The pineapple sage is known botanically as Salvia elegans and is native to Tropical Mexico and Guatemala. Despite this natural proclivity for the tropics it does very well in the United States as an annual or as a perennial in zones 8 and warmer. Occasionally you’ll find them return in zone 7, which is a cause for celebration.
Though I have seen the pineapple sage in full sun, I think it is a happier plant in morning sun and afternoon shade. As mentioned above, the soil must be well drained. Remember the key to the green thumb is how brown it gets first in soil preparation.
Plant on raised beds or amend heavy, tight soils with the addition of compost or humus. Well-drained soil will encourage a spring return further north than expected.
While preparing the soil incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release fertilizer like 12-6-6 per 100 square feet of bed space. Space the plants 24 inches apart planting at the same depth they are growing in the container. They can reach 36 to 48 inches in height.
Though tough plants, remember to give supplemental water during prolonged dry periods. In the fall, once the plant has received significant frost damage, prune to the ground and give an added layer of mulch for protection. You might want to take a few cuttings in the fall before the frost damage has occurred.
Then in the spring feed your salvias with a light application of fertilizer with the emergence of growth and every 6 to 8 weeks through September. You may wish to pinch a couple of times to maintain bushiness. If you want to use leaves for flavoring then harvest the young tender foliage early in the morning.
In the landscape, the pineapple sage is well suited to a number of uses, from the herb garden, tropical garden, cottage garden and the backyard wildlife habitat. In addition to the Golden Delicious and the Proven Winners Rockin’ Golden Delicious, you may also find the typical green-leafed form.
Regardless, it’s the leaves that are always a treat, yielding the aroma and flavor as if you had just opened a can of Del Monte Crushed Pineapple. The ruby throated hummingbird relishes the nectar in the scarlet flowers as much as the culinary artist will enjoy using the leaves to flavor drinks and cream cheese spreads.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)