When to plant sage?

Sage: Growing Guide and Planting Instructions

Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean region. Its smallish gray-green leaves have a pebbled or bumpy texture, and release a pungent but not unpleasant aroma. Although Sage flowers, it is primarily grown for its foliage, which should be harvested before the flower buds open.

Sage is used to flavor meat and fish, sausages and stuffing, salad, and a wide range of Mediterranean dishes. It is also a common ingredient in vinegars, soils, and sauces.

Choosing a Sage Variety

With more than 750 varieties of Sage available today, you might think that selecting one for the herb garden would be a daunting task. Most of these varieties are ornamental, however, and you can’t go wrong with the classic Salvia officinalis, plain garden sage! There are also lovely golden- and purple-leaved variants on garden sage, which add plate appeal and garden beauty.

When to Start Sage Seeds

Sage seeds can be direct-sown into the warm spring soil after all danger of frost, but most gardeners find it easier to begin the seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last anticipated frost.

How to Start Sage Seeds

Sow the seeds in your Bio Dome or in seed flats. If using the Bio Dome, drop one seed into each Bio Sponge. If using seed flats, cover the seeds lightly with a thin layer of vermiculite.

Seeds should germinate anywhere from 10 to 21 days after sowing. They are ready to transplant when they have 2 sets of true leaves and stand about 4 inches high. Space them about 18 inches apart in the garden, or set them into containers.

Special Considerations

  • Sage is delicious fresh, frozen, or dried. If you want to dry large quantities of Sage, you can cut the entire plant at the base, hang it upside-down in a warm, dry area for about a week, and then strip the leaves off, discarding the remainder of the plant. Store the leaves in an airtight container.
  • To freeze Sage, place individual leaves on a cookie sheet and flash-freeze them for about half an hour, then carefully stack them in a plastic bag and refreeze.
  • Sage is the traditional companion to Rosemary in the herb garden, and is a natural pest fighter for plants in the Cabbage family. Its strong aroma may discourage some nibbling pests, so it is a good choice around the edges of the vegetable patch and annual bed.
  • Bees, butterflies, and birds adore Sage. If you want to attract these creatures to your garden, create an area where your Sage plants can go to flower (rather than be harvested before blooming). Most winged visitors appear after the blooms are open!

Growing Tips for Sage Plants

  • Sage loves blazing sun, hot weather, and dry soil. Let it dry out a bit between waterings, and if you are growing it in a container, make sure the drainage is excellent. (Add a layer of pebbles at the base of the container to improve the drainage if it is in question.)
  • Pinch the growing tips of your Sage plant several times during spring and early summer. This will produce a bushier plant and slow the formation of flower buds.
  • Harvest the leaves when they are young, either by pinching them off individually or snipping an entire stem at the base.

Pests and Problems to Watch For

  • Seedlings can occasionally fall victim to damping off, a fungal condition. To prevent this, make sure your potting mix or medium is sterile, bottom-water the seedlings, and avoid crowding.

  • Whitefly and mealybugs are sap-sucking pests that can harm your Sage. Whitefly is usually found on houseplants and in greenhouses, and is easily controlled by hanging a yellow sticky trap near the plants. Mealybugs can strike indoors or out, and are best dealt with by pruning off the affected branches or, if there are only a few bugs, using a Q-tip to coat them in rubbing alcohol or cooking oil.

  • Mildew can be a problem in humid or rainy climates, or with overhead watering. In the garden, site your Sage in an uncrowded area where air circulates freely, and use a soaker hose to bottom-water if possible.

View All Know Before You Grow Topics

It’s nice to have one big, reliable sage bush at the corner of the garden. One plant usually provides enough herb for most families, and its flowers are strongly attractive to wild and domesticated bees. Even hummingbirds will stop for a sip. Propagating by cuttings is easier with sage than growing from seed, but both can be achieved with a little care. Follow along with this handy How to Grow Sage from seeds Guide and grow some flavour. Great fresh or dried.!

Latin
Salvia officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae

Difficulty
Easy but slow

Season & Zone
Season: Warm season
Exposure: Full sun
Zone: Hardy to Zone 5

Timing
Start indoors mid-February to mid-April. Transplant out or direct sow starting mid-April. Starting indoors may be more reliable, particularly if using bottom heat and maintaining optimal soil temperature at 15-21°C (60-70°F). Seeds should sprout in 2 to 3 weeks.

