The 9 Best Sages for a Drought-tolerant Garden

The Salvia genus is very diverse, with hundreds of species, commonly called sages, adapted to many different environmental conditions. You may be overwhelmed by the wide variety and find it difficult to choose the best ones for your garden. So I have selected nine hardy and drought-tolerant sages, which are very popular in gardens due to their beauty and low maintenance needs.

If you are looking for sages adapted to the climate change we face, you have come to the right place because this article will guide your selection.

9 Drought-tolerant Sages

I will describe each sage with plenty of images so you can easily see what they look like and compare them in terms of size, hardiness, drought tolerance and blooming times. 

Before we move forward, you may grab a complimentary guide on Salvias. It’s nicely packed into a PDF format for easy offline downloading and reading.

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A complete guide to 9 Drought-tolerant Salvia Varieties!

    Let’s walk through each plant and then compare them so that you can select the right ones for your garden.


    Types of Sage plants

    Although the Sage plants mentioned in this article are native to different regions around the world, they are all adapted to grow in full sun and poor, well-drained soils. This makes them an ideal choice for a dry garden style.

    They are drought-tolerant, hardy and can tolerate most types of soils, from mildly acid to mildly alkaline.

    These robust plants can be very diverse:

    • Foliage can vary from silver to dark green.
    • Flowers can come in shades of pink, violet, blue and white,
    • Habit can vary from upright to mounding to creeping.
    • Size can range from medium (20 – 40 cm / 0.6 – 1.3 ft) to tall (1 – 1.5m / 3.2 – 5ft).

    I am sure you will find one that suits your personal taste, literally, as they can also be used as a condiment in your cooking.

    Salvia officinalis (Common Sage)

    Salvia officinalis, commonly called Sage, Garden sage or Broadleaf sage, is an upright, bushy, evergreen shrub with a spreading cushion form. It has broad grey-green woolly leaves and dense upright racemes of violet-blue flowers rising above the foliage.

    The Common Sage is a very attractive shrub with its dense grey-green, broad and woolly foliage and long violet-blue inflorescences rising above the foliage.

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in a group being a good choice for beds and borders, especially along paths to perfume the air when brushed as you pass by. It looks great in rock or gravel gardens and can also be planted in pots.

    This sage usually becomes too woody after 4 to 5 years and needs to be replaced.

    Salvia officinalis
    • Size: 30 – 60 cm  (1 – 2 ft) height and 60 – 90 cm  (2 to 3 ft) width.
    • Hardiness: -15º C (5 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun
    • Drought-tolerance: Approx 4 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Balkan Peninsula)

    Learn more about this sage in our detailed description of Common Sage.

    Salvia fruticosa (Greek Sage)

    Salvia fruticosa commonly called Greek Sage or Three-lobed Sage, is an upright, bushy, evergreen shrub with a broad cushion form and a frosty appearance due to its abundant hairs. It has trilobed or simple grey-green leaves and dense racemes of violet-pink flowers rising above the foliage.

    The Greek Sage is used in gardens because it is very attractive with its dense woolly foliage and long inflorescences rising above the foliage.

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in mass in beds or borders. It looks lovely in rock or gravel gardens and can be planted in pots.

    It can also be used for seaside gardens because of its resistance to salty water sprays.

    Salvia fruticosa
    • Size: 40 – 80 cm (1.3 – 2.6 ft) height and 0.8 – 1 m (2.6 t-3.2 ft) width
    • Hardiness: -10º C (14 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun
    • Drought-tolerance: Approx 4 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (South and Eastern Region)

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Greek Sage.

    Salvia lavandulifolia (Spanish Sage)

    Salvia lavandulifolia, commonly called Spanish Sage, is a small, aromatic, evergreen shrub with narrow grey-green leaves forming a compact broad cushion. Well above the foliage are many spikes of tiny pale violet-blue flowers arranged in whorls around the stem.

    The Spanish Sage can be an interesting addition to your garden. Its dense grey-green, almost silver leaves create a lovely contrast with other darker green foliage you may have. When in bloom, it has many pale violet-blue flowers that bring a soft colour to the garden.

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in mass. It can be planted in pots, beds or borders. In rock or gravel gardens. Its reclining habit makes it a great ground cover.

    Salvia lavandulifolia
    • Size: 20 – 40 cm (0.6 – 1.3 ft) height and 50 cm (1.6 ft) width
    • Hardiness: -12º C (10 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun
    • Drought-tolerance: Approx 5 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Spain)

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Spanish Sage.

    Salvia greggi (Autumn Sage)

    Salvia greggi, commonly called Autumn Sage or Cherry Sage, is a small semi-evergreen shrub with a shape that can vary from upright to mounding. It has soft, aromatic, green leaves and flowers borne on terminal racemes that rise above the foliage and are usually red but can also be pink, purple, orange or white.

