Salvia mellifera, commonly known as black sage, is a native California wildflower. Once established it is a carefree plant that forms a full, rounded shrub. Both the leaves and flowers are pleasantly aromatic, and chewing on a leaf is said to relieve gas and indigestion and sweeten breath. Dried leaves are used to make incense, potpourri and sachets.
Black sage is an evergreen shrub that reaches a height of 3 to 5 feet and grows quickly to fill a 4- to 5-foot area. The flower color ranges from white to blue and shades of lilac and light purple are common. The plant tolerates hot, dry conditions and poor, sandy soil so it is an excellent xeriscaping, or water-efficient, plant.
Both the leaves and the flowers have a strong fragrance, making the plant pleasant to have in areas where people congregate such as benches and decks. Because of its bushy nature and quick growth it is also to fill in bare areas. It is also believed to help repel some harmful insects that feed on leaves.
Black sage attracts a variety of wildlife to the garden. It is an important nectar plant for butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds and quail seek it out for its nutlike seeds.
Start seeds indoors in under lights in March or April. The seeds take 2 weeks to germinate. Wait until early summer to transplant outdoors. In zone 7 it is best to keep black sage in a greenhouse for the first year or buy year-old plants. Plants can also be started from cuttings of young wood any time of year.
Black sage grows well in USDA zones 7 to 10 and prefers a sandy soil with a neutral pH but will also grow in pebbly or clay soils. The plant will not survive excessive moisture in winter so make sure your soil is very well drained.
Full sun is best but it will tolerate light shade part of the day. Make sure it gets at least 8 hours of direct sun each day. Black sage plants need no special care and do not need to be fertilized.
Heartleaf pestemon is similar in size and needs to black sage. In spring this evergreen shrub produces 1- to 2-inch tubular red flowers that contrast with the shape and color of black sage flowers.
Woolly blue curls is a bushy shrub that grows 3 to 5 feet tall and has purple flowers with long, curved stamen. Like black sage, it attracts hummingbirds and nectar insects.