Starting
Sow seeds 3mm (1/8″) deep, and keep soil just moist, not wet. Thin to 45-60cm (18-24″) apart.

Growing
In spring, trim established plants back by a third to encourage new growth. Once the flowers have finished in June/early July, trim the plants back again. A second bloom sometimes follows, and this pruning will keep plants bushy and compact. After a few years, sage bushes can become quite large. Keep in check by pruning.

Companion Planting
Sage repels both the cabbage moth and the carrot rust fly, so it’s a great all around companion plant in the vegetable garden. Do not, however, plant it near cucumbers, which are sensitive to aromatic herbs.

More on Companion Planting.

Quick Guide to Growing Sage

  • Plant sage during the cool days of spring or fall. This fragrant culinary herb is a great option to grow in containers or out in your garden bed.
  • Space sage plants 18 to 24 inches apart in an area that gets plenty of sunlight and has rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0.
  • If planting in a garden bed, give your native soil a boost of nutrients by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
  • Check soil moisture every few days and water once the top inch of soil becomes dry.
  • Feed regularly with a water-soluble plant food to make the most of your growing efforts.
  • Annual and perennial sage are harvested differently, so harvest according to your plant type.

Soil, Planting, and Care

If you live in zones 5 to 8, your sage will grow as a hardy perennial. However, in the humid climates of zones 9 and farther south, sage is usually an annual, as it does not easily tolerate summer heat and humidity. Set out plants in spring or fall, planting seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart. Choose a sunny spot in well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. If you have clay soil, add sand and organic matter to lighten up soil and provide better drainage, or make things simple by mixing in a few inches of aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil. Sage also grows quite well in pots. Fill containers with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix to provide an excellent environment for root growth. For best results, pair great soil with just the right plant food. Feed sage regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition, following label directions.

You can also grow sage indoors. One easy way to plant it in a water-based (aka hydroponic) system like the Miracle-Gro® Twelve™ Indoor Growing System. It’s simple to use, even for beginners, and provides sage and other herbs and greens with a truly nurturing growing environment. Plants grow directly under a grow light, in water that circulates around the roots to deliver moisture, nutrition, and air.

Prune plants back in early spring every year, cutting out the oldest growth to promote new growth. You will begin to see little pink or purple flowers in late spring. Even with pruning, plants can get woody and stop producing lots of branches after 3 to 5 years. At this point, you may want to dig up your original and plant a new one.

You can learn how to grow sage in minutes. Sage is an herbaceous perennial herb that is easy to grow in most sunny gardens. In the kitchen, sage has an aggressive pungent aroma and flavor which is often described as camphor-like and musty. Sage is commonly used in dishes containing pork, cheese, and beans, and it can be blended with cheese or cottage cheese to make a sandwich spread. Getting sage started in the garden or indoors in a pot is easy.

Get to Know Sage

  • Botanical name and family: Salvia Officinalis and species (Lamiaceae—mint family)
  • Origin: Mediterranean
  • Type of plant: Sage is a hardy perennial shrub.
  • Growing season: Summer
  • Growing zones: Sage grows zones 4 to 8; it thrives in hot or cool dry environments.
  • Hardiness: Sage is resistant to both cold and heat; its cold hardy to -30°
  • Plant form and size: Sage is a hardy rounded perennial shrub–often woody–that can grow 12 to about 24 inches tall and sometimes as large as 36 inches tall and wide, a few varieties may grow taller. Sage stems elongate into upright flowering spikes in late spring. There are dwarf varieties that grow to 1 foot high with proportionately smaller leaves.
  • Flowers: Sage has tubular flowers that are commonly bluish-lavender, red, or bicolor (depending on the variety) and forms in whorls on tall spikes.
  • Bloom time: Sage flowers in summer.
  • Leaves: Sage has elongated, oval- to lance-shaped, wrinkled, grayish-green leaves from 1 to 5 inches long with a coarse, pebbly surface. Several sage varieties have variegated leaves: purple, yellow, green, or green and white.

