Updated: Sep 15, 2022
An herb with plenty of flavor and nutrition, sage is native to the Mediterranean region. It makes for a delightful garnish on soups, tastes great in roast stuffing's, and also helps flavor tomato sauce. Sage is packed with lots of great vitamins and minerals.
To help ensure your Sage thrives, we’ve put together this how-to video and transcript covering topics like:
Varieties of Sage available
Caring for Sage at all stages
Fertilizer and/or Mulching
Transplanting best practices
Sage Companion Plants
Pests, Diseases and what to do about them
Harvesting and storing your Sage
Listen to this Article:
Glossary of sage terms
Before we get started, let’s learn a little bit about sage.
Plants, like sage, that are green throughout the year and have a persistent woody stem above the ground.
Plants with stems that don’t die back and instead grow with each passing season.
Water that’s been steeped with compost, which leaches some of its nutrients into the liquid.
A plant section from the stem, leaf, or root which is able to develop a new plant. Sage is propagated (started) by both seeds and cuttings.
CULTIVAR (CULTIVATED VARIETY)
Plants selected for their desirable characters that are maintained during propagation.
Varieties of sage
There are a handful of sage varieties for you to choose from.
A robust plant with large silver-gray leaves.
Similar Varieties: Extrakta This type has leaves with higher oil concentrations
A variety with chartreuse-yellow foliage that’s enhanced by dark green splashes. It’s small and compact, and is dependably winter-hardy in zone 5.
This one has smaller leaves and is typically more compact than regular sage, growing only 10 inches high. It still has that same sage flavor though. It’s an excellent option for small areas, rockeries, and borders. It’s propagated by cuttings only, because seeds are unavailable.
Its purple leaves are strongly flavored and it grows 18 inches tall.
Starting your sage seeds
Keep in mind that seeds generally store and germinate poorly. When grown from seed, sage takes about 2 years to reach mature size.
It’s best to start culinary sage from cuttings or by layering using the outer or newer growth.
This evergreen shrub is hardy in zones 4 through 11, and because of its love for well-drained garden soil, it grows well in containers.
If you’re starting from seeds, starting them indoors might be more reliable. Their ideal soil temperature is between 60-70°F (15-21°C), and they need light to germinate.
Once you’re ready, sow your seeds an eighth of an inch (3 mm) deep, and keep the soil moist, not wet. Seeds should then sprout in about 2-3 weeks. You’ll want to also thin your seedlings so that they’re about 18-24 inches (45-60cm) apart.
If you’re planting cuttings, clip a three inch (8 cm) cutting from the very tip of a stem, and plant it in either sterile sand or vermiculite (a mineral substance used for growing). In general, roots will emerge within about six weeks.
Next, transfer to a small pot, let the root ball form, and then transfer to a large pot or directly to your garden, setting your plants about 2 feet apart.
If you’re planting by layering, take a long sage stem and carefully secure it along the soil with wire, leaving four inches (10 cm) of the tip free, and making sure the pinned portion is directly touching the soil.
Roots will start to form along the stem within about a month.
Cut away the newly rooted plant from the main plant, and transfer elsewhere in your garden or to a large pot. Once you’re at this point, set your plants about 2 feet apart.
Caring for Sage
In this section, we’ll cover everything you need to know about preparing your soil, watering and pruning, plus sage’s fertilizer and mulch needs.
We’ll also talk about transplanting, companion planting, and your growing structure options.
Sage grows well in well-drained, sandy, loamy soil, and it prefers a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Prepare your soil first by mixing plenty of organic garden compost or well-aged chicken manure before planting.
This is a great way to break up heavy clay soils or to add organic matter to sandy soils.
You’ll want to plant your sage in medium to full sun. If it’s being grown indoors, make sure to place the pot near a sunny window.
Sage is a fairly drought-tolerant herb. Even when its leaves look wilted, a little water perks the entire plant right back up.
