How To Grow Organic Sage?
SAGE (SALVATIONAL) ADVICE
- Garden Sage, or Common Sage, is a member of the mint family. There are over 800 family members.
- In Medieval Times, growing sage for medicinal and culinary purposes was common. It’s Latin family name, Salvia, means “to save” or “salvation” and is also the root word of salve, indicating its high repute as a medicinal herb back as far as the Greek empire.
- If you’re growing sage plants today, they’re about 2 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter and have flowers that range from cream to purple.
WHEN TO PLANT SAGE
- When you’re growing sage, plan on about 75 to 80 days from the time you plant until the harvesting time.
- Sage plants mature in about two years although you can harvest leaves in the first year.
- If you live in a cooler climate region, it’s a good idea to mulch your plants to help them survive the cold winters.
- Sage can be started from fresh seeds around your last frost date or indoors 8 weeks ahead of your last frost date. Ideally your ground temperature should be about 60°F.
WHERE TO PLANT SAGE
- In Northern climates, sage can be planted in full sun, but in Southern climates, it will thrive best in morning sun and afternoon shade.
- Sage prefers well-drained soil. If you’re in a wet climate area, consider using raised beds.
- It does not need ideal soil though, and thrives in a wide range of soil conditions. Some gardeners say that if the soil conditions are poor it creates better flavors in sage.
- Sage does like a good supply of nitrogen, though.
PREPARING THE SOIL
- The ideal pH for growing sage is around 6.0 to 6.5, although it will grow quite well in soils with a pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8.
- As stated above, sage does like plenty of nitrogen. Nitrogen is what makes plants green and aids in photosynthesis.
- Nitrogen also helps the plant to grow more rapidly, increases seed and fruit production, and improves the plant and leaf quality.
- To plant sage, cultivate the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches, then smooth and level it. Feel free to add lots of compost or composted manure to the soil and mix it in.
- As mentioned before, the sage will have stronger flavor if it’s not over-fertilized, so after the initial supplementation, you shouldn’t need to fertilize sage again.
CHOOSING SAGE VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA
- Sage averages about 2 feet tall by 2 feet in diameter, but can grow up to 50% larger than that size if left to grow, so review your space availability.
- There are several varieties of sage, so check with your local seed store with which varieties accomplish what (medicinal or culinary, etc.).
- There are also disease resistant strains of sage available. Check with your county extension and local seed store for advice on which varieties will be best for your area.
SEEDS AND GERMINATION
- Sage seeds need to be fresh. They don’t store well, so use what you buy or throw away the extra seeds.
- However, plant more seeds than you need as you’ll typically get only about 40% germination.
- Sage seeds germinate best between 60° and 70°F; at this range the seeds should germinate in about 2 to 3 weeks.
- If you’re starting your seeds indoors, you can plant them under fluorescent lamps, or better yet under high output fluorescent lights, compact fluorescent, or high intensity discharge lamps (metal halide or high pressure sodium).
- Standard fluorescent lamps should be about 4 inches above your seed containers, and high output lights about 12 inches above the containers.
- It’s also considered a best practice to have an oscillating fan stir your seedlings a couple hours daily to make your plants stronger.
- Covered planting trays are optimal as they keep your plants in a humid environment; spray your plants with a fine mist.
- You can also use root cuttings to plant in your herb garden after the last frost. Lay your sage branches so they contact the soil; they’ll take root if the soil is properly moistened.
SAVING SAGE SEEDS
- Sage seed pods look like bells. They’ll turn a dark gray to brown color when fully developed and you can pop the ends of the bells open to get to the seeds.
- You can pick the seed pods when they’re ripe and dry them in a warm, dry, and well-ventilated area.
- Once the bells are dry, open them up and remove the seeds. Usually there’s just a few seeds per bell.
STARTING SAGE PLANTS INDOORS
- You can plant sage indoors in most any sterile potting mix, or create your own mix. You can ask your local garden supply for “recipes” to create your own mix.
- It’s never a recommended practice to use your own garden soil for starting your sage plants due to weed seeds and the potential for bacteria or fungi to be present in your soil that might attack your seedlings.
- Garden soil may also retain too much moisture, causing your plants to drown. Potting mixes are formulated to stay moist but not wet.
- You can also plant sage in containers. You should use at least a two gallon container for your plants to allow the roots freedom to grow as much as needed.
- You can use a wide array of containers for your sage plants from plastic (not recommended but I won’t judge you negatively if you use it!), wooden crates or boxes, decorative pots, or terracotta pots.
- The best pot for cooler climates is terracotta as it retains heat for longer in the evenings than your other choices. They also absorb moisture which keeps the soil warmer as well.
