Sage Herb Plant

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What is Sage?

Sage is popular both in the kitchen as well as for what some consider to be medicinal purposes. It’s known as a showstopper in fall dishes, complementing pork and poultry, pairing well with lamb and often used in Thanksgiving stuffing. It’s also the perfect flavor to add to fall and winter squash dishes and risottos. It is both aromatic and flavorful, and can be planted with Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary or basil. Some people believe sage’s medicinal properties may be good for improving memory and helping resolve stomach ailments. In addition to using sage for cooking , there are also some varieties that are purely ornamental.

There are a mind-blowing 900 species of salvia (which is the largest genus of plants in the mint family). Some of the most popular varieties are:

  • Berggarten Sage – Berggarten sage is very similar to the common garden sage in color, look and style of leaves, but it does not bloom.
  • Garden Sage – Garden sage is one of the most well-known varieties and is also referred to as “common sage.” It’s hardy and can resist even extreme cold during winters, bouncing back each spring. Soft, greenish silvery leaves with purple-bluish flowers make this herbal addition a pleaser in any garden. May become woody after 3 – 4 years and need to be replaced.
  • Golden Sage – Golden sage is a creeping plant and has green and golden variegated leaves. Beautiful in a garden with other plants, as the colors accentuate whatever is planted around it.
  • Grape Scented Sage – Grape scented sage is one of the largest-growing varieties, growing up to 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide. This sage actually does not smell like grapes, as the name would imply, but rather has the sweet smell of freesia. Its flowers and leaves will attract hummingbirds and can be steeped to make tea.
  • Mealycup Sage – Mealycup sage, the most common version is known as blue salvia, grows about 2 – 3 feet and is most often an annual, depending on the region you’re growing it in. It has lovely purple, white or blue flower spikes and has several varieties such as “Empire Purple” and “Victoria Blue.”
  • Mexican Bush Sage – Mexican bush sage is drought tolerant and grows 3 – 4 feet. Despite being able to withstand drought conditions, it’s otherwise a tender perennial with white or purple flower spikes. It’s a nice accent plant.
  • Purple Sage – Purple sage plants have purple leaves when young. Also used for cooking, but unlike garden sage, a purple sage bush doesn’t bloom very often.
  • Pineapple Sage – Pineapple sage is primarily grown as an ornamental plant, but is also widely thought to have medicinal properties. This perennial grows tubular red flowers and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Scarlet Sage – Scarlet sage is an annual that really thrives in full sun, but can also withstand some partial shade as long as it’s planted in well-draining soil. It boasts gorgeous scarlet blooms that produce from late spring through the first frost of the year.
  • Tricolor Garden Sage – Tricolor garden sage is similar in looks to purple sage, but has uneven white accented leaves, giving it the perception of being “tricolored.”
  • White Sage – White sage is also known as bee sage and is used for cooking. Slow growing, the white sage plant is an evergreen perennial shrub that can take up to 3 years to mature and grows to 2 – 3 feet tall.

Steps to Planting Sage Plants

It’s not hard to learn how to grow sage. From where to plant it, to how to get the best results, just follow our simple step-by-step guide to growing sage for years of enjoyment.

  • When is the best time to plant sage? Plant sage after the ground temperature reaches 65°F – about 1 – 2 weeks before you have the last frost of the year.
  • Should you grow from seeds? If you decide to grow your sage from seed, take note that it will likely take a couple years to fully mature. If you choose to go the seed route, sow indoors for 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost under a plant light. Sage seeds will take about 3 weeks to germinate, and then you can transplant seedlings to your prepared soil. You can also propagate new plants from other cuttings or by layering.
  • Choose the right soil. Sage needs sandy, loamy, well-draining soil. You want a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimal growth. Do not over fertilize if you’re growing for culinary purposes – while you may get faster growth, you will likely lose intensity in flavor. If you’re planting in clay soil, mix in organic matter and sand to provide better drainage.
  • Where does sage grow? Sage does best in medium to full sun. It can also do well in containers or indoors – just be sure it’s near a sunny window if you’re growing it inside. If you live in zones 5 to 8, your sage will be a hardy perennial. If you’re in the humid zones of 9 or anywhere further south, it will likely be an annual, as it doesn’t tolerate summer humidity and heat very well.
  • How to space sage plants. Most sage plants grow in a roundish bush shape, so take care not to plant them too close together so they have room to mature. Space sage plants about 24” apart.
  • How much water does sage plant need? Sage is a relatively drought-tolerant herb. Even if it begins to wilt, it will typically perk up with water. Don’t over-water – wait until your soil is dry, and then thoroughly water.

Caring for Sage

Sage is an easy-to-grow plant that doesn’t demand a ton of care. It has a long growing season and is one of the few herbs that doesn’t lose intensity in flavor after flowering. It’s not susceptible to many pest threats, and most often, your only concern may be mildew, which you can avoid by taking care to not overwater.

