How to grow and care for sage

Sage is a hardy edible herb that can be incorporated into the garden as an ornamental grey foliage plant, as well as being cut for use in the kitchen as required. A tough plant, sage is ideal for the urban farmer, gardener or chef.

What you need to know about sage

Name: sage, Salvia officinalis, common sage, garden sage, culinary sage

Height: 60–90cm

Foliage: evergreen.

Climate: grows well in cold temperate, warm temperate and arid/semi-arid climates. In tropical and sub-tropical areas, grow in pots to protect from flooded soils during the wet.

Soil: prefers well-drained soil.

Position: full sun.

Flowering and fruiting: small bluish-purple tubular flowers are produced in tall spikes in late spring–summer.

Feeding: plant in a soil enriched with decomposed manure and compost, and mulch each year with compost.  

Watering: water only during extended dry periods, or when plants are young.

sage leaves

Appearance and characteristics of sage

Sage is a popular herb as well as a versatile drought-tolerant grey foliage plant. There are many different types of sage, but only ever select Salvia officinalis cultivars for your edible garden—not all salvias are the same! Many different cultivars are available, each varying in height and characteristics, but all come from the same type of sage, which has been selected for its culinary and medicinal attributes. A compact shrub, the foliage is covered in fine hairs, which is a big hint that it’s water efficient and drought tolerant.

Uses for sage

Sage is most commonly used in cooking as an accompaniment to white meat such as fish and chicken. A short-lived perennial (because it tends to look straggly after a few years), sage is a wonderful highlight herb, bringing contrast and colour to the herb garden. Also suited to pots, sage grows well in courtyards, balconies and windowsills. Its medicinal benefits are vast and often contrary, but there is no denying it was once considered to be a saviour—its genus Salvia relates to its reputation as a healing plant.

How to plant and grow sage

Sage is most commonly available in pots, which makes it even easier to plant and establish at home.

  1. In a pot, plant in a premium potting mix. In the garden, improve soil with compost and decomposed manure before planting.

  2. Select an area in full sun with good drainage. Sage hates sitting in wet or damp soil, so if the best area is wet, either raise the height of the soil or plant in a pot.

  3. Water sage prior to planting to help reduce transplant shock.

  4. Dig a hole twice the size of the pot and backfill with soil so that the plant sits at the same height in the soil as it did in the pot.

  5. Remove from the pot and place in the hole.

  6. Firm down the soil and water well.

  7. Mulch to reduce weed competition.

Caring for sage

Sage is a low-maintenance herb; water only during extended dry periods, or when plants are young. If soil is improved prior to planting, or if planted in a premium potting mix, an annual application of compost as mulch will usually provide enough nutrients for the coming season.

How and when to prune sage

  • Regular harvesting helps to keep plants compact.

  • Still, sage is notorious for becoming straggly and woody, so prune by at least one third in early spring, and remove the flower spikes when they have finished at the end of summer.

  • Take cuttings in spring every three years to replace plants that are unsightly and less productive.

Diseases and pests

Sage is generally pest and disease free. The most common issue is mildew, especially if grown in a humid climate or planted too closely together and overwatered. Prune to open up the plant, reduce watering, and spray with a fungicide if needed.

How to propagate sage

Sage can be grown from seed, but is best grown from cuttings or layering.

Layering sage

  1. To propagate by layering, clear away any mulch and, using a tent peg or wire, bend a branch down so that the stem is in contact with the soil.

  2. Peg down and cover with a little soil or mulch.

  3. In 6–8 weeks, brush away the soil. The stem should have produced roots.

  4. At this time, the new plant can be severed from the parent plant and transplanted into a pot.

Growing sage from cuttings

  1. To propagate by cuttings, simply take a top cutting about 10cm long.

  2. Pinch your thumb and forefinger over the lower half of the cutting and pull downward, stripping the lower leaves from the cutting.

  3. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone or cutting powder and insert into a pot filled with propagating mix.

  4. Take at least four cuttings at a time. In 6–8 weeks, your cuttings should have “struck” (established roots), and will be ready to pot up.

If you like this then try

Oregano: a popular pizza herb suited to pots and garden beds.

Thyme: a naturally spreading herb that’s also popular in marinades and sauces.  

Rosemary: another Mediterranean herb that make a wonderful hedge.

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Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
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