A non-profit organization dedicated to education with regard to the culture and use of herbs
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 MHS 2015 Herb of the Year   
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Herb of the Year
- Sage

Sage: More Than Just a Thanksgiving Herb!

By Bonnie Kulke, Joyce Pohl, and Carrie Wilkey

Cultivation: How to Grow Sage

Sage grows best in the Mediterranean-like climates but can be successfully grown in most parts of the world. Common sage is grown as a semi-hardy perennial in southern Wisconsin, but a particularly harsh winter may kill it.

Plant sage in well-drained soil and full sun (6–8 hours of sun daily), and keep it slightly dry. It will tolerate some afternoon shade. Sage plants require warm temperatures and ample sunlight to produce a high essential oil content in the leaves. Try planting sage in the south or east side of your yard.

Sage may be grown by seed, cuttings, or layering from a mother plant. Sage is a perennial, but may need to be replaced after about 4–5 years, when it becomes woody. Plant common sage about 24 inches apart to allow for ample space to grow in width. Larger species and varieties may need more space.

Salvias are generally trouble-free plants. You can easily grow them in large pots or raised beds. In the garden, try companion-planting sage with thyme, artemisia, cabbage, carrots, strawberries, tomatoes, or marjoram to encourage their growth. Do not plant near wormwood, as it will inhibit sage’s growth. Do not interplant with moisture-loving herbs like basil or mint, since sage prefers drier conditions.

Cut back old stems by about half in the spring. Do not prune sage plants in the fall after September, as it may stimulate new growth that is susceptible to winter-kill. Hardiness zones for perennial Salvias are zones 4–8, although some varieties are hardy in zone 3. Winter mulch is not necessary for sage to over-winter.

All varieties of sage can be bothered by some insect pests or disease, including sweet potato whitefly, slugs, greenhouse whitefly, mint rust, and crown gall. Healthy plants are better able to withstand pests and disease. Deer and other Wisconsin critters do not seem to be attracted to sage.

Water sage deeply during dry weather, but let the soil dry between waterings. Sage is a drought-tolerant plant that can get root disease in waterlogged soil. Fertilizing sage is unnecessary and is not advised.

Remove blooms as soon as they wilt, and prune dead or diseased parts. Provide ample space around plants to provide air circulation, and keep the area around the plant free of weeds, leaves, and other debris.

Propagating Sage

Sage, like other herbs, can be propagated in several ways. In early spring or fall, sage can be divided by digging up a section of the plant, cutting off a piece of a well-rooted section, and replanting the new division. Generally, take cuttings in the fall and perform root division in the spring.

Some Salvias may be propagated by cutting a sprig at least 3–4 inches long and dipping the cut end into rooting compound. Then plant the stem in loose soil or vermiculite. Keep the cutting in a shady location until the stem “takes” (begins to grow roots), usually within 2–3 weeks. Be sure to keep the soil moist, but not overly wet, until roots are established.

A very easy method of rooting sage is to pin a long sage stem from the mother plant to the ground. You can do this by weighing down the stem with a small rock or with u-shaped hairpins. This method takes longer—up to several months—but once roots are established, the stem can be cut from the mother plant.

As with all herbs, if you want to use them for culinary purposes, don’t let them flower. If you are gardening to attract birds, bees, and butterflies, Sage attracts bees in the early spring if you let it bloom.

Overview and Varieties of Sage

Harvesting and Preserving Sage

History and Folklore of Sage

Cooking with Sage

Household, Cosmetic, and Garden Uses of Sage

Medicinal Uses of Sage




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