How to Plant Sage

  • Best location: Plant sage in full sun; sage will tolerate partial shade but the flavor of leaves will be diminished.
  • Soil preparation: Grow sage in well-drained soil. Sandy loam is best but sage will grow in very average soil as well. Sage prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.7.
  • Seed starting indoors: Start sage seed indoors as early as 6 to 8 weeks before the average last frost date.
  • Transplanting to the garden: Transplant seedlings out to the garden after the last frost when the soil has warmed.
  • Outdoor planting time: Sow sage seed in the garden in late spring about or after the last frost. Sow seed shallowly.
  • Planting depth: Sow sage seeds ¼ inch deep.
  • Spacing: Thin sage seedlings or space transplants 20 inches apart or more. Space rows 20 to 24 inches apart.
  • How much to plant: Grow one or two sage plants for cooking; grow 4 to 6 plants for preserving.
  • Companion planting: Grow sage with chives and calendula, also with cabbage, carrots, strawberries, and tomatoes. Sage is said to deter cabbage-family pests such as imported cabbage worms and root maggot flies. Flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects to the garden. Some say sage will stunt the growth of cucumbers and has a negative effect on onions.

How to Grow Sage

  • Watering: Sage requires regular even watering until established. Once established keep sage on the dry side. Sage is easily killed by overwatering or soggy soil. Lack of water will improve the flavor of sage, but avoid allowing the plant to wilt from lack of moisture. Overhead watering may cause serious mildew problems.
  • Feeding: Sage grows best in sandy-loam soil but does not require regular feeding. Give sage a side dressing of compost tea twice during the growing season.
  • Mulching: Mulch around sage with aged compost or chopped leaves in very hot regions; mulch will slow soil moisture evaporation. Mulch also in severe winter regions to keep roots from freezing.
  • Care: Divide sage plants every three years to maintain vigor. For best flavor, prune away flower stems before they bloom. Trim or cut plants back in autumn to renew foliage for the following season. Sage will become woody and decline after several years and should be replaced.
  • Container growing: Sage can be container-grown as an annual. Grow sage in a pot at least 8 inches deep and wide.
  • Winter growing: Over-winter container-grown sage in a protected place, an unheated garage or patio. Where winters are cold, mulch over plants to help sage survive through the winter. Sage does not grow well where winters are wet or springs are moist and cold.

Troubleshooting Sage

  • Pests: Sage has no serious pest problems.
  • Diseases: Sage has no serious disease problems but can suffer root rot if grown in a place that is too damp or shady.

How to Harvest Sage

  • When to harvest: Snip off individual leaves as needed during the growing season. Sage requires 75 to 80 days from sowing to reach maturity.
  • How to harvest: Prune or trim sage with a garden pruner. Harvest leaves from well-established plants. Trim away 6 to 8 inches of leafy growth twice during the growing season to keep sage bushy.

Sage in the Kitchen

  • Flavor and aroma: Sage has a lemony, camphor-like fragrance and taste.
  • Leaves: Leaves are eaten fresh in salads and cooked in omelets, fritters, soups, marinades, sausages, and poultry stuffing. Cook sage with beef, pork, fish, lamb, and poultry. Add dried leaves to artichokes, tomatoes, asparagus, carrots, squash, corn, potatoes, eggplant, snap beans, leeks, onions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, oranges, lemons, garlic, cheese, and shell beans. Blend sage with butter or soft cheeses.
  • Dried leaves: The flavor of sage intensifies with drying; one teaspoon of dried sage equals one tablespoon of chopped fresh sage.

Preserving and Storing Sage

  • Refrigeration: Fresh leaves will keep 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator wrapped in a paper towel placed in a plastic bag.
  • Drying: Hang bunches of sage by their stems in a well-ventilated, shaded, warm place; drying will take 2 to 5 days. The longer sage dries the more flavor it will lose.
  • Freezing: Sage leaves can be frozen in an airtight freezer container or bag.
  • Storing: Store dried leaves in an airtight container for up to six months.