  • How to prune sage? You should prune your sage back in early spring. Be sure to cut past the woody, thick stems to keep your next-season leaves fresh and flavorful.
  • How often to water sage. Water sage sparingly. Too much water and you risk mildew. Wait for the soil to completely dry out, then water thoroughly.
  • When to harvest sage. Sage can be harvested as-needed. You should clip just above the part of the plant where two leaves meet. Harvest your sage in the morning, after dew has dried. During the first year of growth, harvest lightly to ensure full growth.
  • How often to harvest sage. Once or twice during each growing season, do a larger harvest, cutting the stems back no more than about half of the sage plant. Doing so will ensure you have a nice, evenly-shaped plant that’s beautifully round and full.
  • How to store sage. For the most fragrant and intense flavor, use your sage fresh. However, you can also dry it for later use or teas. Keep in mind, if cooking with dried sage, the flavor will be much more concentrated. You should adjust recipes accordingly.
  • How to dry sage. Drying sage leaves is simple. Cut small bunches, leaving the leaves on the stems, and tie your cuttings together. Hang upside down in a dark, cool, well-ventilated room until bunches are dry and leaves are crisp. Remove leaves from stems and store them whole, crushing as needed

Sage

Sage, (Salvia officinalis), also called common sage or garden sage, aromatic herb of the mint family (Lamiaceae) cultivated for its pungent leaves. Sage is native to the Mediterranean region and is used fresh or dried as a flavouring in many foods, particularly in stuffings for poultry and pork and in sausages. Some varieties are also grown as ornamentals for their attractive leaves and flowers. Several other species of the genus Salvia are also known as sage.

Sage is a perennial plant and grows about 60 cm (2 feet) tall. The oval leaves are rough or wrinkled and usually downy; the colour ranges from gray-green to whitish green, and some varieties are variegated. The flowers are borne in spikes and feature tubular two-lipped corollas that are attractive to a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The flowers can be purple, pink, white, or red and produce nutlet fruits.

Sage has slightly stimulating properties; tea brewed from its leaves has been used as a tonic for centuries. In medieval Europe, sage was thought to strengthen the memory and promote wisdom. The essential oil content of sage varies up to about 2.5 percent; the principal components are thujone and borneol.

Growing Sage

Garden sage is easy to grow—and a wonderful culinary herb that flavors meat and bean dishes (including that Thanksgiving stuffing). See how to plant, grow, and harvest sage.

Sage is a hardy perennial with pretty, grayish green leaves that like as good in a perennial border as they do in a vegetable garden. It grows spikes of spring flowers in different colors, including purple, blue, white, and pink.

Not all sage varieties are culinary; the most popular kitchen sage is called Salvia officinalis.

Common sage takes the form of a low shrub that can be wider than it is tall. The soft gray-green foliage is great in pots or the garden. Consider planting and growing sage in a container with rosemary, basil, and other Mediterranean herbs for a fragrant mix. While cooks appreciate the distinctive taste and scent of sage, gardeners also enjoy its velvety, evergreen foliage, and delicate blooms. When choosing sage plants to grow, be sure to look for those from Bonnie Plants®, the company that has been helping home gardeners succeed for over a century.

Planting

How to Plant Sage

  • Plant sage in full sun.
  • Sage should be planted in well-draining soil; it won’t tolerate sitting in wet soil.
  • The easiest and best way to start sage is from a small plant. Set the plants 2 feet apart.
  • You can also sow seeds up to two weeks before the last frost date. (See local frost dates.) Plant the seeds/cuttings in well-drained soil 1 to 2 weeks before the last spring frost.
  • For best growth, the soil should be between 60º and 70ºF.
  • Plants should grow to be between 12 and 30 inches in height.
  • In the garden, plant near rosemary, cabbage, and carrots, but keep sage away from cucumbers.

How to Grow Sage

  • Be sure to water the young plants regularly until they are fully grown so that they don’t dry out. They’ll need a consistent moisture supply until they start growing quickly.
  • Prune the heavier, woody stems every spring.
  • It’s best to replace the plants every few years so they remain productive.

How to Harvest Sage

  • Pinch off leaves or snip off small sprigs from the plant.
  • During the first year, harvest lightly to ensure that the plant grows fully.
  • After the first year, be sure to leave a few stalks so that the plant can rejuvenate in the future.
  • If fully established, one plant can be harvested up to three times in one season.
  • Stop harvesting in the fall so the plant can prepare for winter.

How to Store Sage

  • Sage’s flavor is best when fresh, but it can be stored frozen or dried.
  • To dry, hang sprigs in a shady, well-ventilated area and allow them to air dry, waiting until the leaves crumble easily to store in tightly lidded jars.
  • Sage keeps its flavor better if stored in the freezer. Freeze leaves or stalks on a tray, then move the leaves into a zippered bag or container. Some cooks blend the leaves with oil, pack the ground mixture into ice cube trays to freeze, and then transfer the cubes to a container.
  • See our full article on preserving herbs.

