Salvia leucantha & Pittosporum tenuifolium

Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) is a California staple: colorful and shrubby, it attracts bees and hummingbirds.  This specimen is a bit wild looking, and it’s probably 6-8 plants grouped together.  You can keep it tighter and tidier looking by shearing it back (almost to the ground if you like) right before it starts actively growing in the spring and by planting it in a southern exposure.

Once established, it’s drought tolerant and needs no feeding in moderately rich soils.  In sandy soils, it could benefit from summer water and light feeding.

The silver foliage makes a nice contrast with the brilliant purple flowers, and it goes well with silver foliaged trees:  Melaleuca, Olive, Eucalyptus.  The intensity of color is also good at brightening up a darker area or corner of a garden, but it does best in full sun.  Less sun will result in the somewhat spindly growth seen above and fewer flowers.

(When I first wrote this post, it was titled Saliva leucantha.  Comedy.)


Search term question: “Can you trim up a Pittosporum teniufolium into a tree?”

Yes you can, but you shouldn’t.

There is one cultivar, ‘Marjorie Channon’, that is very tight and frequently sold as a small plant in a tree form.  However, as they age, they don’t get the trunk girth needed to support a canopy.  You’d have better luck trying to do topiary than attain a good canopy.  IMO, that’s not the best use of these plants.

Half the appeal of a mature Silver Sheen is the contrast between the black stems and the silvery green foliage, so you want to prune to best showcase that play of color.  Thinning from the inside is the best way to keep them open and airy.

If you are determined to keep a P. tenuifolium tight, you can shear them across the top or all the way down – the one I brought with me to the PNW (seen above) will no doubt be coppiced to the ground this spring due to cold damage.  In my experience, if you want a tight shrubby plant you can prune into a small canopy tree, I’d go with a myrtle (Myrtus sp.) or tea tree (Leptospermum sp.)



5 thoughts on “Salvia leucantha & Pittosporum tenuifolium

  1. I bet salvia and an olive tree would look amazing together. So often I see salvia poorly used in Southern California, mostly in commercial landscaping. They let it get super leggy and ugly looking and then shear it into cubes to try and tame it.

  2. A proper salvia leucantha should look like it just got back from the hairdresser. Stylish yet groomed, with purple highlights.

  3. I need to to thank you for this wonderful read!
    ! I absolutely loved every little bit of it. I have got you book marked
    to look at new stuff you post…

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