11 Common Problems With Flowering Salvia Plants

While Salvia is known to be a fairly hardy plant, that doesn't mean they are entirely without the occasional problem. There are a few different issues that these plants can come across, so it's important to know how to prevent them, and manage them. In this article, gardening expert Natalie Leiker walks through the most common problems you'll likely encounter with your salvia this season.

salvia problems

Salvia is an herbaceous perennial that is commonly seen in wildflower gardens, landscapes, and even patio planters. They bloom prolifically all season long, attracting loads of beneficial insects and pollinators.

Salvia is a very tough plant, able to withstand the hottest and driest climates. They can thrive in tough soil conditions while also being resistant to pesky critters such as deer and rabbits. These low maintenance plants are very easy-going, but that doesn’t mean they are invincible.

There are some common problems you might see with your Salvia plants. From overwatering to underwatering, pesky insect attacks, and transplant shock – there are a few problems you could run into when growing Salvia. It is important to identify which problem you are dealing with first then take the steps to eradicate it. Let’s talk about a few issues you might run into when growing Salvia.

Not Flowering

Plants in Garden Not Blooming
The most common reason for a lack of blooms is not enough sunlight.

Salvia usually begins blooming in late spring, and will bloom right into the fall months. Plants that aren’t flowering are usually a sign they are not getting enough sun. Be sure to plant in a location that receives full sun (6-8 hours daily). They require this amount of sun to flower consistently.

Deadheading can also encourage new blooms to sprout. Removing the old spent flowers will keep your plant looking tidy, but it will also encourage the plant to grow.

Plants bloom when they are mature. Therefore, if you have a fairly young plant, it might just not be ready to bloom yet. Most varieties are first-year bloomers, but if you have purchased a young plant and recently transplanted it, it might just take some time before it flowers.

White Powdery Leaves

White Powdery Substance on Leaves
Powdery mildew spreads in humid climates and during the rainy months.

Powdery mildew is a common problem with herbaceous perennials, especially in the rainier months or in very humid climates. When leaves of plants stay too wet for long periods of time and don’t have the chance to dry out, powdery mildew occurs.

This grayish powdery substance is found on the tops of leaves and can spread to other leaves and even your other plants. There are some home remedies to eradicate powdery mildew, but a fungicide application might be necessary if the mildew is pretty far along.

A closely related fungus called downy mildew can also cause leaves to appear white and powdery. Downy mildew is caused by the same conditions but will be seen on the bottom sides of leaves – hence the name. Similar treatments will eradicate downy mildew as they will powdery mildew.

It is important to treat downy or powdery mildew as soon as you can. This fungus born disease will cause your plants to be unhappy, and can even spread to other nearby plants. Allow your plant’s leaves to dry out if possible, and aim at the roots when watering.

Wilted Leaves

Salvia leucantha
Leaf wilt can be caused by overwatering and heat stress.

Heat stress often causes leaves to become wilty. Overwatering can also cause plants to become wilty. It is tempting to water your plants more if heat seems like the leading cause.

Resist the urge! Watering once a day, preferably in the morning, is usually plenty of water even for the hottest days. Some plants might not even need everyday waterings, adjust your watering schedule based on your climate and observations.

Dry plants can also cause wilty leaves although Salvia does not tend to react as much as some other plants. In the warmer months, it may wilt when the soil has become too dry. This is a sign that you should increase your watering frequency.

Plants Become Leggy

leggy plant stems in garden
Salvia stems can become leggy due to inconsistent watering and lack of sunlight.

Salvia leaves and stems can become leggy for a few reasons. Plants can become leggy due to an inconsistent watering routine. Be sure to water your plants regularly and stick to a consistent schedule. Although Salvia is pretty drought tolerant, this doesn’t mean you should actively avoid watering your plant for periods of time.

The most common reason plants become leggy is lack of sunlight. Salvia grows best in areas that receive full sun. If planted in a location that is under partial shade, the stems and leaves will grow leggy trying to reach for more sunlight.

Transplant your leggy plants to an area that will receive more sun. It may take a few weeks for them to adjust to the new location, but the new growth won’t appear as leggy or stretched out.

Floppy Plants And/Or Stems

blue salvia in the rain
Another reason for plants flopping can be heavy rain and insufficient sunlight.

The main reason for Salvia plants flopping is too much rain, or not enough sunlight. The constant fall of rain can cause the plant to become water-logged. Water-logged plants are a sign that the root system has been compacted and does not have access to enough oxygen.

The weight of the water can also cause the leaves and stems to fall over. Allow your plants a break from watering if this occurs, stake or cage your plants if extra support is necessary to get them back on the right track.

Yellow Leaves

Salvia Yellow Leaves
Yellowing leaves are typically a result of excessive or insufficient watering.

Yellowing of leaves can be caused by overwatering, oh and also by not watering enough. So how can you tell which one is the culprit? When a plant is overwatered, the bottom leaves will turn yellow, and the new growth will become limp and possibly fall off.

A plant that is under-watered will often become wilted and all leaves will turn yellow or even brown. The easiest way to tell is by feeling your soil.