Recommended Varieties

  • Tricolor’ sage, for a bit of color in the garden (yellow, mauve, and sage green)

Wit & Wisdom

  • Anyone who has sage planted in their garden is reputed to do well in business.
  • For other greens to use in your cuisine, see the Leafy Greens: Health Benefits page.
  • Salvia officinalis (sage, also called garden sage, common sage, or culinary sage) is a perennial, evergreen sub-shrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae and native to the Mediterranean region, though it has naturalized in many places throughout the world. It has a long history of medicinal and culinary use, and in modern times as an ornamental garden plant. The common name “sage” is also used for a number of related and unrelated species.

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.

Everything You Need to Know About Growing Sage

Mention the beautiful, hazy, pale green leaves of garden sage, and I immediately envision scenes in my grandmother’s kitchen at Thanksgiving. Sage’s pronounced pine-like aroma capitalizes on our most memory-evoking sense: smell. All I want at that moment is savory sage stuffing or sage-studded breakfast sausage to suddenly appear in my kitchen. I’d even settle for a sour cherry and sage bourbon smash.

The best part about growing sage is that you only need one of these incredibly easy-to-grow plants in your garden to enjoy its flavor throughout the year.

Why Should I Grow Sage?

Growing garden sage (salvia officinalis) is so economical and time-saving. Its flavor is so intense that only a dash is needed to flavor a dish. Sage is also one of the few herbs that, even as its leaves grow larger, the flavor intensifies. Unlike many herbs, sage leaves are still delicious after the plant flowers.

I like to describe sage as the “Cabernet Sauvignon of herbs.” Similar to Cabernet grapes, sage is sturdy, hardy, prolific, and drought-tolerant. It grows well within a wide range of temperatures and planting zones. Sage also boasts a long growing season. Since this resinous herb is evergreen in most zones, you can harvest sage well into late fall. While tender herbs, like basil, might die on the first freeze, sage will still be growing strong.

Since it prefers well-drained soil, sage is a perfect candidate for container gardening. And what about pests? Most pests pose no threat to sage. Your only concern might be mildew, which you can avoid by not over-watering.

Translation? Growing sage makes the slacker gardener look good.

How to Plant Sage

  • Where:Sage will grow almost anywhere, but it provides the tastiest leaf when it receives a lot of sunlight. This evergreen shrub is hardy from zone four through 11, and because of its affinity for well-drained garden soil, it performs well in containers. I have a couple of sage plants dedicated for culinary use, nestled alongside my carrots and tomatoes. I also have a few more planted within the landscaping. I love using sage springs in flower arrangements.
  • When: Sage can prove challenging when planted by seed, but it is very easy to grow from cuttings or by “layering.” I purchased my first sage plants from the garden center, and now I propagate new plants via one of the two methods listed below. Regardless of which propagation method you choose, plant young sage plants only after the ground temperature hits 65°F, one to two weeks before the last frost.

Propagate from cuttings: Clip a three-inch cutting from the very tip of a stem, apply rooting hormone on the exposed portion of the stem, and plant it in either sterile sand or vermiculite. Roots will emerge within six weeks. Transfer to a small pot, let the root ball form, and then transfer to a large pot or directly to your garden.

Propagate by layering: Take a long sage stem and carefully secure it along the soil with wire, leaving four inches of the tip free. Make 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 within the garden or to a large pot.

How to Cultivate Sage

  • Soil: Sage thrives in well-drained, sandy, loamy soil, and it prefers a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Resist the temptation to over-fertilize; the sage might grow a little faster, but its flavor will be less intense.
  • Sun: Plant sage in medium to full sun. If you are growing sage indoors, place your pot near a sunny window.
  • Water: Sage is a fairly drought-tolerant herb, and even when the leaves look wilted, a little water perks the entire plant right up. Wait until the soil is dry to give it a thorough watering.
  • Spacing: Sage grows in a round, bush-like fashion, and individual plants should be spaced 24″ to 36″ apart.
  • Companion planting: Plant sage near carrots, strawberries, tomatoes, and cabbage. I have a few planted within my perennial garden, as well as near my tomatoes. Because the beautiful blossoms attract pollinators, I let a couple of my sage plants go to flower.

How to Harvest Sage

Many experts suggest retiring a sage plant after four to five years. The leaves supposedly lose their fresh flavor and develop a “woody” taste. I tend to rebel against this notion. I find, however, when I prune back the thick, woody stems in early spring, my sage tastes just fine. If your sage does begin to slow down in production or lose flavor, just propagate a new plant by means of cuttings or layering.

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.

I also suggest conducting a larger sage harvest about twice during its growing season, in order to encourage a prolific, evenly shaped and rounded plant. Just cut the sage stems back, harvesting no more than half of the plant, and have a few preservation ideas at the ready. I’ll share a dozen of my favorite methods on tomorrow’s preservation post.

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