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The Sage in Bloom

Cindy Olive, Master Gardener

WOW! Weren’t all of those blooming purple sage gorgeous a few weeks ago? Purple Sage is native to Texas and Mexico and is classified as our ‘official state native shrub’.

Purple sage (Leucophyllum frutescens), usually blooms after a rain or an increase in humidity. That’s why it is also known as ‘barometer bush’ – because when it does rain, there is a low-pressure system involved and the barometric pressure drops. Weather records show we had over 1” of rain on July 22nd. That was followed by 9 days of >70% relative humidity (averaging between 60-98). So, it does happen as nature just takes a while for the plant to recognize additional moisture has been added to the ground, and then even a little more time for it to travel up to where the plant needs it for the flowers to begin to bud.

Being a native to the desert, it thrives in our local climate and is an excellent specimen for use in landscapes. It is drought and heat tolerant, requiring very little moisture once established. This shrub is a perfect choice for xeriscape gardens (needing no extra water). Purple Sage is basically maintenance free. It can be trimmed by hand or shaped with shears, but its natural growth habit is quite beautiful and stays compact with most varieties. Light pruning can be done in winter or early spring while the plant is dormant to help maintain the size and shape preferred. No fertilization is necessary.

The optimum location is in direct, full sun. Some shade is acceptable, however too much of it will reduce blooms and also create leggy growth. Excellent drainage is important to prevent root rot. (Note: too much water decreases the frequency of the blooms).

This medium size shrub has a compact form, sporting greenish-grey small leaves that appear soft and fuzzy due to the tiny hair-like features known as stellate. The color adds some diversity to the dominant green in most of our landscapes. Most Purple Sage plants grow between 4-8’ tall and wide, depending on the variety. There are many cultivars (cultivated varieties) on the market: ‘White Cloud’ (white flowers), ‘Green Cloud’ (greener leaves), ‘Compacta’ (small) are several available. The tubular bell shaped pinkish-purple flowers are 1⁄2-1” and attract butterflies. Bloom time lasts about a week and comes in waves off and on throughout the summer and fall depending on precipitation.

In a land that waits for the rain, we are rewarded afterwards with the surprising, magnificent blooms of the Texas Purple Sage!

If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information.


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