GGW Plant Pick of The Month: Perovskia atriplicifolia

– Posted in: Garden Plants

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is one of my favorite plants. It is a staple in my design work.

Perovskia, Echinacea- Chicago Botanic Garden

I often use Perovskia in masses to create a rhythm in large scale planting beds. The plant’s upright nature lends to incorporating well with ornamental grasses. Additionally, its coloration is a perfect foil for hot and cool color combinations, or buffering the two extremes.

Perovskia, Echinacea, Salvia, Sesleria autumnalis, Hemerocallis 'Chicago Apache'- Lurie Garden

Perovskia grows 3 to 4 feet tall and requires full sun for best performance. Its grayish white stems are covered with leaves of the same color. Lavender flowers emerge in early June and continue to frost. It is thought, the reference to ‘sage’ in the common name comes from the aroma given off when the leaves are crushed.

Perovskia, Echinops, Achillea- Bank of Springfield

Don’t let Russian sage’s finely textured foliage and delicate look fool you. The native of southwest and central Asia is surprisingly rugged. It becomes somewhat woody with maturity. Once established it tolerates drought quite well. Additionally, it has no disease or insect problems. Perovskia is hardy in USDA zones 4-9. 

Perovskia, Eryngium- Bank of Springfield

Perovskia provides good structure in the winter landscape. Its pale foliage contrasts well with dark seedheads and brown grasses. It does not however appreciate ‘wet feet’ in the winter months. Site the plant accordingly, good drainage is essential or the plants will rot.

Perovskia, Echinacea 'Coconut Lime', Eragrostis spectabilis- Bank of Springfield

In 1995, the Perennial Plant Association named Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Perennial Plant of the Year’. Additionally, the plant has been recognized by the Missouri Botanical Garden in its Plant of Merit program.

Russian sage combines well many perennial plants and ornamental grasses including:

  1. Coneflower (Echinacea)
  2. Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
  3. Yarrow (Achillea)
  4. Globe thistle (Echinops ritro
  5. Tall Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
  6. Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
  7. Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
  8. Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
  9. Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
  10. Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora and C. brachytricha)
  11. Switch Grass (Panicum)
  12. Autumn Moor Grass (Sesleria autumnalis)
  13. Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis)

Is this your first time visiting GGW Plant Pick of The Month? To participate, post your comments below and a link to your own site where you’ve posted photos of Russian sage and comments about your experiences working with the plant, successful planting combinations, etc.

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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Barbarapc March 10, 2009, 9:43 am

Adam,
The only problem with Perovskia for us is that we’ll fall in love with it in one location and decide to move it to another. Don’t know if it’s our climate, or what, but it seems that it’s one of the few hardy perennials that really can’t be moved. It’s an unusual colour to have in the fall & works well with almost any of the popular fall bloomers. My clients love it too.

Hi Barbara. I’ve had similar problems transplanting Russian sage. Once established it has performed consistently well for me here in zone 5b.

Thanks for your comments!

-Adam

Michael Janavel March 10, 2009, 9:58 am

In this case hardy = very invasive. Give it a pass.

Michael. Thanks for sharing your experience. What zone are you in? Did you find Perovskia to be an aggressive grower, or somewhat invasive?

I find minor issues with lateral shoot popping up off the parent plant.

-AW

Bonnie Story March 10, 2009, 10:19 am

Another great thing about Russian Sage is that the big gourmet deer that patrol our yard have absolutely no interest in it. It’s way too fragrant and fuzzy-textured for their discerning palettes. Yet another thing to love about it! Thanks for a great article and stellar photos! Very inspiring.

Bonnie. Great point concerning deer! Thanks for your comments.

