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Is Your Salvia Plant Dead? 8 Ways To Tell

Is Your Salvia Plant Dead? 8 Ways To Tell

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Willie Moore
Latest posts by Willie Moore (see all)

Salvia plants are quite resilient but can die if they’re not taken care of. Placing a salvia plant in extreme freezing temperatures, mushy soil, or scorching sunlight can cause long-term damage. So, how can you know if your salvia is dead?

To tell if your salvia plant is dead, try a scratch test to look for dryness in the limb, check the roots for black or brown rot, and note how frequently the salvia flowers. Also, try growing a cutting from the plant, squeezing the tip to see if it bends or breaks, and looking for new shoots.

Throughout this post, I’ll show you every way you can check your salvia plant to know if it’s dead.

1. Try a Scratch Test

Many experienced gardeners recommend trying the scratch test, which involves scratching or snapping one of the stems to check for signs of life. However, doing the snap test incorrectly can cause unnecessary damage to the salvia plant.

Here’s the step-by-step process to do a scratch test on your salvia plant:

  1. Choose a stem between ¼ to ½ inches (0.64-1.27 cm) thick.
  2. Scratch the stem with a knife, fingernail, or another thin, sharp object (don’t cut it in half, though).
  3. Check the exposed stem to see if it’s green (alive) or black/brown (dead).

Note: You can use a plant wound healing solution if you’re worried about harming the salvia.

2. Check the Roots

A common saying among Salvia plant enthusiasts is the whiter the roots, the healthier the plant. If the roots look dry or damaged, the plant will die soon (if it’s not already dead).

Here are the most telltale salvia root symptoms you can use to know if your plant is dead:

  • Mushy, loose, paper-like roots. These can’t provide nutrients, which the plant needs for survival.
  • Root rot and mold on the roots. This means they’re dead and can’t be revitalized.
  • Disconnected roots. This is a common sign of advanced plant decay.
  • Black or brown roots. This is a sign that the roots are diseased and more than likely dead.
  • Weak, withering roots. This means that a portion of the salvia plant is dying.

Your salvia’s roots should be firm and slightly flexible. If they’re stiff and snapped or loose and brittle, they’re likely dead or dying.

3. Flowering Frequency

Salvia plants can go dormant for several months in a row, especially if they’re left outside during the winter. During dormancy, they won’t grow or sprout flowers. However, that doesn’t mean they’re dead.

One of the best ways to know if your salvia plant is dead or dying is if it doesn’t bloom flowers when it’s warm, sunny, and hydrated. If you’re doing everything you can to take care of your salvia plant and nothing is growing from it, it might be dying.

Reduced flowering frequency is caused by the plant being unable to move nutrients through the stems. If you think this is what’s happening and want to be sure before getting rid of your plant, perform a scratch test as outlined above.

See Will Salvia Grow in Partial Shade?

4. Flowering Abundance

Salvia plants can experience partial death (i.e., only some parts of the plant die). For instance, it can bloom flowers on a few stems. Usually, the part of the plant that doesn’t bloom has dry, hollow stems.

So if one side of the plant flowers and the other doesn’t, the dry, cracked side is more than likely dead.

Once you know which stems are dead, trim them back to the base. This process allows room for more growth and prevents that portion from blocking sunlight and other vital nutrients for the living portion of the salvia plant.

5. Cutting Growth

A dead salvia plant can’t be recovered, nor can any of its limbs. If you’re unsure whether your salvia is dead, consider propagation.

You can take a cutting from the plant and grow it for a week or two. If there are signs of growth, the host plant is still alive. If the cutting dies within a few days, there’s no life left.

When taking cuttings from a salvia plant, don’t remove portions below the lowest shooting node. These are essential for the plant’s growth, especially if you think it might be dying.

For more information, see When Is It Too Late To Take Salvia Cuttings?

6. Squeeze the Stem Tip

The squeeze test works a lot like the previously mentioned scratch test. If your salvia plant snaps like hollow wood, it’s dead. If it flexes and doesn’t break, the plant isn’t dead.

Keep these tips in mind when doing the squeeze test on your salvia plant:

  • Squeeze the tip of the plant or bend it away from you.
  • Don’t squeeze the leaves or the flowers.
  • Choose a developed stem, not a growing, young stem without any shoots.
  • Dry stems with greenery can be saved by watering them and improving the soil conditions.

7. Inspect the Stem Base

There are three things to look for when checking the base of a salvia stem:

  • If the stem can’t support itself, its leaves, or its flowers, it’s likely dead.
  • Stems that look and feel mushy are rotten and likely have bacterial or mold growth. They should be removed to save the rest of the plant.
  • If the stem looks brown, grey, or black, it needs to be pruned to the highest living portion.

8. Look for New Shoots

New shoots are signs that your salvia plant is still growing. If your plant is wilting but still has new shoots, flowers, and leaves, it’s not dead. Salvia plants can enter dormancy, but they’ll grow from their new shoots once spring and summer roll around.

Another thing to look for in a salvia plant is new flowers after cutting them. You should prune salvia plants after they flower. If the plant grows more flowers, it’s not dead. If it can’t grow any flowers and the stems are dry and hollow, the salvia plant is likely dead.

Note: Wet, cold winters and bonedry, hot summers are problematic for salvias. Maintaining the soil’s moisture content and using partial shade can prevent them from dying. It can also encourage new shoots.

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