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How to Grow Sage for its Robust Aroma and Flavor

  • Bob Styer
  • Herbs
Sage With Purple Flowers

This herb is a member of the mint family and has a uniquely pungent, earthy flavor with hints of pine and citrus.  Growing sage in pots enables you to harvest this delicious herb and also have it serve as a beautiful house plant.  It’s easy to grow sage from seed but you can also propagate sage from cuttings or root division.  Sage makes a great companion plant for many vegetables because it repels insect pests and attracts pollinators.  It will even enhance the flavor of some vegetables.

This is one of the perennial evergreen herbs that came from the Mediterranean area.  It’s used in Mediterranean cuisine, meat dishes, sausage, soups, potatoes, stuffing, sauces, and even tea.

Types of Sage

There are over 900 species of sage that differ in leaf color, leaf size, and plant conditions.  Many sage varieties are decorative and don’t have any culinary use.  Here’s a short list of some of the most popular kitchen sages (even their flowers are edible and great in salads):

  • Garden Sage (salvia officinalis, also known as common sage or culinary sage) – This is the most popular type of kitchen sage and has silvery gray-green soft leaves with bluish-purple flowers.
  • Berggarten Sage – This variety is like garden sage except that it doesn’t bloom.  It has the same silvery green soft leaves.  In late spring, it produces lavender-blue flowers.
  • Golden Sage – Also known as aurea, this is one of the creeping sages with gold and green leaves.
  • Curly Sage – As expected, this sage has curly, rippled leaves.
  • Pineapple Sage – With a unique pineapple aroma and flavor, this sage has red flowers.
  • Purple Garden Sage – Known for its purple leaves when it is young, this sage doesn’t bloom very often.  Don’t confuse this with ornamental purple sage.
  • Dwarf Sage – Also known as minimus sage, this is a sub-compact version of garden sage.
  • Tricolor Garden Sage – This sage will grow in three attractive colors: sage green, mauve, and yellow.

There are many other kitchen sages with flavors ranging from grape to grapefruit.  Sage is one herb that can satisfy any palate.

Would you like to learn about other herbs? Check out our post “The Complete Guides to Growing Culinary Herbs” for links to those articles.

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Growing and Caring for Sage

This perennial herb is hardy in Zones 4 – 10 and can grow from 12 – 30 inches tall, depending on the variety.  Sage should be grown in full sun with well-drained pH-neutral soil.

It can tolerate poor soil and drought but produces better if moisture is consistent.  It’s crucial that the soil doesn’t get too wet.  Growing sage in pots is very popular because all varieties make wonderful houseplants.

Young plants need a consistent supply of moisture until they mature.  When they’re mature reduce the watering so the soil will dry between waterings.

You can also propagate sage by root division, cuttings, or layering.  Plant the seeds in the garden 1 – 2 weeks before the last spring frost.  You can also start seeds indoors 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost.

Once the seedlings pop up in the garden thin them so they’re 18 – 24 inches apart.  That is also the distance when transplanting.

When spring arrives prune back the heavier woody stems.  Pruning the plants a few times during the growing season will encourage new growth and consistent flavor.  To prune during the growing season cut 6 – 8 inches from the tops of the plants.

If the plant flowers and goes to seed the leaves will be much less flavorful.  Flowers might not appear in the first year, but when they do you can remove them to keep the flavor of the leaves.

Replace the plants every few years to keep them healthy and productive.  You can get new plants by taking cuttings, root division, or layering from the existing plants.

A girl enjoying the aroma of a field of sage
Enjoying the aroma of a field of sage

Growing Sage by Cuttings

Cuttings for propagating sage should be 4 -8 inches long.  Remove the lower third of the leaves and dip the cut end in the rooting hormone.  Plant the treated cutting in sterile sand mixed with 1/3 vermiculite or potting soil.

Please don’t push the cutting into the soil; make a small hole for the cutting and then fill it with soil.  Pushing the cutting into the soil could scrape off the rooting hormone.  Keep the soil moist but not soggy during the rooting process.

The rooting hormone makes rooting faster, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.  Roots will also form if you put the cuttings in a glass with about one inch of water.

