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How To Grow Sage: Tips For Caring For Sage Plants

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If you want low-maintenance herbs in your garden you’re going to love sage! It’s not just a tasty culinary herb, the plants are easy to care for, and when flowering attracts many pollinators to your garden. Keep reading to learn how to grow and care for sage.

For as long as I can remember sage has been one of my favorite herbs to grow in my garden. It’s a tasty culinary herb perfect for flavoring chicken, turkey, beans, and of course stuffing.

Sage is a hardy perennial herb with soft and fuzzy greyish-green leaves. But if you are looking for something a little different from the common green sage, try growing the tricolor sage.

It doesn’t grow as large as the common sage but its leaves are stunning with a background of green and edged with white and purple/pink.

Another pretty one is golden sage, it’s similar to the tricolor sage except that the edging of the leaves is a golden yellow.

You can also find purple sage that has green leaves with a purple blush over the leaves.

Any of these sage plants will look beautiful in your herb or flower garden border.

Green sage plants growing in a wooden raised bed garden.
Fresh sage growing in a raised bed garden.
Common Name:Culinary sage, Common sage, garden sage, sage
Scientific Name:Salvia officinalis
Plant Type:Herb, perennial
Flower Color:Pink or Purple
Light:Full Sun
Water:Low, water when the soil starts to dry
Soil:Well draining, sandy, or loam
Hardiness Zone:4-10 (USDA)

How To Plant Sage

Sage is a herb that loves warm weather and full sun it makes sense because it’s originally from the Mediterranean area a very dry climate. So if possible look for an area of your garden that gets sunlight to plant your sage seedlings in.

6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight is best for growth but if your garden is shady don’t let that stop you from trying to grow your own sage, I’ve had good luck growing in a partial shade garden too.

In one of the places we lived, our herb garden would get only the morning sun and was in full shade in the afternoon. I was still able to grow sage plants that were large and thrived for years.

Although you can plant sage seeds directly in your garden the plants grow slowly and I’ve always found it best to start the seeds indoors in the early spring, at least 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date in the spring.

You can start them even sooner if you like, sage seeds can take up to 6 weeks to germinate. Starting them early lets you enjoy them as part of your indoor herb garden before moving them out to your garden.

Once the soil has warmed up to 60 to 70 F (15.5 C to 21.1 C) they can be planted into your garden after hardening off the seedlings.

Space your sage plants about 2 feet (60 cm) apart. While the seedlings may look small now mature sage plants can grow to be quite large and bushy. Depending on the variety of sage you are growing the plants can reach 12 to 30 inches (30.48 to 76.2 cm) in height.

Giving the plants enough room will help with good air circulation them to grow faster and have fewer disease problems.

How To Grow Sage

Tall green sage plants growing in a herb garden.
Sage plants ready to harvest.

Soil

Sage grows best in well-draining soil, sandy or loamy soil is best.

Soil that stays too wet, like heavy clay soils can cause root rot. If your soil doesn’t drain well try digging in some sand and organic matter like compost to help with the drainage.

Another option is to grow sage in containers. If you live in a mild growing zone you might be able to overwinter sage in the containers. You can also bring the plants indoors for the winter to enjoy.

Either way, if you are growing sage in your garden or in containers having good drainage is very important to have healthy plants.

Watering

After planting young sage seedlings into your garden make sure to water the young plants regularly. They will need 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water each week to keep the new plants from drying out.

Mulching around the plants with wood chips, straw, or shredded leaves will help to keep the soil evenly moist and encourage quick growth.

Once the plants are fully mature they won’t need as much water. I’ve found common sage to be one of the most drought-tolerant herbs in my garden.

Fertilizing

Sage isn’t a heavy feeder and some say that giving it too much fertilizer can weaken the flavor.

But top dressing around the plants in the spring or fall with a little compost will help to give the herb a natural boost of fertilizer.

Pruning

As sage plants get older the stems turn woodier and may produce leaves with less flavor.

Pruning out the old-growth woody stems can help keep the plants growing well and producing lots of flavourful leaves.

Start pruning your sage plant in the spring when the new growth starts by cutting out the older brown stems.

Overwintering

Some varieties of sage are hardier than others, the common green sage I’ve found to be the most winter hardy in our northern growing zone.

But all sage can benefit from protection in the winter.

In the fall mulch around the plants with leaves or straw to help protect the roots. This is especially important if you don’t get a lot of snow cover in your area. The best time to mulch the plants for winter protection will be in the early fall before the danger of frost starts.

If you get very strong, cold winds in the winter putting up some protection around the plants to block the wind can be helpful. Some wooden stakes with burlap wrapped around them can help protect them, much like how you would protect small evergreen trees in your garden.

Sage plant blooming with purple flowers.
Common sage blooming with pretty purple flowers.

How To Harvest Sage

Sage is very easy to harvest by simply pinching off a few leaves or cutting small sprigs from the plant. The leaves can be used fresh, dried, or frozen for later use.

Try to never take more than 1/3 of the plant when you harvest. This will help to encourage it to grow back faster and cause less stress than if you harvested the entire plant at once.

The first year you plant sage in your garden, you can harvest lightly. By not taking too much you will let the plant put more of its energy into growing a strong root system.

Starting in the second year of growth you can start to harvest from your sage plants heavily. A mature plant can be harvested up to 3 times each year.

Stop harvesting 1 to 2 months before your first frost date in the fall to give the plants time to store enough energy to overwinter.

Sage is definitely worth growing in your herb garden or along the edge of your vegetable garden. The attractive foliage makes a lovely ornamental plant in your garden, easily added to your flower gardens if you are trying to save on space. In the summer sage flowers will attract many bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies to your garden. With just a little care the plants will provide you with an abundance of sage leaves for many years.

Looking for more easy-to-grow herbs for your garden? Try growing chives, dill, and basil.

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