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Russian Sage vs Lavender: 6 Key Differences

Today, we’re comparing two popular plants: Russian sage and lavender. Both share similarities, but they’re distinct in their own ways. Like many gardeners, I always strive to select the best plant to ensure longevity and avoid any future replacements. Making the wrong selection can be both a waste of time and money.

Lavender exudes a potent sweet aroma when in bloom. Meanwhile, when you crush the leaves of Russian sage, they release a delightful scent with a hint of mint.

Russian sage, botanically known as Salvia yangii, is a subshrub species. It belongs to the Salvia genus, although this wasn’t always recognized. It was formerly named Perovskia atriplicifolia and considered its own genus.

Salvia yangii is predominantly found in Asia, especially in regions like China and Pakistan. It’s less commonly seen in Eastern Europe. This plant thrives in rocky, mountainous terrains with well-drained soil and full sun exposure.

Conversely, lavender, scientifically named Lavandula, is a genus with several species. Most often, when people mention lavender, they are referring to one of the three main species:

  • Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender)
  • Lavandula stoechas (Spanish lavender)
  • Lavandula dentata (French lavender)

While there are many other lavender species, for this comparison, I’ll focus on these three.

Lavender’s natural habitat is in the Mediterranean regions of southern Europe. Similar to Russian sage, it’s a sun-loving plant that thrives in well-drained soil.

Russian sage Lavender
Hardiness zone 4-9 5-8 (8-11)
Mature height 3-5′ (0.9-1.5m) 2-3′ (0.6-0.9 m)
Mature width 2-4′ (0.6-1.2m) 4 ‘ (1.2m)
Growth rate fast fast
Light exposure full sun full sun
Soil well-drained well-drained
Soil pH 6.0-7.0 6.0-7.0
Watering One time per ten days in a drought One time per ten days in a drought
Diseases fungus fungus
Pests insects insects
Russian Sage vs Lavender

Russian Sage and Lavender

The Flowering Differences between Russian Sage and Lavender

One of the most striking contrasts between Lavender and Russian sage lies in their blossoms. From their color to their form and timing, these plants distinctly vary. Let’s dive deeper into their flowering differences.

Flower Size and Structure

Russian sage sports inflorescences that rise from its primary stem, branching out into slender flower stalks, averaging around 4 inches (10 cm) in length. Attached to these stalks are numerous small flowers, each about an inch in size. This arrangement results in panicles that span approximately 13 inches (32 cm), densely populated with these minute blossoms.

Lavender, in comparison, presents a different picture. While it too has a stem bearing flowers, it lacks the lateral stalks seen in Russian sage. Consequently, its flowers cluster closely together. These flowers are smaller than Russian sage’s, about half an inch in diameter. Lavender’s floral arrangement is reminiscent of rye spikelets, but instead of grains, we see small blooms.

Personally, I find the compactness of lavender’s flowers more aesthetically pleasing. While Russian sage does produce a lovely display, its panicles, being more voluminous and relaxed, don’t possess the same intensity as Lavender’s.

Flower Coloration

The hue of their blooms offers another visual distinction.

Russian sage predominantly flaunts blue blossoms with a subtle hint of purple, though some variants lean towards either a lighter or darker shade of blue.

Lavender, conversely, boasts a broader color palette. Most strains within the Lavandula genus exhibit a signature blue shade, so distinctive it’s often referred to as “lavender” color. But that’s not all. Breeders worldwide have introduced numerous hybrids and varieties. From the pristine white petals of the ‘Nana Alba’ variety with its thick, candle-like inflorescences to the ‘Little Lottie’ that dazzles with its aromatic pink and white flowers (a variety so remarkable it’s been honored with a royal accolade).

Lavender offers a plethora of colors, including blue, purple, violet, pink, white, and even pale yellow – certainly a wider spectrum than Russian sage. In this color contest, Lavender clearly shines brighter.

russian sage vs lavender


Blooming Seasons

In terms of flowering periods, Russian sage, when properly tended, graces gardens from mid-summer up to late September or early October. However, in colder climates, this period may be abbreviated.

Lavender, in contrast, tends to blossom earlier. The French lavender variety, for instance, starts flowering from late spring to July, and in warmer USDA zone 8 areas, this can stretch to summer’s end. English lavender starts its display in June, continuing throughout the summer till October. Being more cold-resistant, its blooming duration remains relatively consistent across different climates.

Overall, Lavender generally enjoys a more extended blooming phase than Russian sage. To maximize flowering duration, one could plant both French and English lavender variants together, enjoying blooms from May till October – a feat Russian sage can’t quite match.

Lavender is smaller

Lavender tends to be more compact and has a denser growth habit than Russian sage. Typically, a mature lavender plant won’t grow beyond 3 feet in height. To give a specific example, English lavender is one of the more petite varieties and usually caps out at around 30 inches tall.

In terms of width, lavender plants often grow wider than they are tall. With a few years of growth, some lavender bushes can spread beyond 3 feet in width. However, English lavender is an exception, maintaining a more conservative width of about 25 inches.

On the other hand, Russian sage can readily tower to heights of over 5 feet and can span about 4 feet wide. Essentially, this makes Russian sage nearly twice as tall as lavender. Additionally, the sage has a broad, conical shape, while lavender plants often resemble a flattened sphere.

The lofty flower panicles of Russian sage contribute to its height advantage over lavender. However, from a personal standpoint, the compact and thick-set appearance of lavender has a certain elegance that’s hard to beat.

russian sage vs lavender

Russian Sage

Foliage Distinctions

One of the pronounced distinctions between Russian sage and lavender lies in their foliage.