-Adam

David March 10, 2009, 10:50 am

I have to agree with Michael (comment above). The traits you describe ” drought tolerant, no disease or insect problems, rugged” are the same as ones as many invasive plants (you could be describing salt cedar or yellow star thistle). For wildlife gardeners, for example, no insect damage say that native insects and animals are not using it- because it is exotic. Like many of our introduced ornamentals it is not beneficial to wildlife- and useful wildlife plants are something gardeners come to this site to find.
Perhaps suggest a native replacement, in my area the Wilcox penstemon (see 2nd photo down http://montanawildlifegardener.blogspot.com/2009/01/planning-process-we-started-our-garden.html) has blooms that are similar (I am in zone 4-5). Or structurally, rabbit brush (either green or rubber) is similar and rabbit brush has the benefit of being one of the last plants in our zone to flower, and attracts many pollinators, butterflies and flies, and many species rely on it for larval stages (including caterpillars, for example).
Thanks for the opportunity to comment!
David

David. Thank you for your comments and suggestions for native alternatives. From my observations Perovskia is not invasive. A criteria for inclusion as a Missouri Botanical Garden Plant of Merit is non-invasive. Perhaps invasive nature is a regional occurrence. Additionally, Perovskia attracts many pollinators, bees and butterflies.

-AW

Christine Cassidy March 10, 2009, 4:29 pm

I love Russian Sage too. I have one and would like to know how to propagate it. Can I do it by cuttings? When & how?
Thanks!

Hi Christine. Perovskia can be propagated with softwood cuttings and rooting hormone. http://thehomegarden.blogspot.com/2008/05/russian-sage-cuttings-plant-propagation.html

-Adam

Allan Becker March 11, 2009, 1:07 pm

About Moving and Propagating Perovskia.
I have had success transplanting a very mature Perovskia by handling its root ball as if it were a tree. I dug a trench around the perimeter of the root system and dug up the plant with most of its roots and earth intact. It did go into shock but revived itself within two months.
As for propagating, the mature Perovskia in my garden self seed when they are planted in proximity to rocks, sidewalks, paving stones and cedar mulch. They seem to find just the right spot to lay seed, i.e. up against a rock or against a concrete path. The roots of these seedlings grow tightly up against the hard objects and are difficult to dislodge.

Allan. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences working with Peroskia. Your comments attracted me to your blog. I have enjoyed the ‘web photos that I like’ section this afternoon. I find photos online a great source of inspiration!

-AW

Raquel at Cool Garden Things March 11, 2009, 2:27 pm

Russian Sage is truly a gardeners best friend. Don’t put it near a water spigot, though…come check out my blog…I’ll be adding some “sage” advice soon! http://www.gartengrl.blogspot.com

Thanks Raquel. Looking forward to your post!

-Adam

Jeannie March 13, 2009, 1:53 pm

great, great, great photos. thanks for the visual inspiration!

Jeannie. Thanks for your comments!

-Adam

Pam Kersting March 14, 2009, 10:20 pm

Russian Sage is a true stand out and deserves the Perennial Plant of the Year title. It does not do quite as well here in the south because of the humidity here. I found it does much better in dryer climates. It is truly a winner though!

Thanks for your comments Pam!

-Adam

Dave March 18, 2009, 9:01 pm

Wow I can’t believe people are suggesting it’s invasive! In three years of growing it I’ve only had about 2 seedlings. Easy enough to pick out if you don’t want them. My problem is I do want them. I’ve propagated them through hardwood and softwood cuttings with a decent amount of success. It smells great but the deer and rabbits avoid it. I’ve never noticed any significant problems and these plants are power pollinators for bees. Hummingbird moths enjoyed them too.

Here’s a few posts I did about it. It is definitely worth planting if you want a drought tolerant perennial that looks great!

http://thehomegarden.blogspot.com/2009/03/russian-sage-propagation-through.html

http://thehomegarden.blogspot.com/2008/07/another-cool-perennial-russian-sage.html

http://thehomegarden.blogspot.com/2009/01/front-sidewalk-garden-view-from.html

Dave. Thanks for your comments and helpful web links.

-Adam

Chris May 27, 2009, 10:14 am

Just wanted to thank-you for the wonderful photos. Gardening has been a hobby and labor of love for many years now but I’ve never planted Russian Sage. Have a new big yard and the ideas are flowing now as how to incorporate the 2 small Russian Sage plants I have. They have been very patient waiting for me to come up with a new home for them and what to combine them with. Finally..some ideas. Thanks!
Chris

Hi Chris. Thank you for taking a moment to comment! Good luck with your new garden.

-AW

kate June 12, 2010, 7:16 pm

my russian sage is turning yellow and looks like it’s dying. what to do??