Propagating Sage

  • Seed: Stratify seeds for several weeks then sow indoors. Seeds germinate in about 14 days. From seed, it can take a year for sage to reach useable size.
  • Cuttings: Sage can be started from stem cuttings taken from new growth in late spring or summer or from divisions in spring or fall. Use 4 to 6-inch cuttings; dip the cut ends in a rooting hormone to help root formation.
  • Division: Divide older established plants in spring or fall with a spade.
  • Layering: Sage can be propagated by layering during the growing season. Place soil over an herbaceous section of branch.

Sage Varieties to Grow

  • Garden sage(Salvia officinalis): hardy perennial to 30 inches; gray-green leaves and violet flowers.
  • Salvia officinalis‘Albiflora’: garden sage with white flowers.
  • Golden sage( S. o. ‘Aurea’): the compact plant grows to 18 inches tall with variegated golden and green foliage.
  • Purple sage( S. o. ‘Purpurea’): purple-red edged leaves.
  • Tricolor sage( S. o. ‘Tricolor’): finely wrinkled, variegated leaves of green, white, purple, red, and pink.
  • Clary sage( S. sclarea): tallest sage to 5 feet tall and wide; very large leaves
  • Pineapple sage( S. elegans): dark green leaves with strong pineapple fragrance, not hardy; grows 24 to 42 inches tall; brilliant red flowers.
  • Blue sage( S. clevelandii): tall to 4 feet; substitute for garden sage.
  • Green sage( S. fruitcosa): large, gray-green leaves, strongly aromatic.
  • Black currant sage( S. microphylla): broad, deep green leaves with a currant-like fragrance.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Mint

How to Grow Thyme

How to Grow Oregano

How to Grow Parsley

How to Start a Herb Garden

Growing Herbs for Cooking

Sage

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a sensational herb renowned for its healing and antiseptic properties that has many uses. You’ll find it in toiletries such as perfumes, soap and even pot pourri. In cooking it is a lovely addition to stuffing for chicken and meats as well as in egg and vegetable dishes.

Sage is a hardy perennial with greyish leaves and unusual square stems (a characteristic of all salvias). Flowers are usually lilac or purple but can be also pink or white. Plant it on the edge of your veggie patch to help attract bees or simply use it to jazz up a hot, dry spot in the garden.

There are several different sage cultivars including one with golden leaves and one with purple tinged foliage. There’s also the lovely sage ‘Tricolour’ which has green and cream leaves that are tinged purple and pink. There are also other types of edible sage, like pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), but this page is just about common sage (Salvia officinalis).

How To Grow Sage
Sage is another Mediterranean herb that needs a full sun position and doesn’t like summer humidity or wet feet. Good drainage and air circulation are essential to keep plants healthy. Sage is often grown in pots, especial in humid coastal regions, where it performs well due to the extra drainage and air flow.

Sage will grow in very poor soils but improving the soil with compost and manure beforehand will enhance its growth. Boost calcium levels by applying eco-flo dolomite or eco-flo lime to mimic Mediterranean soil conditions.

Usually people just buy a sage plant from the nursery to get started but it can also be grown from seed. Sow seeds direct in spring (after frosts) and summer and they’ll germinate in 3-4 weeks. Our preference though is to just strike cuttings from established plants in spring and summer. It’s easier and faster as they’ll be ready to pick leaves from in a month. Either way water in seeds or cuttings with eco-seaweed to improve your success rate and mulch lightly.

Sage often produces new plants by itself from branches that layer onto the soil and take root. These can be easily cut off and make great transplants.

Fertilising & Pruning Sage
Sage will appreciate an application of eco-flo dolomite or eco-flo lime once or twice a year to boost calcium levels. You can also apply a mixture of eco-seaweed and eco-aminogro each month to ensure fabulous flavour in the leaves and keep your sage growing to its maximum potential.

On the pruning front sage doesn’t really need much attention. Trim back the flower spikes once they’re finished in summer and that’s about it. Pretty low maintenance don’t you think?

Harvesting Sage
Pick individual leaves throughout the growing season as you need them. These can be used fresh or allowed to dry and stored for later use.

Pests & Diseases of Sage
Sage is generally an easy care herb but there are a few problems which can crop up from time to time:

  • Caterpillars – pick off by hand before they do too much damage.
  • Powdery mildew – increase airflow around plants and minimise overhead watering to keep the foliage dry.
  • Mealybugs – release Linda (the mealybug-munching ladybeetle).

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