Replace the water every few days to keep it clean.  Transplant the cuttings to pots or the garden after the roots form.  It will take 3 – 4 weeks for the roots to get about 2 inches long.

Growing Sage by Root Division

To use root division for propagating sage, dig up an established plant to expose the roots and crown.  Use a garden knife (hori-hori knife) to cut the root crown into two or more sections.

Don’t cut the sections with a hoe or shovel since those tools are too heavy-handed and could damage the plants.  Prune away any dead roots or other debris.  The best time for root division is in the spring when the new shoots are coming up.

Transplant new shoots to pots or a growing bed to let them get more growth.  Beds should have the soil prepared down to 6 – 8 inches.

In a couple of weeks, the plants will be ready to transplant to their final location.  Of course, if you’re growing in pots the divided sage could be grown in its final pot to save a step.

Growing Sage by Layering

This is a very easy way for propagating sage from an established plant.  Bend one of the stems down until it touches the ground.  Next anchor the stem to the ground with a forked stick or a piece of bent stiff wire.

The anchor point should be about 4 inches from the top of the stem.  Roots will form in about 4 weeks and the branch to the original plant can be cut and the anchor removed.  The new plant is now ready to transplant.

Harvesting and Storing Sage

The first harvest for sage will be about 75 days after planting, but do it before the plant flowers.  Pick the leaves as needed but don’t take more than half the plant to avoid damage.

Fresh sage will store in the refrigerator for about a week.  Wrap the sage in a damp paper towel and put it in a partially closed plastic bag.

To freeze sage, take the stems with the leaves on them and wash them and pat them dry.  Next, remove the leaves from the stems and put them loosely into freezer bags.  Sage can remain frozen for up to one year.

Drying Sage

After drying sage leaves by any method described below, they can be kept whole or crushed in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.  Put the whole or crushed leaves in airtight containers and store them in a cool dark place.  Dried sage can be kept for about 6 months.

Air Drying Sage

Dry sage on the stems by bundling the stems and hanging them upside-down in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area.  Another way is to take the leaves either whole or sliced into strips and put them on paper towels on a tray.  Air-drying in these ways will take 5 – 10 days.

Oven Drying Sage

To oven-dry sage put the leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Set the oven at the lowest setting.  The leaves will take 1 – 3 hours to dry, but check them a few times to make sure they don’t burn.  Once they get crumbly they’re done.

Drying Sage in a Dehydrator

To dry sage in a dehydrator place the leaves in a single layer on the dehydrator racks.  Follow your dehydrator instructions for drying herbs.  Depending on the dehydrator drying could take 1 – 4 hours.

Drying Sage in a Microwave

Put paper towels in the microwave and lay the leaves on the towels in a single layer.  Microwave the leaves for one minute and continue microwaving in 10-second intervals until the leaves are crispy.

Sage Companion Plants

  • Sage repels pests like cabbage moths, black flea beetles, and carrot flies.  That makes it a good companion for carrots and cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, and rutabagas).
  • Sage improves the flavor of strawberries.
  • Herbs that are friendly with sage include lavender, oregano, rosemary, bay laurel, and thyme since they have the same growing conditions.
  • Sage flowers attract beneficial insects like honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
  •  If you’re having trouble with deer or rabbits in your garden sage plants will keep them away.
  • Don’t plant sage in the garden near cucumbers, rue, or the onion family (onions, garlic, ramps, chives, leeks, and shallots).

See a complete list on our Companion Planting Chart.

Pests and Diseases of Sage

Very few pests and diseases will bother sage if it is grown in well-drained soil with good air circulation.

In the event you have any infestations of slugs, spider mites, or spittlebugs spray the plants with neem oil or organic insecticidal soap.

Final Thoughts

Sage is one of those herbs that give us warm memories of holiday meals with the family.  Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without the distinct taste of sage in the stuffing.  Even if you don’t use sage in the kitchen it still makes a beautiful decorative plant.

Last update on 2024-07-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Bob Styer

As a child, I hated gardening. That was mainly because Dad expected us to work in the garden every so often even though we thought play was more important. Over the years, though, I've developed a real appreciation for growing things. Whether you're growing plants for food or to enjoy their beauty, gardening can make your life better. Seize the moment!

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