Turkish sage is an undemanding and drought tolerant plant. Although the perennial blooms only briefly, it is a great decoration for the flower bed all year round.
Profile of Turkish sage:
Scientific name: Phlomis russeliana
Plant family: mint family (Lamiaceae)
Other names: Jerusalem sage
Planting time: spring, after frosts
Flowering period: June to July
Location: sunny to partially shady
Soil quality: sandy to loamy, lime tolerant, nutrient rich, humus rich
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flower beds, flower bouquets, ground cover, embankments, group planting, borders, flower garden, natural garden, rock garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 4 (-32 °C / -25 °F)
Bee and insect friendly: Yes
Plant characteristics and classification of Turkish sage
Plant order, origin and occurrence of Turkish sage
Turkish sage (Phlomis russeliana), also called Jerusalem sage, is a popular garden plant. It comes from the genus of lampwick plant (Phlomis), which includes about 100 species of perennials and semishrubs. The flower structure reveals that Phlomis russeliana belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae). Its native habitat is the mountainous forest areas of northern Anatolia.
Characteristics of Turkish sage
Turkish sage is a vigorous, cluster growing perennial with stems that can grow up to one meter (40 in) tall. The dense foliage in the lower part makes it a good ground cover. Due to its rhizome, the plant survives the winter.
The green leaves of Phlomis russeliana are heart-shaped in the lower part, further up rather egg-shaped and slightly hairy. They grow opposite and have a serrated edge. The foliage of the Turkish sage also remains on the plant long into the fall.
The decorative creamy-yellow bract flowers of the Turkish sage are arranged in multi-levels. They flower from June to July and are popular with bees. They stand together in pseudo whorls and have the typical lip-shape.
If the inflorescences remain after flowering, eremocarps develop. The resulting nutlets are triangular, egg-shaped and hairy on the surface.
Turkish sage – cultivation and care
Turkish sage prefers full sun, but will also do well in a partially shady perennial bed or at the edge of a wood.
The right soil for Phlomis russeliana is loose, rather dry and rich in nutrients, but the plant is extremely adaptable. A loose substrate is also the best guarantee that the widely growing root system will find enough space.
In principle, Turkish sage can be planted throughout the growing season, provided that the weather allows and there is no risk of frost anymore. However, it is advisable to plant in the spring, preferably from mid to late May, because the plants often need some time until the final growth. For this reason, flowering is often only to be expected after one to two years of standing, but for this the long-lived perennial shows its lush splendor the next decades all the more. Per square meter (10 sq ft) you should count on about four to six plants, which are planted at a distance of about 50 centimeters (20 in) from each other. Enrich the soil with mature compost and water the perennials well after planting.
Root barriers can be used to limit the proliferation typical of the species. But a natural border by competitive plant species such as ornamental grasses or cranesbill also serves this purpose.
Additional watering is only necessary during hot summer months, otherwise the pretty leaves will quickly become unsightly. Always water at the bottom, never at the top, and especially not too abundantly – the Turkish sage, which is accustomed to drought, is quite frugal and does not cope with excessively moist soil and waterlogging. Occasional dry periods will therefore be survived by the plants without any problems.
Also in terms of fertilizing, the frugal flowering miracle does not cause much work. Provide it with some mature compost in the spring after cutting, then it will have enough nutrients for its lush growth.
Since the gray-green leaves remain on the stem well into the fall and often even into the winter months, creating a decorative element in the autumn garden, you do not need to cut the plants back until spring. Cut back the above-ground parts of the plant that are withered just above the ground and then apply mature compost. As a rule, the perennial sprouts again very quickly afterwards.
You do not need to worry about the propagation of the Turkish sage. The very vigorous perennial does that so reliably by itself that you should rather take limiting measures instead. If a carpet-like spread in the garden is desired, simply allow the inflorescences pollinated by bees to mature. The Turkish sage will subsequently seed itself. Alternatively, simply collect the nut fruits and sow the fine seeds directly in the desired new location. Growing on a windowsill or similar is not necessary.
Dividing Turkish sage
Turkish sage can also be propagated very well by dividing it, although you should carry out this measure for the first time after about 10 to 15 years. Newly planted plants need two to three years to become established in its new location, so once planted, you should not transplant it again so quickly. Only if the perennial feels comfortable in the new location and therefore spreads too quickly, you can simply cut off some root runners from the parent plant with a spade and replant them in a new location. When dividing older plants, it is best to proceed as follows:
- Carefully expose the root ball.
- Using a sharp spade, carefully cut off one or more pieces.
- Do not squeeze the roots in the process.
- Dig up the root parts and replant them separately in a new location.
Diseases and pests
Also in terms of diseases and pests Turkish sage is pleasantly uncomplicated. The only problem is excessive moisture, which promotes the growth of fungi. This is why downy mildew often spreads in humid summers, which you can easily recognize by yellowish to brownish spots on the tops of the leaves and a grayish-white fungal lawn on the undersides. Cut off infested foliage and spray the diseased plants with a home-made broth made of common horsetail. Afterwards, the leaves should be allowed to dry quickly, and the site must also be kept dry.
Typical garden pests such as the otherwise voracious slugs, however, usually leave the Turkish sage alone.
Since the Turkish sage can be easily overwintered in the garden, special measures for winter protection are not necessary. However, you should leave the above-ground parts of the plant during the cold season and cut them back only in the spring, as this serves as winter protection. In very wet winters, you should also protect the rhizomes from the moisture, otherwise mold can spread. This can be accomplished by spreading, for example, fir or spruce brushwood on the ground – the brushwood keeps the soil well dry, but should be removed in spring in time before budbreak.
Use in the garden
Turkish sages can be adapted to many garden environments and cut a good figure both on the edges of a wood, on slopes, in rock gardens, as well as in the prairie bed. A dry substrate as well as root competition do not bother the robust plant, which is why it can be used very versatile. Because of its distinctive growth habit and its height of up to 100 centimeters (40 in), it is best to plant the vigorous perennial in the center of the bed, where it will fit in excellently with perennials such as mullein (Verbascum), Russian sage (Perovskia), cranesbill (Geranium), woodland sage (Salvia nemorosa), germander (Teucrium), lavender (Lavandula) or various ornamental grasses. The bright golden-yellow flowering Turkish sage harmonizes particularly well with blue or purple flowering species.
Thank you for this information on Turkish sage. I’ve had a hard time finding much on it. I particularly thank you for mentioning how long it can take it to bloom after planting. That helped me know that mine, grown from seed, wasn’t unusual. I winter sowed my seeds the winter of 2018-2019, and while I have beautiful plants, there were no flowers. Until this year, 2023! Now all the plants are going to bloom! 4 years from seed to bloom.