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Honey, They Shrunk the Russian Sage

One of my favorite perennials is Perovskia atriplicifolia, common name Russian sage. My recollection is that Behnke’s began selling Russian Sage around 1990. I had become propagator for the Behnke’s perennial department and was dispatched to the US National Arboretum to take some cuttings from a bed of Russian sage that had recently been planted. It was new to us at that time. By 1995 it was being widely grown and was named the Perennial Plant Association’s Perennial Plant of the Year.

Russian sage has a lot going for it. Upright growth, pretty blue flowers, and a long blooming period from early summer into fall. When crushed, the foliage has a strong sort of turpentine scent. Deer tend to avoid strongly-scented plants and they leave Russian sage alone.

It thrives in hot sun and tolerates dry soil once established. If given tender loving care—fertilizer, regular watering—it can get up to five feet tall. This is not a good thing, as they tend to fall apart; that is, the stems, instead of remaining upright, fall to the side. Best grown lean and mean and in full sun.

Russian sage does not die down to the ground in the fall. Like lavender and rosemary, it has a woody base. Do not prune in the fall, but rather wait until you see new growth appear in spring (sometime in April; they break dormancy later than most perennials). Then, cut the plant back hard; down to about 6 inches from the ground.

Plant breeders and growers are always looking for improved forms of plants. This usually means “shorter” as smaller plants ship more easily and fit into most garden plans.

There have been a number of selections of Russian sage over the years, but one that really caught my eye when I was recently in Minnesota, was the Proven Winners selection called ‘Denim ‘n’ Lace.’

Proven Winners describes this cultivar as attaining a height of only 28 to 32 inches, with stronger stems and an upright growth habit. They’ve named it their “Proven Winners National Perennial of the Year” for 2020.

Try it if you have a sunny area, either in the ground or as an upright accent in a container garden.

Larry Hurley, Retired Behnke’s Horticulturist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I appreciate your having a blog while we get over the sorrow of missing Behnke’s. Have you recommended a place we can now shop for plants, flowers, etc.? If so, I must have missed it. Please let us know where to shop.
    Many thanks.
    Sally

    1. Hi Sally,

      Stephanie Fleming will be working on garden center reviews in the coming weeks ahead. Keep an eye on our weekly emails or here at behnkes.com for more info.

      Thanks

      Larry B

  2. I used to grow Russian Sage in my garden, 12 years ago when I had a much larger yard. I’ve been admiring it again, but I have a “honey someone shrunk the house and yard” life now and happened to think about my childhood and visiting Behnke’s back in the 60’s.
    I am so sorry to read that you’ve also closed your physical garden doors, I worked at Waterloo Gardens in Berwyn, PA when it closed in 2012. Although my role was minor, it was a magical place, as Behnke’s was, in my life. Thank you for the magic!

    1. Yes indeed, Waterloo Gardens was a wonderful place. I always stopped there when I was in the Philadelphia area. I hope you still have some space left to garden. The desire to grow things always stays with you.

      Larry Hurley

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