter. Water it every six weeks very sparingly. The plant will go to a semi-dormant state that requires minimal light. The plant will most likely drop all of the leaves, and depending on how much light it gets, the roots may be the only thing that makes it. But, in the spring, you slowly move it back outside and take it back inside at night and it’ll sprout new growth from the root system.
You have several ways that you can overwinter your Mexican sage plant to get a strong and healthy plant next season.
Care Tips for Mexican Sage
Generally speaking, Mexican sage is a low-maintenance plant that doesn’t require much from you. However, the following quick tips can help your plant establish itself much quicker:
- Nutrient-Rich Soil – Mexican sage will prefer to be in a very well-draining soil with a lot of nutrients. You can mix compost into the soil to introduce organic materials to ensure the correct nutrition. Always check the soil for proper drainage.
- Pruning – Always prune your plant during summer and spring. You should prune it before the active growing season in the early spring or summer to remove any stems that have damage from the winter or that have died. This will help the plant keep a compact growth habit and promote new growth. Also, make sure that you deadhead wilting or dead blooms.
- Sunlight – Try to give your plant as much sunlight as you can. Ideally, it prefers full sun and direct sunlight to encourage healthy and full blooms. However, Mexican sage can tolerate a few hours a day of light or partial shade.
- Watering – Water your plant during the dry months of summer. It’s a drought-tolerant plant that doesn’t need a huge amount of water once it establishes. However, you want to make sure you water it enough during the hottest months or if your area isn’t getting the normal amounts of rainfall. Watering regularly after you plant it helps it establish a strong root system.
Mexican Sage Uses
This woody sage plant makes a fabulous choice as a simple landscaping idea for an ornamental border in full sun. It also does well as a bedding plant or in containers. Purple Velvet is one cultivar that deer tend to avoid, but it’s very attractive to pollinators. It makes a nice addition to your butterfly garden, herb garden, or pollinator garden. Also, with the fragrant, bright, and showy flowers and spreading growth habit, Mexican sage is stunning in mass plantings. It can cascade nicely over your retaining walls, or you can keep it as an individual specimen plant in hanging baskets or containers.
Pests and Diseases
With Mexican sage, you don’t need to worry a lot when it comes to pests and diseases. However, you do want to keep the watering schedule on point. Just like most plants, too much water can be problematic for the root and leaf system. You want to be very careful about overwatering it because it’s prone to leaf spot issues.
Mexican sage isn’t toxic to animals or humans, and it does have some medicinal uses attached to it. While it is an edible plant, you don’t generally use it for cooking because it doesn’t offer the full aroma or flavor that other cultivars have. Instead, it’s popular to use this cultivar to make natural fertilizers or insecticides.
Mexican sage isn’t a very high-maintenance plant to grow, and it can create a show-stopping look in your yard or garden. If you’re looking for something to fill in space, we suggest you consider planting it this spring.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.