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Rare color helps put salvia on radar of gardeners, bees

By NORMAN WINTER McClatchy Newspapers

This article was published May 31, 2014 at 3:17 a.m.

Black and Blue salvia has captured the garden world with its blossoms in a most rare shade of blue, causing all visitors to become fixated with their beauty -- especially those who have traveled the greatest distance in search of a feast.

That is just what I witnessed today as hummingbirds seemed to be deliriously feeding -- and not in their usual competitive nature of trying to keep it all for themselves. There was plenty of nectar for all to enjoy.

If you haven't tried Black and Blue, make this the year you include it in your garden. It is a variety of blue anise sage known botanically as Salvia guaranitica. The blue anise sage, native to Brazil and Paraguay, skyrocketed to popularity in the United States in part to its 1995 selection as a Georgia Gold Medal winner.

This group felt so strongly about the plant that they selected the whole species rather than a single variety. Since then, we have seen several varieties enter the marketplace, but Black and Blue is the hands down favorite in 2014.

How did it come to be called Black and Blue? The flowers have one of the rarest colors in the gardening world -- an old-fashioned cobalt blue that might remind you of an old Milk of Magnesia bottle. The black comes from the truly black calyx surrounding the petals.

Black and Blue plants produce flowers that are up to 2 inches long on 10-inch spikes that reach 3 to 4 feet in height and almost resemble shrubs. I've been amazed at how quickly they have grown at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens after their exposure to a temperature of 18 degrees.

To grow yours choose a site in full to part sun for best flowering. Our beds offer protection from the intense direct afternoon sun. This plant is winter-hardy from zones 7 to 10 -- which means it should be OK in all but the upper quarter of Arkansas -- but only with good drainage. Cold winters coupled with soggy soil and the plant will be history. In colder areas this will be one of the finest annuals you can grow, blooming from summer through frost.

Prepare your bed by adding 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like fine pine bark or compost, and till to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. While preparing the bed, incorporate 2 pounds of a 12-6-6 slow-release fertilizer with minor nutrients. Plant at the same depth they are growing in the container, spacing 2 to 3 feet apart.

The clump will probably need to be divided in three years. Divide in early spring with the emergence of new growth. Like many salvias, this one is also easy to propagate by cuttings. Make sure it goes into winter with an added layer of mulch.

Black and Blue can reach 4 to 5 feet in height, so plant toward the back of the border. Tiger Eye Gold rudbeckias, lantanas in sunset colors and the lighter-shaded Blue Fortune agastache will give you an incredible backyard habitat for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds that will get the children and grandchildren in love with nature.

HomeStyle on 05/31/2014

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