Salvia (Salvia spp.), also known as sage, thrives in sunny gardens throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10, though some varieties of salvia are exceptions. For example, mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea) grows in USDA zones 8 through 10, while lilac sage (Salvia verticillata) does well in zones 6 through 8. Some salvias are also grown as annuals, such as scarlet sage (Salvia splendens). Regardless of the type of salvia you have in your yard, deadheading -- removing dying, spent flower blossoms -- encourages the plant to produce more flowers while keeping the flower bed looking clean and tidy.
Salvia's vibrant flowers grow on long, showy spikes instead of on individual flower stems. It's time to deadhead the flower spike when approximately 70 percent of the individual flowers on the spike have wilted or died. This allows you to enjoy the plant's blossoms for as long as possible.
You have two options for deadheading salvia. Because the plant has thin stems, it can be deadheaded by hand using just your fingers. However, plucking the flower spikes by hand can prove tedious if you're growing many salvia plants. To save time, use handheld pruning shears instead. The shears must be disinfected in advance to avoid spreading plant diseases among your flowers.
To disinfect shears, mix 3 quarts water with either 1 quart household bleach or 3 quarts rubbing alcohol in a bucket. Soak shears in the solution for five minutes. Rinse shears under fresh water, and allow to air dry completely before deadheading. Repeat the disinfecting process every 10 plants.
Read the label on the bleach container before handling. Follow all safety precautions on the label. Wear protective rubber gloves, handle bleach carefully and only use it in an open, well-ventilated area.
The Simple Art of Deadheading Salvia
If you're deadheading salvia with just your fingers, grasp the base of the flower stalk where the stalk meets the salvia's first set of leaves. Pinch the stalk between your thumb and forefinger, and use your fingernail's pressure to cut and break off the flower stalk. Don't pull or tug on the plant when pinching off the flowers. If you find it difficult to deadhead with your fingers, use pruning shears.
If you're using pruning shears, snip off the entire flower stalk at its base where the stalk meets the plant's foliage.
Don't be too worried about making an exact cut on an exact spot. The plant will be fine even if you accidentally snip off a few leaves while you're deadheading.
Joshua Duvauchelle is a certified personal trainer and health journalist, relationships expert and gardening specialist. His articles and advice have appeared in dozens of magazines, including exercise workouts in Shape, relationship guides for Alive and lifestyle tips for Lifehacker. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and urban patio gardening.