Hummingbird sage is a low-growing sage with large lush green foliage and tall burgundy flower spikes in the spring. It spreads by rhizomes making a nice ground cover. Hummingbirds sage has fragrant resinous leaves that are resistant to deer and other critters that can wreak havoc in gardens. Its drought-tolerant and can grow under oak trees, but also does well in a typical flower garden.
Hummingbird sage grows naturally from Orange county to the Bay area. In the wild, it usually grows among scrub plants or oak trees. Hummingbird sage will die back in the late summer. This is a natural survival mechanism that allows the plant to survive California's long dry summers. As soon as winter rains return it will reappear.
Hummingbird sage is 1 of only 2 California sages that grow as understory plants. Other California sages prefer direct sun. This unique habit makes hummingbird sage invaluable in shade gardens.
Oak trees create a landscaping challenge. They produce dense leaf litter that increases soil nutrition and moisture. This mulch inhibits many plants that don?t naturally grow in it. Watering under mature trees can hurt the trees. Finding plants that can grow in all those leaves and do not need irrigation can be difficult. Hummingbird sage thrives under these conditions, making a nice flowering groundcover. So you can have your oak tree and flower garden too!
Along the coast, hummingbird sage can be planted in full sun. It can grow very close to the ocean as long as it doesn't get direct salt spray. In hotter interior climates, tuck it under another shrub or plant it in mass under a larger tree. In southern California, it may need some supplemental water in the spring. In central and northern California, it can grow on rainfall alone. Hummingbird sage will grow in heavy clay soils as well as very sandy soils. Plant hummingbird sage in natural soil and mulch heavily with redwood or oak mulch. Scotts® Nature Scapes® mulch also works well. After a few initial waterings, Hummingbird sage thrives on neglect.
Photos courtesy of Penny Wilson. Article by Penny Wilson. Penny is a gardening writer who specializes in native California plants.