If you suspect you have overwatered your plants in the ground, give them a break from watering. When salvia still seems waterlogged, you might need to amend the soil with an organic matter such as compost to help the roots get some oxygen.

If you have underwatered your plants, give them a good soak right away. Then just continue to water normal, perhaps increase frequency depending on your soil and climate.

Not Coming Back After Winter

frost on the Salvia plant
It is recommended to plant in the spring so that it has time to take root before winter.

Salvia is a perennial in zones 4-10 depending on the variety. If you are planting in one of these zones and are having trouble getting your Salvia plant to overwinter, it could be because of a few things.

Variety

Some varieties are hardier than others. Note the zone on the specific variety that you purchased or grew from seed. Most varieties are hardy in many zones, but there are a few that vary.

Time of Year Planted

Planting in spring is usually ideal as this will give your plant enough time to get established before winter. The cool temperatures of spring allow the roots and plant time to adjust to being in the ground. Fall planting is possible too, just be sure to really stay consistent on watering to let the roots get established.

Location

Planting in the correct location can be a key factor in winter survival. Giving your plant the correct amount of sunlight and soil conditions will help the plant to establish new roots and get adapted to its new area. Well adapted plants will not be as susceptible to winter damage.

Transplant Shock

Plants should be acclimated to the climate before planting. If they were grown in a greenhouse and not hardened off accordingly, transplanting can shock the root system. While they usually bounce back from transplant shock, this can sometimes affect their ability to withstand the harsh winter months.

Gray or White Mold

Mold on the Salvia leaves
Mold usually thrives in damp conditions and lack of air flow.

We all know mold forms in wet conditions, and this is true in the plant world as well. In humid conditions, or where plants are left too moist and aren’t getting good air flow, fuzzy gray mold can begin to grow. It is usually seen on lower stems of the plant but can sometimes be seen on older leaves too.

It is important to remove the affected parts of the plant to prevent the mold from spreading. After removing the damaged plant tissue, avoid watering for a few days. Allow the soil and leaves to dry out if possible.

Gray mold is usually caused by a fungus, often Botrytis. This can be treated with a fungicide application if necessary.

Stems Turning Brown

Salvia brown stems
Excessive watering can lead to the rotting of the stems of the plant.

Stems and leaves begin to turn brown if they are overwatered. Overwatering plants, whether caused by too much rain or an inconsistent watering schedule can cause stems to turn brown and rot.

This can eventually make its way up towards the leaves and cause them to turn brown as well. Allow your soil to dry out in between waterings to avoid this problem.

Lack of water can cause stems and leaves to turn a light brown color and get crispy.This is usually a sign of severe drought, and the plants will begin to wilt before any discoloration occurs. Remove any crispy foliage and start back on your watering schedule.

Brown Leaf Tips

browning of salvia leaves
If you notice that the tips of the salvia leaves turn brown, this is a sign of inconsistent watering or transplant shock.

Leaf tips turning brown is usually a sign of inconsistent watering, or transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when the plant was not hardened off correctly and is having trouble adapting to its new conditions.

Transplanting plants that aren’t fully ready to go outside can cause young plants to go into shock. This shock can cause leaves to turn brown and eventually fall off.

Most plants will snap back from this transplant shock eventually if watered properly to help them get established. Don’t fret, Salvia is pretty tough and will bounce back from this in a few weeks. Just maintain a good watering schedule and it should adapt in no time.

Sun scorch is another reason leaf tips can turn brown. If a plant has been adapted to a shady area or hasn’t been acclimated to full sun, the sun can burn the leaves. This causes leaves to turn brown and get crispy.

Pests

aphid on a sage leaf
You can get rid of garden aphids by washing them out with a hose.

Salvia aren’t susceptible to many bugs, but there are a few that you might see on your Salvia leaves or stems.

Garden Aphids

These are pesky little insects that can sometimes be hard to spot. They are generally seen as tiny round green insects, but some are a tad larger and white depending on the stage of their life cycle.

They attack the undersides of leaves and feed on the foliage. It is important to remove severely infected parts of the plant, and then treat accordingly. If you catch these pesky insects in the early stages, they can be sprayed off with your garden hose. However, in more severe stages you might need to apply an insecticide in order to get rid of them.

Japanese Beetles

While they aren’t notorious for attacking Salvia, Japanese beetles are sometimes seen especially in June or mid summer months. They will eat the foliage creating an unsightly plant. Removing the bugs is important, and a spray might be necessary if they persist.

Caterpillars

There are a few caterpillars known to defoliate Salvia in late summer. They will start on new growth and eat right down to the stems if you allow it. Most caterpillars can be removed by hand, and this will prevent them from destroying your plants. However, if you prefer to spray to increase protection, there are home remedies and sprays available.

Final Thoughts

Salvia are pretty resilient plants when it comes to pests, watering troubles, and even climate adaptation. They are a popular plant across the world due to their easy-going and low maintenance nature. However, if you do run into a problem when growing Salvia, it is important to identify the problem, eradicate it, and take steps to prevent further problems from arising.

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