Just make sure you wait until the soil is dry to give it a thorough watering.
In general, sage plants need a consistent moisture supply until they start growing quickly.
Where they grow as perennials, sage plants can become woody over time, and as a result, they’ll produce less flavorful leaves.
In the spring, when you see plants beginning to sprout new growth, prune the heavier, woody stems down to 1-2 inches above the ground.
Sage can also be trimmed into a low-growing hedge as a garden border.
Then, prune every few weeks throughout the summer to encourage a tidy appearance, stopping during the fall.
TO RETIRE, OR NOT TO RETIRE
Many experts suggest retiring a sage plant after 4-5 years, because their leaves supposedly lose their fresh flavor and develop a more woody taste.
But by pruning back the thick, woody stems in early spring, it might help preserve your sage’s taste.
If you notice that your sage is beginning to slow down its production or is losing its flavor, simply propagate a new plant with cuttings or by layering.
FERTILIZING AND/OR MULCHING
Sage grows best in sandy-loam soil but it doesn’t need regular feeding. Simply give your sage a side dressing of compost tea twice during the growing season.
For herbs, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves will improve the soil as it breaks down over time.
Make sure to always keep mulches off your plants’ stems to prevent rot from taking place.
In hot regions, mulching around your sage will help keep the moisture in your soil.
Also, keep in mind that sage is hardy to -30˚F when covered.
In the wintertime, you can cut back the foliage and place a thick layer of mulch over the roots to protect them from freezing.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
If your seedlings are growing in small cells, transplant them to 3-4 inch pots once they have at least 2 pairs of leaves.
Doing this before transplanting to your garden gives them enough room to develop nice, strong roots.
You can transplant your sage after all danger of frost has passed, spaced out about 2 feet apart. But before you transplant, you’ll want to harden-off your seedlings first.
To harden-off your seedlings, get your plants used to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week.
Be sure to protect them from any wind or hot sun at first. If there’s a threat of frost overnight, cover or bring your containers indoors.
You can then take them back out in the morning. This hardening off process is important, because it toughens up your plant, reducing its risk of transplant shock and scalding.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
Prepare these before planting by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Then, dig a hole for each plant that’s large enough to completely fit its root ball.
When using cell trays, sow 2-3 seeds into the individual containers, thinning to one plant per cell after germination. These cell trays allow your sage to develop better roots.
Since it prefers well-drained soil, sage grows perfectly in containers, so long as they’re at least 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter.
Sage can also be planted with a couple of other herbs (like thyme and parsley) for a mini herb garden using an 18-inch (45 cm) container.
COMPANION PLANTS DO’S AND DON’TS
Plant your sage near carrots, strawberries, tomatoes, and cabbage. Because their beautiful blossoms attract pollinators, some sage plants should be allowed to flower.
Sage often repels both the cabbage moth and the carrot rust fly, so it’s a great all- around companion plant for your vegetable garden.
Don’t plant your sage near cucumbers, which are sensitive to aromatic herbs. It also has a negative effect on onions.
Common challenges and their solutions
There are a number of pests and diseases that can potentially harm your sage plant. Not to worry – we’ve listed them below as well as how to either avoid or fix the problem.
These pests are usually a problem for the undersides of leaves and/or the stems of your plant. They tend to feed in groups on the undersides of branches – and often spread diseases.
Solution: Use a strong jet of water to wash them off your plants. Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils are also effective against aphids.
Just be sure to follow the application instructions on the packaging.
Oftentimes, you can also get rid of aphids by wiping or spraying the leaves with a mild solution of water and a few drops of dish soap (one variation includes adding a pinch of cayenne pepper).
Soapy water should be reapplied every 2-3 days for about 2 weeks.
These pests leave large holes in the foliage or they eat leaves entirely. They leave a slime trail, feed at night, and thrive in damp weather.
Solution: If possible, hand-pick any slugs at night when they’re most active. You can also try attracting them to traps either using cornmeal or beer.
