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Russian sage for your pollinator garden

Perovskia, also known as Russian sage, is a popular xeriscape[1] plant that is not from Russia, nor is it a sage. However, everything about Russian sage makes it a perfect plant for your pollinator garden. It is low-maintenance, drought tolerant, and is not eaten by deer or rabbits. At the same time, it is popular with all sorts of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hover flies.

Russian sage, a native of southwest and central Asia, is in the mint family of plants. It is fragrant, loves full sun, and will grow in very poor soils, including clay. The foliage is a grayish silver-green, and the plant is hardy to nearly -40 degrees F (or C). The Russian sages grow to about 3 feet (1 m) high and 5 feet (1.5 m) wide. Flowers range from dark blue to a light smoky blue and bloom from mid-summer until first frost.

Too much water or soil fertility make the plants lanky and wash out the color, so plants are best left alone once established. The bright blues show off especially well when paired with pink and orange Agastache, which bloom at the same time.

Plants are available in 4-inch (10 cm) pots from local nurseries or can be ordered from mail-order catalogs. They will thrive in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10 as long as they have good winter drainage. Popular varieties include Blue Mist, Blue Haze, Blue Spire, Longin, and Filigran. Little Spire is a semi-dwarf variety with a compact upright form that is perfect for smaller spaces.

Rusty

Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia. Photo by 2-Wheeler.

[1] A xeriscape plant is one that requires little supplemental water. It is derived from the Greek word “xeros” which means “dry.”

Comments

David Westberry
Reply

I just ordered a pack of these.

Joanna
Reply

Your site is truly special. I am just starting into this fine “hobby” (read crazy addiction) with equipment etc for next spring. Gardening was my gateway drug. As I’ve been making my way through your site I understand that bees exercise floral fidelity and generally seek mass plantings that will afford at least two loads. Of course I am hoping that my future bees (yes, this is a sure sign of craziness) will forage in my gardens which do include mass plantings, but what is mass to a bee? For example, gardens including plantings of 250 linear feet of single species mint family plants (nepeta) are a hit with wild pollinators but will they be insufficient forage for honeybees? This is a clear invitation to justify additional planting (for those who need justification such as some of the brawn in this operation). In other words- “It CANNOT be helped. The bees need forage!”

Rusty
Reply

Joanna,

I think you answered your own question. The honey bees need to get an entire load or more to begin foraging on something. That means it will vary with the species of plant because different species produce different amounts of pollen. I would say 250 linear feet is a lot in any case, and honey bees love Nepata. I don’t think you need to worry . . . at least not about that.

Joanna
Reply

🙂

Joanna
Reply

Oh, I am a consummate over-thinker. I’m really just trying to match my own predilection for large clumps with pollinator needs and so I’m trying to guesstimate how much is enough to attract a pollinator to a particular planting. I understand your response re the variations due to pollen/nectar production and will research that end of it but am wondering if you know how much they carry in a load (roughly, I understand this will also vary). I just want to have a sort of mental baseline for how much of something tasty I should plant for it to be honeybee forage viable.

Rusty
Reply

Joanna,

I’ve seen that number around somewhere. I think was expressed as a percentage of honey bee weight, which I will also have to look up. I will try.

Joanna
Reply

Thanks so much- I’ll try throwing that on the Google as a honey bee weight percentage! I am loving your site- truly. Antidote to the passing of summer.

Peggy
Reply

Is it true that yellowjacket wasps will kill honey bees and feed them to their young?

Rusty
Reply

Peggy,

Yes, although they often just pick up the dead ones from around the hive. But if the colony is weak, they will invade the hive and kill what’s left. Don’t let them get started because once they find a good source of bees, they will keep coming back.

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