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The Texas sage is a drought-tolerant, slow-growing plant that needs very little care and is typically evergreen in its native habitat. However, in regions that are not arid or semi-arid, the behavior of the plant changes to ensure its survival, especially when temperatures drop below freezing.
Texas sage does go dormant in cold winters, especially when temperatures go below 32°F (0°C) for prolonged periods. The plant will not bloom or grow during this time and must be left alone. The plant will recover in spring and bloom again when conditions are favorable.
While the Texas sage is fairly cold-hardy as it has evolved to survive the scorching heat and biting chill of desert weather, it cannot thrive in prolonged winter seasons. In this article, I’ll discuss when the Texas sage goes dormant, what happens then, and how to care for it, so read on!
When Does Texas Sage Go Dormant?
In non-arid regions with prolonged winters, the Texas sage goes dormant around late fall or early winter, depending on the temperature, until the ground begins to thaw. In most areas, this would be around mid to late November.
Texas sage, known as the ‘Barometer Plant’ or Cenizo, typically does well in the cold. It’s extremely low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and does not require extensive fertilization to bloom.
However, these shrubs enter dormancy in the winter in areas with a hard freeze.
The shrub is best suited to areas where it is hot year-round during the day and cools down rapidly at night. It will only bloom when planted in areas that receive full and direct sunlight and typically blooms soon after or during a rain, hence the name ‘Barometer Plant.’
Do Winter Temperatures Damage Texas Sage?
The Texas sage’s preference for hot weather doesn’t mean it can’t survive the cold. Nor is dormancy an indication of a plant in poor health.
If your Texas sage goes dormant, it is simply in response to the environment and not a lack of nutrients.
However, Texas sage plants may be cold-damaged if the winters are extremely cold and prolonged (source). Branches may wither, and the shrub may refuse to bloom even in full sunlight. Such plants will need time and care to recover.
Does Texas Sage Lose Leaves in Winter?
The Texas sage thrives in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8-11. In a regular winter, the shrub will stop growing entirely and may lose some leaves.
Moreover, in a very cold winter or a frost, the shrub may drop leaves afterward as the frozen water melts, turning the leaves to mush (source).
Leaf shed is primarily observed in areas where the weather is inappropriate for the Texas sage, such as Arkansas. In such areas, the shrub will require additional care to ensure it can survive. Younger shrubs are likelier to shed their leaves than older, hardier shrubs.
Dos and Don’ts for Dormant Texas Sage
Taking care of your Texas sage leading up to and during its dormant season will help it weather the frost and ensure it blooms again when the weather warms up.
Here’s what you should do leading up to and during a frost:
- Water your shrubs thoroughly right before the ground freezes. Water deeply a few days before the frost on dry ground to ensure the shrub is not dehydrated during the winter. Being sufficiently hydrated will prevent leaf loss and branch snapping in the cold. Be extremely careful to avoid overwatering and water stagnation, as these will lead to mushy leaves and branches, harming your Texas sage.
- Bring potted shrubs indoors. If your Texas sage is in a pot, it can and should be moved to warmer areas indoors. Just make sure that you place it next to a sunny window.
- Cover outdoor plants. You can protect your shrubs from the worst of the cold by covering them with breathable material like straw, a thin cloth tent, or pine needles. Ensure the leaves are uncovered in the morning to receive whatever sunlight is available.
- Prune the top in late winter. You can encourage fresh growth and fullness in your shrub by pruning away the leaves and branches at the top. Always use sanitized gardening tools and make small cuts when pruning.
- Take cuttings for propagation. Dormancy is the best time to collect hardwood cuttings from your Texas sage so you can propagate it.
The Texas sage hardly needs care or feeding during its growing season, so it makes sense that it must be left alone during dormant seasons.
Here’s what you should not do when your shrub is dormant:
- Fertilize your shrubs. Your Texas sage only needs to be fertilized once a year at the most and prefers nutrient-poor soils (source).
- Feed it during the winter. Doing so will give the shrub nutrient burn. You might also cause the fertilizer to leach into groundwater as the shrub won’t absorb it.
- Water your shrubs after the ground freezes. Watering a few days before the freeze will ensure your Texas sage has enough water to survive a frost. Any additional water added after the ground has frozen will stagnate and cause root rot and plant death.
- Prune dead sections immediately. Wait to prune the seemingly “dead” sections of your Texas sage till the ground has completely thawed. You can remove mushy leaves, but for everything else, wait and give the plant a chance to recover (source). This is not referring to regular pruning of the top to encourage new growth, only about the parts of the plant that appear dead.
What Is the Most Cold Hardy Texas Sage?
There are many varieties of the Texas sage that can be grown in different regions and in different ways. For instance, some varieties stay small, and some grow up to 8 feet (2.4 m) tall.
The Salvia greggii, known by the names Autumn sage, Cool Hardy Pink, and Red Chihuahuan sage, is the most cold hardy Texas sage. The Wild Thing cultivar is the hardiest within this species.
One of the smaller Texas sage varieties, the Cool Hardy Pink typically grows to about 2 feet (0.6 m) and blooms deep pink to red flowers. It is also known for its longer-than-average bloom time, making it a popular species.
Texas sage is an evergreen shrub that goes dormant in regions with weather different from its native arid and semi-arid climate.
The shrub typically keeps its leaves in the winter, but some foliage loss is possible during prolonged winters and hard freezes. During dormancy, the plants must be left alone without water or fertilizer and brought indoors if possible to ensure survival.