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Past Articles Library | Learn About Herb Gardening

Growing Sage by Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.


Sage has been valued over the centuries by many cultures. It has proven astringent properties and is often used in cosmetics to stimulate and cleanse the face and scalp. Smudge sticks with sage in them are burned in homes and other dwellings to cleanse them of negative influences. Of course, sage is also used in cooking.

Sage comes in many varieties. Salvia officinalis is the ordinary garden sage best suited for cooking. There are other varieties that are pretty. Cherry sage has red tips. Golden sage is all golden. Both of these make nice garnishes, but do not have as intense a flavor as garden sage.

To grow sage, you have a several options. Seeds will grow if placed on a premoistened flat of soil and covered by 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. Cover the flat with plastic and place in a dark, warm place. The soil needs to be around 70 degrees for germination to occur.

In 7 to 21 days, the seeds will germinate. You will have to check on them often as the plants will need to be transplanted when they have two sets of true leaves. Put them in individual pots and place the flat back into the dark to see if other seeds will germinate.

If you have a friend that has some sage, you can get a cutting and start that. Dip the end in rooting hormone and plant it. Give the plant a few weeks to establish roots and there you go. Some of the more colorful sages can only be propagated from cuttings.

Finally, you can buy sage plants from most nurseries. Seeing, smelling, and tasting the sage plants are important because each variety has many variations itself, so you want to make sure you get what you mean to purchase. You can transplant the plant easily into your prepared bed when you get home.

In any case, do not plant sage outside until all danger of frost has passed. The colored sages, especially, will not tolerate frost. Garden sage is more hardy, but only as a mature plant.

Sage can grow into a 36 inch by 36 inch plant, so make sure you put it where there is plenty of room. Otherwise, you will have to prune it to make it fit the space you have. Never prune more than a third of the plant at a time, however.

It takes sage three years to reach its' full size. However, failing to plan can lead to overcrowding. This leaves the plants vulnerable to fungal diseases and insect pests.

Sage does not like excessive soil moisture or humid air. Care should be taken to keep it moist, but a little drier than most plants. If you live in a very humid climate, growing sage indoors may be the only way you can grow it.

Plants may be harvested as early as their first year, but it is better to let them concentrate on growth first and wait until the second year to start taking cuttings. Cut the sprigs for use fresh or dried. Remember to cut no more than one third of the plant at a time. Your plant will put on fresh growth and be ready to harvest in two or three weeks.

Growing two or three plants and harvesting one each week is one way to ensure continuous availability of the herb. Sage can be chopped up, placed in an ice cube holder, then covered with a little water, and frozen. The cubes can then be placed in a plastic bag for convenient use in recipes. Freeze one tablespoon per cube, and simply take as many out as you need that day.


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