For a beer trap, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole. It’s best to use something with steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re done.
Fill the bowl about three quarters of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat.
For a cornmeal trap, put 1-2 tablespoons of cornmeal in a jar then lay it on its side near your plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent, but they can’t digest cornmeal so it eventually kills them.
You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth or even coffee grounds. They cannot crawl over these.
These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper and can be red, black, brown or yellow in color. They suck on the plant juices, removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which then cause white dots to appear. Oftentimes there’s also some webbing visible on the plant.
Spider mites cause leaves to turn yellow and become dry and dotted. Typically, they multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions.
Solution: Spider mites can sometimes be controlled with a forceful spray of water every other day.
You can also try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap to get rid of them.
Tiny needle-thin insects that are black or straw colored. They suck the juices of plants and attack flower petals, leaves and stems. Affected plants will have stippling, discolored flecking, or silvering of the leaf surface. Thrips can spread many diseases from plant to plant.
Solution: Sheets of aluminum foil spread between the rows of your plants can help repel thrips. Be sure to also remove any weeds from the bed, and get rid of any debris after a frost.
Spittlebugs leave little wads of spit on your sage plants. These small brown insects suck sap from the needles and surround themselves with a white, foamy substance.
Solution: Use a strong jet of water to wash away the foamy substance as well as the insects that are hiding inside.
Typically, this will also kill the larvae. Do this once or twice a week for as long as needed.
This is one of the most Common challenges when starting your plants from seed. Seedlings will emerge and appear healthy, then suddenly they’ll wilt and die for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that thrives when conditions have a lot of moisture, and when soil and air temperatures are above 68°F. Typically, this means that your soil is either too wet or it has high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer.
Solution: Keep your seedlings moist, but don’t overwater them. You’ll also want to avoid over-fertilizing them too.
Thin out your seedlings to avoid overcrowding and to make sure they’re getting good air circulation.
If you plant in containers, make sure to thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a 10% bleach solution after each use.
Small, whitish, slightly raised spots will appear on the undersides of leaves, that then turn reddish orange or brown.
Solution: Avoid using overhead watering systems, and water your sage early so that their leaves have the whole day to dry out.
Also, don’t plant members of the mint family in the same spot.
Leaves will appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may also curl. Typically, this disease is found on the top of leaves during humid weather conditions.
Solution: When you first see signs of powdery mildew, remove all affected parts of the plant carefully, so as not to spread any spores.
Then, seal up the infected branches in airtight bags and dispose of them. A variety of remedies can be used to treat the remaining plant, including neem oil and baking soda.
An organic fungicide spray or a DIY mixture of baking soda and water can also be helpful solutions.
Just be sure to always test your remedy on a few leaves first before treating the whole plant.
SEPTORIA LEAF SPOT
A disease causing small, angular, gray-brown spots that have defined red margins. Black growths might also be visible, and leaves will eventually start to die.
Solution: Rotate your crops and avoid overhead watering. You’ll also want to make sure you plant your sage crops with enough space to allow for good air circulation.
Harvesting and storing
Sage can be harvested on an as-needed basis, clipping just above the spot where two leaves meet.
For the richest concentration of their aromatic oils, harvest sage leaves in the morning, once the dew has dried.
You can do a larger harvest about twice during its growing season, which will encourage a well-producing, evenly-shaped, and rounded plant. Simply cut the sage stems back, harvesting no more than half of the plant.
Sage’s flavor is best when fresh, but it can be stored either dried or frozen.
To dry it out, hang sprigs in a shady, well-ventilated area and allow them to air dry. You’ll want to wait until the leaves crumble easily before storing them in tightly lidded jars.
Also, sage typically keeps its flavor best when stored in the freezer. To do so, freeze the leaves or stalks on a tray, then move the leaves into a zippered bag or container.
The leaves can then be blended with oil, packed into ice cube trays to freeze, and then transferred into a container.