    Autumn sage is valued for its long flowering period, which can go from early spring to late autumn , and for its almost evergreen dense foliage.

    It comes in a wide range of colours and is commonly seen in borders and beds, but it can also be used as a solitary plant or planted in pots. It looks lovely in rock or gravel gardens.

    Salvia greggi
    • Size: 40 – 50 cm (1.3 – 1.6 ft) height and 40 – 50 cm (1.3 – 1.6 ft) width
    • Hardiness: -10º C (14 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun 
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 4 months
    • Origin: Texas and Mexico

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Autumn Sage.

    Salvia microphylla (Baby Sage)

    Salvia microphylla, commonly called Baby Sage or Little Leaf Sage, is an aromatic, much-branched, evergreen shrub with a compact upright to mounding shape. It has small oval green leaves and racemes of tiny bright reddish-pink flowers arranged in pairs or whorls around the stem. The flower colour can be different depending on the variety.

    The Baby Sage is a very showy shrub with bright pinkish-red flowers that catch one´s eye. It has year-round interest with repeated colourful blooms from Spring to Autumn and dense green foliage present in all seasons (except during very cold winters).

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in mass. It can be planted in pots or borders. In rock or gravel gardens. Its spreading habit makes it a great ground cover.

    Due to its intense fragrance, especially on hot days, it is also a good choice for aromatic gardens.

    Salvia microphylla
    • Size: 0.8 -1 m (2.6 – 3.2 ft) height and 0.8 -1 m (2.6 – 3.2 ft) width
    • Hardiness: -8º C (17 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun / Semi-shade 
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 3 months
    • Origin: Arizona, Mexico and Guatemala

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Baby Sage.

    Salvia rosmarinus (Rosemary)

    Salvia rosmarinus, previously known as Rosmarinus officinalis and commonly called Rosemary, is a woody evergreen shrub with needle-like leaves which are green on top and whitish underneath. Depending on the cultivar, the flowers can vary in colour: white, pink, purple and blue.

    Rosemary is attractive and drought-tolerant, so it is commonly used for xeriscape gardening. 

    It may come in various forms, so it can be pruned into a ball shape, left growing upright or used as a groundcover in the case of some varieties with a spreading habit.

    It can be planted in mass for a hedge or border and also as a solitary plant or in pots.

    Salvia rosmarinus
    • Size: 0.8 – 1m (2.6 – 3.2 ft) height and 60 – 80 cm (2 – 2.6 ft) in width
    • Hardiness: -12º C (10 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 4 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Rosemary.

    Salvia yangii (Russian Sage)

    Salvia yangii, commonly called Russian Sage, was previously known as Perovskia atriplicifolia until 2017. It Is an aromatic, deciduous semi-woody shrub with an upright to spreading habit. The wiry silver stems carry finely dissected grey-green leaves that give the plant a hazy effect. Tall panicles of little whorled violet-blue flowers rise above the foliage from Summer to Autumn.

    The Russian sage is a showy plant with a year-round interest. In the Winter, the wiry silver stems are a wonderful sight. In the spring, it has grey-green foliage contrasting with other green tones in the garden. During Summer and Autumn, its tall panicles of violet-blue flowers give an airy look to the garden. 

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in mass. It can be planted in pots or borders. In rock or gravel gardens. 

    Due to its intense aroma when brushed against, it is also a good choice for aromatic gardens.

    Salvia yangii
    • Size: 1 – 1.2 m (3.2 – 4 ft) in height and 0.6 – 1 mm (2 – 3.2 ft) in width
    • Hardiness: -15º C (5 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 4 months
    • Origin: Southwest and Central Asia

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Russian Sage.

    Salvia sclarea (Clary Sage)

    Salvia sclarea, commonly called Clary or Clary Sage, is an aromatic evergreen herbaceous perennial or biennial with wide green, oval to heart-shaped leaves. Rising above the foliage is a tall many-branched panicle with whorls of tiny pale blue flowers and large papery purplish-pink bracts.

    The Clary Sage provides height and colour for many weeks. It has wide green leaves and, emerging from the rosette, a tall many-branched flower panicle with whorls of pale pink flowers and purplish-pink bracts along the stems. A bold plant with year-round interest.

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in a group, in borders and beds. It can also be planted in pots.

    This plant is short-lived, but if you leave the flowers, it will self-seed and produce new plants that will continue in the garden for many years.

    In some areas, it may be considered an invasive weed, so you may want to check this where you live before planting it in your garden.

    Salvia sclarea
    • Size: 1 – 1.25 m (3.2 – 4 ft) in height and 60 – 80 cm (2 – 2.6 ft) in width
    • Hardiness: -15º C (5 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 4 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin to Central Asia

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Clary Sage.

