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Vermont Garden Journal: Russian Sage, Great For A Sunny, Dry Spot

Russian sage is drought tolerant and blooms reliably each year.

With all the talk about Russia in the news, it got me thinking about a plant that's actually a good thing. Russian sage is actually not Russian nor in the sage family. It hales from the steppes of Central Asia and it's in the mint family. Its botanical name comes from the Russian General Perovskia, who campaigned in this region in the 1800's. The plant does emit an odor when the leaves are crushed, but this sage isn't used for cooking. It does have a history of being used medicinally and as a dye plant.

You probably know Russian sage, even if you don't recognize the name. It's blooming now with airy, silver-green foliage on two-to-four-foot tall plants. The spikes of light blue flowers remind me of catmint blooms and it flowers from mid summer until fall.

Russian sage is a great plant for a sunny, hot, dry spot. Once established, it's drought tolerant and blooms reliably each year. It's hardy to zone five, or zone four with some winter protection. In warmer regions it's a woody shrub, but in our climate it tends to die back to the ground each winter.

While the species version can grow large and sprawl, there are dwarf selections available such as 'Lacey Blue' and 'Little Spire.' Plant Russian sage in a bed with other sun lovers such as artemisia, daylilies and coreopsis. It also looks attractive planted en masse with ornamental grasses.

Russian sage has few pests. Cut back the dying foliage and flowers in fall. Protect roots with mulch in winter in colder areas, and it should be back again next spring.

Now for this week's tip: start planting fall greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale and Swiss chard now. Clean out a bed with early maturing peas, radishes and beans. Add compost and sow seeds a little deeper than normal to account for the warm soil. Keep well watered to aid germination and keep the soil cool. Cover with a floating row cover for pest protection.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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