Russian Sage

Russian SagePerovskia

If you have a hot, dry area of your yard (don’t we all?) consider Russian Sage. It is a gorgeous, ethereal plant with silvery green, lacy foliage that is topped with spikes of lavender blue flowers from July until frost. Russian Sage grows up to four feet tall and three feet wide, though some varieties are more compact. This is one of those plants in my garden that I pretty much ignore, other than admiring it.

Hardiness: Russian Sage is a perennial that is hardy to zone 3.

Cultivation: Plant Russian Sage in full sun, in average to poor fertility soil, as long as it is well drained. Russian Sage can be planted at any time during the growing season.

Care: Russian sage is a very low-maintenance plant. Make sure they don’t dry out during their first season (but don’t overwater, either!) and after that they’re pretty tough plants. They don’t need to be fertilized or divided. The only care they need is that they should be cut back to 6 to 8 inches tall in early spring to promote bushy growth.

Propagation: Russian Sage is easily propagated by taking softwood cuttings in May or June. “Softwood” means the current year’s growth, before it gets hard and woody. The cuttings can either be kept indoors under lights or in a window, or outdoors in a sheltered spot. To take softwood cuttings of Russian Sage:

  1. Cut about 4 to 6 inches from the end of a stem, right below a leaf node.
  2. Remove any leaves from the bottom 2 inches or so of the stem.
  3. Dip cut end into rooting hormone.
  4. Plant in seed-starting mix (a combination of peat, perlite, and vermiculite-or buy a prepared mix from the store) in either flats or pots. Using a pencil, make a hole 1-2 inches deep, stick the end with the rooting hormone in, and firm the soil gently around the cutting.
  5. Water thoroughly.
  6. Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag, supported by sticks to keep it away from the cutting.
  7. Keep the soil moist, but not too wet. The cutting will root within a few weeks and can then be planted out in the garden.

Good companions for Russian Sage:

  • Black Eyed Susan
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Agastache
  • Starflower

Summer Blooms: Black-Eyed Susan

In July and August, the cheerful golden blooms of Black-Eyed Susan grace the garden. But before we talk more about them, we need to get something figured out: which Black-Eyed Susan, exactly, do you have in your garden? There are two very different plants that are both commonly called “Black-Eyed Susans,” (one example of why those pesky botanical names are sometimes necessary to know!) and they have very different attributes. We grow both of them in our garden, so let’s take a look at each.

Black-Eyed Susan #1: Rudbeckia hirta

Rudbeckia hirta is a native biennial or short-lived perennial, depending upon conditions in your garden. It grows anywhere from one to two feet tall (sometimes taller) and spreads via seeds. Each plant is composed of a basal rosette of foliage, and flower stems, each with a single bloom, emerge from the rosette. R. hirta blooms in late summer to fall. It tolerates a wide range of conditions, from full sun (which will result in taller plants with more blooms) to partial shade. It is not overly choosy about soil, though it does best in well-drained loam. In our garden, they’re managing just fine in soil that is mostly clay that we have amended with a topdressing of shredded leaves each fall.

R. hirta can become somewhat invasive if it is happy in your garden. We’ve had seedlings popping up in the lawn and in sidewalk cracks, so that is something to keep in mind regarding this particular Black-Eyed Susan. Another thing to note about R. hirta is that its foliage is fuzzy:

The leaves show some serration, but, as you’ll see when we look at the “other” Black-Eyed Susan, the foliage is definitely different, and is possibly the easiest way to tell the difference between the two.


Black-Eyed Susan #2: Rudbeckia fulgida

The blooms above are from the second type of Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida, which is also commonly known sometimes as “orange coneflower.” Pretty hard to tell the two apart just from looking at the blooms, isn’t it?

R. fulgida is a perennial that grows into clumps about three feet tall by three feet wide. It grows well in both full sun and partial shade, and, while it isn’t picky about soil, it does best in moist, well-drained soil. R. fulgida blooms in late summer, just like R. hirta. In fact, both are blooming in my garden right now, in early August.

R. fulgida spreads by seeds, and you can also divide the clumps (which can expand quite a lot over a few seasons!) to make new plants. It is not nearly as likely to become invasive as R. hirta is, so if you’re looking for a well-behaved, low maintenance Black-Eyed Susan, R. fulgida would be one to look for. How to tell it apart from its prolific cousin? Again, take a look at the leaves. Where R. hirta has fuzzy leaves, R. fulgida’s foliage is smooth, and shows more serration at the edges:

(As you can tell from the photo, R. fulgida is also more attractive to insects. The plant is still growing robustly, though, so I don’t worry about it.)

I hope this helps you tell the difference between the two, and helps you decide which is a better fit for your garden.

What to Plant with Black-Eyed Susan:

Several plants look great planted with Black-Eyed Susans (of either type!) They include:

  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Blazing Star (Liatris)
  • Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
  • Daylilies
  • Annuals, such as zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers, and cosmos



How to Transplant Borage

Borage is one of those plants I just NEED to have in my garden. The perfect blue-ness of its blooms (unless you get the occasional errant pink bloom, which happens sometimes, usually after very wet weather, I’ve noticed) and the cucumber-y flavor of the leaves and blossoms makes this a must-grow plant for me.

I planted borage in our side yard garden a couple of years ago because we grew tomatoes there, and borage and tomatoes are good companions. I haven’t had to plant borage seeds on purpose since. Borage self-sows pretty reliably here in our Detroit area garden, so I’m never without a few seedlings each spring. Continue reading

Spring-Blooming Plants in Our Garden

Michigan winters are long, gray, and (I’ll say it again) long. We need the riot of color that spring brings with it, starved as we are for color and life by the time April rolls around. I haven’t put a ton of effort into my spring garden (being a vegetable garden snob) but I do have several very reliable spring bloomers in my garden that give me that much-needed life and color at this time of year. Here are some of my favorites:




  • Tulips
  • Daffodils
  • Hyacinths
  • Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)
  • Crocus


  • Violas and Pansies

As I mentioned, I haven’t put a ton of effort into the spring garden. The plants that bloom this time of year in my garden have two things in common: they’re reliable and (even more importantly, to me) they require no effort on my behalf. This time of year is busy enough getting the vegetable and herb garden going and keeping the weeds under control. The only thing required of me by my spring-blooming plants is simply to enjoy them. Works for me!

What are your favorite spring-blooming plants?