    Salvia argentea (Silver Sage)

    Salvia argentea, commonly called Silver sage or Silver clary, is a herbaceous short-lived perennial or biennial, forming a compact basal rosette of large silvery woolly leaves. When in bloom, the rosette is topped with a tall panicle of small blush-white flowers arranged in whorls around the stems.

    The Silver Sage is grown for its lovely foliage, which consists of large, whitish woolly leaves forming a wide rosette at the base of the plant. It is a bold plant with year-round interest. In the summer, emerging from the rosette is a tall flower panicle with whorls of white flowers along the stems.

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in a group. It can be planted in pots or borders. In rock or gravel gardens.

    Due to its soft furry leaves that invite people to touch them, it is an ideal plant for special-purpose gardens for the blind and for children.

    This plant is short-lived, but if you leave the flowers, it will self-seed and produce new plants that will continue in the garden for many years. 

    Salvia argentea
    • Size: 60 – 80 cm (2 – 2.6 ft) in height and 60 cm (2 ft) in width
    • Hardiness: -15º C (5 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 4 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (S. Europe and N. Africa)

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Silver Sage.

    What do Sage plants look like?

    9 types of Salvias compared (chart)

    Salvias are members of the Mint family (Lamiaceae). As such, they all have opposite leaves and squared stems that may become rounded and woody as they age.

    The flower can have varied shapes but always have two lips of unequal length. The upper lip can have different forms, from hooded to more open. The lower lip is usually spreading. The calyx is also two-lipped.

    The flower colours can vary hugely and include blue, purple, red, pink, orange, yellow and white.

    The leaves are pretty varied. They are usually entire but can be compound, such as in the Greek Sage, which can have 3 or 5 blades. The shape varies from linear to lanceolate to oval to broadly elliptic. Their colour can range from silver to grey-green to mid-green to dark green.

    The size and habit are diverse and can be herbs or shrubs.

    In the chart, you may see how the different parts of the selected Salvias compare.

    Height and Width of Sage plants

    Sages height and width chart

    Sages can be herbs with tall flower panicles, such as Salvia argentea or S. sclarea, or shrubs that can be either mounding, like for example S. officinalis or upright like S. yanggi.

    The height and width of Sage plants can vary from short (around 50 cm /1.6 ft or less) to quite tall (around 1.2 m/4 ft or more). However, the plant size will vary based on the weather, sun exposure, soil and fertilization. So you may end up with different sizes than those shown in the chart.

    Sage bloom times

    Bloom times of Sage (chart)

    Sages will bloom in Spring, summer and Autumn, depending on the species. Some species bloom more than once during the year, such as Rosemary, Autumn Sage and Baby Sage.

    Some types start a little earlier than others, and the duration of the bloom time also varies a little.

    Many factors affect flowering, such as temperature, sunlight availability, and soil fertility; slight variations may depend on your garden´s environment.

    But generally, the bloom times for the 9 selected species in this article are shown on the chart.

    Which is the hardiest Sage?

    Sage cold hardiness chart

    The hardiest Sages from my selection are Salvia yangii (Russian Sage) , S. officinalis (Common Sage), S. argentea (Silver Sage) and S. sclarea (Clary Sage) which can tolerate temperatures down to -15ºC (5ºF).

    However, most Sages will be quite hardy if you give them the right growing conditions, such as well-drained soil and little or no fertilization. They will only suffer in very wet and cold winters.

    In this article, I have selected the cold-hardy types that are also drought-tolerant, because I always try to choose the plants better adapted to weather extremes that we face with climate change.

    Nevertheless, some Sages are naturally tougher than others. Depending on your climate, you may choose the best ones for your garden based on the hardiness chart shown here.

    If you select a type that is tender in your region then you may need to plant the Sage in pots so you can move it to a sheltered place in the winter.

    Which is the most drought-tolerant Sage?

    Sage drought tolerance chart

    Sages are amazingly tough plants that can survive hot and dry weather for long periods and remain evergreen with showy blooms.

    There are many drought-tolerant Sages, some incredibly drought-resistant, such as Spanish Sage, while others are moderately drought-tolerant, like Baby Sage. The rest, from my selection, have around 4 months of drought resistance.

    The chart uses the drought-tolerance code defined by Olivier Filippi (https://jardin-sec.com/), which I find very useful and have found to be correct based on my own experience.

    Which is the best Sage for your garden?

    This is the question that I hope to answer with all the information provided in this article. The best Sage will be different for different people and different environments.

    While you cannot change some conditions, such as the size and hardiness of the plant, others you can adjust, like soil and watering.

    Steps to choose the best one for you:

    • Check if the sage is hardy enough for your climate. If not, then you need to select a different one.
    • Check if you have poor, well-drained soil. If not, see if you can adjust it.
    • Check if the size and shape are appropriate for the spot you want to plant in your garden.
    • Check if your climate can support the water needs for the sage. If not, plan to water in extreme dry and hot weather.

    If you follow these steps, you will find the right plant for your garden.

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