Combinations with Mexican Sage

Question from Dave:
We’re planning on planting Mexican sage in a full sun area in zone 24. Can you suggest a plant with similar hardiness characteristics that has a red flower or a white flower?

Answer from Pat:
In my opinion the plant that looks best next to Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) is Copper Canyon daisy (Tagetes lemonii), but it is neither red nor white, it is bright yellow. The great thing is that it blooms at exactly the same time as Mexican sage, spring and fall, requires about the same amount of water and is equal in size. (Cut it back hard after bloom in spring and then it covers itself with small golden yellow flowers again in fall, cut back more lightly in fall.) These two plants are a simply stunning combination since the purple of the sage sings next to the golden yellow of the tagetes. (Cut back Mexican sage lightly in fall after bloom and then cut old spent stems to the ground in late February when new basal foliage is 8 or 10 inches tall.)

Another plant that looks good with Mexican sage is Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’. (Shear it several times a year to keep it in compact and stop it from splitting in the middle.) The silvery foliage of the artemisia is almost white and so this is a good contrast to the purple flowers of the salvia. I have also seen red fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ )next to Salvia leucantha and it was a nice combination covering a bank. Though not pure red this selection of fountain grass with the bronzy foliage is in the red family. (Cut back pennisetum all the way to the ground in fall with the first rain and you get a whole new plant that springs from the ground with the first rain and flowers again in summer. After cutting back feed with lawn food.) Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) is red but the blooms tend to spot the plant rather than blanket it with bloom. also it is smaller than the sage. Other ideas include several grevilleas with red blooms, but these are often short-lived. Yet another idea is Eulalia grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) that catches the light beautifully in evening if sun shines through it then. It has silvery white to coppery plumes and I’ve seen it combined with Mexican sage and looking nice on a bank. Cut back in late fall or winter when blooms fade. I have also seen a mass of white achillea (Achillea tomentosum) next to Tagetes lemonii and Salvia leucantha and I thought it looked good, but it was the height of bloom.

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