Russian sage sports leaves that can grow up to 2 inches (5 cm) in length and 1 inch (2.5 cm) in width. These leaves are connected to the stem by petite petioles and display a finely-divided pattern, giving them a unique texture. Predominantly, the leaves boast a green hue, though in some cases, they may take on a grayish-green shade.

Lavender, on the other hand, offers a different leafy spectacle. While the exact appearance can vary by species, they generally have an elongated form that stands out.

French lavender leaves are particularly striking. They exhibit a lovely pattern along their edges and possess a vibrant green coloration. English lavender contrasts this with its gray leaves, which are both shorter and narrower compared to their French counterparts.

In terms of aroma, lavender leaves pack a punch. They’re plumper than those of Russian sage and release a powerful scent when crushed. While Russian sage leaves do offer their own fragrance, they don’t quite match the intensity of lavender’s.

Owing to the high essential oil content, lavender leaves are especially valued. They can be dried or oil-extracted and are frequently utilized in perfumery, medicinal applications, and more.

In essence, when it comes to both aesthetics and utility, lavender leaves seem to hold a slight edge over those of Russian sage.

french lavender

Lavandula dentata (French lavender)

Lavender likes alkaline soil

Lavender thrives best in alkaline soil conditions. However, it can also adapt to neutral or mildly acidic soils.

English lavender is somewhat tolerant, comfortably growing in soils with a pH level between 6.5 to 6.7. In contrast, French lavender leans more towards neutral to alkaline soils, even favoring pH levels up to 8. While French lavender can grow in mildly acidic soils, it might not bloom as profusely, and its characteristic fragrance might be diminished compared to when it’s planted in more alkaline settings.

Russian sage is less particular about soil pH. It does good in neutral to alkaline soils but is content with a pH range of 6.5 to 6.8. You wouldn’t typically notice any stark differences in the plant’s appearance based on soil acidity.

In comparison, lavender exhibits a tad more sensitivity to soil pH than Russian sage. However, this shouldn’t deter gardeners since adjusting soil alkalinity is straightforward. Simply sprinkle some garden lime, an affordable product readily available at most gardening stores.

Regardless of whether you opt for lavender or Russian sage, it’s crucial to provide them with well-draining soil. Stagnant water is a no-go for both these plants.

lavandula angustifolia

Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender)

Different Hardiness Between Russian Sage and Lavender

Russian sage is notably hardy, thriving in USDA zones 4 through 9. Typically, it doesn’t require any special winter care or protection.

Lavender, however, presents a bit more variability in its hardiness.

Take French lavender as an example: it’s not a fan of frost. If you’re situated in an area colder than USDA zone 7, you might run into some challenges. One workaround is to pot your French lavender and bring it indoors when winter approaches.

On the brighter side, English lavender can stand its ground. Comparable to Russian sage, it flourishes within USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8. It’s well-suited to cold snaps and even snowy conditions. Just be wary of icy winds – they’re not its favorite. It’s a good idea to situate your English lavender in a spot shielded from strong gusts.

Wrapping things up, if you had to pick between the two, English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) might be the frontrunner. Not only does it offer similar hardiness to Russian sage, but many garden enthusiasts, including myself, would argue it also brings a touch more aesthetic appeal to the table.

lavandula dentata

Lavandula dentata (French lavender)


Besides their decorative appeal, both plants have various other applications. However, when it comes to versatility, I believe lavender far outshines Russian sage.

Let’s begin with Russian sage. Typically, it’s utilized in aromatherapy. Its fragrance aids in relaxation and achieving a sense of calm. Beyond that, its applications are fairly limited.

In contrast, lavender is incredibly versatile. For starters, its scent forms the foundation of countless cosmetic products, ranging from perfumes to lotions and shampoos. Moreover, many cleaning products feature the calming aroma of lavender.

Medicinally, lavender oil and other parts of the plant are frequently used to alleviate stress and enhance sleep quality. It’s a common component in both modern and traditional medicine.

From a culinary standpoint, lavender is a star. It’s a key ingredient in a myriad of dishes, particularly in Mediterranean desserts and so much more.

russian sage blooming

Russian sage


Both plants have their own unique care requirements, though they also share some similarities.

Both Russian sage and lavender thrive in direct sunlight but can manage with some partial shade. However, lavender has a slightly higher need for sunlight compared to Russian sage.

When it comes to watering, Russian sage is more forgiving and can handle somewhat moister soil for extended periods. In contrast, lavender requires well-draining soil and should be watered less frequently.

Size-wise, Russian sage is the bigger plant and has a preference for somewhat richer soil. Meanwhile, lavender is quite content in poorer, sandy soils. Nonetheless, it’s advisable to fertilize both plants annually to ensure optimal growth.

Pruning requirements differ between the two. Russian sage is best pruned in the fall, focusing on the removal of dead branches. Lavender, on the other hand, should be pruned post-flowering.

In terms of diseases and pests, both plants face similar threats. Various diseases and pests can affect them, with treatments typically involving fungicides and insecticides.

Russian Sage Pervoskia Blue Jean Baby

Pervoskia (Russian Sage) Blue Jean Baby

So which one to choose?

If you’re in a cooler and more humid environment, Russian sage might be the better pick for you due to its frost resilience. Plus, it’ll grace your garden with stunning visuals and a delightful scent.

On the other hand, if you’re situated in a drier, warmer climate, lavender could be your go-to. It boasts a slightly more potent fragrance and offers a broader variety of types.

That wraps up our comparison of these two plants. Best of luck, and take care!