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Pineapple sage great for foliage and flowers
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
As the weather heats up and sends us indoors to a cooler environment, salvias really start to show their beauty in the landscape. One that every gardener needs is the pineapple sage.
The pineapple sage is known botanically as Salvia elegans. Despite being native to tropical Mexico and Guatemala, it does very well in most of Mississippi, and I get reports from those in the northern part of the state saying it returns from the winter. The one requirement for a spring return, however, is good winter drainage.
The attributes of the pineapple sage are many. It is useful from spring through frost, wherever it is grown. The flowers appear in late summer, which means you can still get yours planted to enjoy its peak performance. The leaves, however, are always a treat, yielding the aroma and flavor of a just-opened can of crushed pineapple.
The ruby-throated hummingbird relishes the nectar in the scarlet flowers as much as the culinary artist will enjoy using the leaves to flavor drinks and cream cheese spreads.
Though I have seen the pineapple sage in full sun, I think it is a happier plant in morning sun and afternoon shade. As I mentioned earlier, the soil must be well drained. Remember that the key to the green thumb is how brown it gets first in soil preparation.
Plant on raised beds or amend heavy, tight soils with the addition of compost or humus. Well-drained soil will encourage a spring return farther north than expected.
While preparing the soil, incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Space the plants 24 inches apart, and plant at the same depth they are growing in the container.
This is one of the salvias that starts to bloom as the days are getting shorter in late summer and fall, so do not plant under street lights or floodlights because you will end up with only foliage.
The pineapple sage is a tough plant known for drought tolerance. Do, however, give supplemental water during prolonged dry periods. In the fall, once the plant has received significant frost damage, prune to the ground and give an added layer of mulch for protection. You might want to take a few cuttings in the fall before the frost damage has occurred.
In the spring, feed your salvias with a light application of fertilizer with the emergence of growth and every six to eight weeks through September. You may wish to pinch a couple of times to maintain bushiness. Harvest the young, tender foliage early in the morning to use for flavoring.
The pineapple sage is well suited to a number of uses in the landscape, from herb gardens to tropical gardens to cottage gardens. Use with other fall-blooming salvias. In the tropical garden, combine them with yellow shrimp plant (Pachystachys lutea) or bush allamanda (Allamanda schottii). Plant them in front of tall bananas and upright elephant ears (Alocasia macorrhiza).
The pineapple sage as been sold generically forever, it seems, but soon to arrive at your garden center will be a new selection called Golden Delicious. It has bright, lime-green to gold foliage coupled with the scarlet blooms. This definitely is a selection you will want but will need to protect from hot afternoon sun.
You may have to wait until next spring to get Golden Delicious. But talk to your local garden center staff to see if they might be getting some later in the summer.