- If you use the other choices, make sure there are enough drainage holes so your sage doesn’t drown.
- Some container gardeners use a fiberglass mesh inside the pot over the holes to keep pests out of the drain holes.
- When you plant your sage seeds, plant them very close to the surface, about one quarter inch deep and about an inch apart.
- Because sage seeds have a relatively low germination rate – about 40% – you may want to plant about 4 seeds per cell or container you want one seed to survive in.
- When your plants are about 1 inch tall if in a flat or 3 inches in a pot, cut off the smaller plants with a scissor, leaving the strongest plant.
TRANSPLANTING YOUR SAGE PLANTS OUTDOORS
- About 2 weeks before your last frost danger, start taking your plants outside during the daytime…this is known as “hardening off.”
- If your plants are containerized, just move the containers out in the morningsand back in the evenings until the final spring frost, then leave the plants on the patio or wherever you’re placing them.
- Sage is ready to transplant once the plants have at least 2 to 4 pairs of true leaves; they should be about 3 inches tall.
- Once your plants are hardened off, and you’re ready to plant them in your herb garden, flower bed, or garden, slide the plants and dirt out of their containers very carefully and place them in your pre-dug holes 12 to 18 inches apart, carefully pressing the dirt around the root mass and potting soil.
- If you planted your sage in peat pots, cut the bottoms out of the pots and plant the entire pot in the soil.
PLANTING SAGE DIRECTLY IN YOUR GARDEN
- When planting sage seeds directly to your garden, wait until about 2 weeks before the last frost.
- Make your rows at least 24 inches apart, and plant seeds every 3 or 4 inches about one quarter inch deep in moist soil.
- If you are starting your sage from root cuttings, lay the cuttings on the soil at about 12″ apart.
- Once your seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin them to 12″ to 18″ apart.
GROWING SAGE IN YOUR GARDEN SUCCESSFULLY
- Once sage takes root, it should shoot up quite rapidly. Once the plants reach about 18 inches tall, trim about 6 inches from the top; do this a couple times during the growing season as it encourages the plants to become bushier.
- You can start harvesting the first year, but don’t over-pick your leaves or you may kill your plants. Never pick more than half the leaves, and in the first year probably no more than a quarter of the leaves.
- Stop harvesting leaves in the early fall to allow the plants time to harden off for winter.
- Starting in its second year, trim your sage bush down to 4 to 6 inches in the early spring. Over time the bush will become woody; split the bush in two every 3 or 4 years and replant to invigorate the bushes.
- Sage doesn’treally need to be fertilized, but if you want to spray it with a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer like Organic Garden Miracle™ we’ve seen good results from this product. It creates more robust plants with better flavor with pretty much everything we’ve used it on.
- If you live in an area like we live in, you may have winters that can get as cold as -15°F like it did this winter. It’s a good idea to mulch your sage to help it survive the bitter cold.
MULCHING & WEEDING
- When you’re sage plants are young, be careful not to pull weeds too close to your plants; cut them off with a scissor so as not to damage the roots.
- As your plants become established you’ll find you can pull pretty much any weed close to your plant without damaging it.
- You can use a light mulch of straw around your sage plants to suppress weeds, but don’t overdo it as sage isn’t a big water user, and it’s better to keep the soil a bit to the dry side.
- Sage needs more water when the plants are younger. Water a couple times per week.
- Once your plants are well established, only water when it’s very dry and hot. Sage prefers less water than more, and the flavor improves with less water (kind of like soup).
- Overhead watering is fine with sage as mildews and other fungal diseases are generally not an issue.
- Too much water will drown the roots, but if your soil drains well this shouldn’t be a problem.
COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS
- Sage is beneficial to broccoli, cauliflower, rosemary, cabbage, and carrots.
- It deters cabbage moths, flea beetles, carrot flies, and other pesky beetles as well.
- Sage flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects that are good pollinators.
- Sage enhances the growth of tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, and cabbage.
- Sage inhibits the growth of cucumbers and causes a bitter flavor in them.
- Sage and onions can affect each others flavor.
- Rue is poisonous to both sage and basil.
- Sage should be split or replaced every 3 to 4 years, but can be planted in the same areas.
WHEN TO HARVEST SAGE
- Sage leaves are best harvested before sage flowers bloom.
- Don’t harvest more than about 25% of the leaves after your plants are well-established the first year, and in subsequent years never take more than half of the leaves.
- Depending on the variety of sage, plants are mature between 12 and 36 inches in height.
- To harvest you can also cut about 6 or 8 inches from the tops of the plants and dry them.
- Harvest during the time of day after the dew has evaporated but before the sun gets too hot or the flavor won’t be as pungent.
- You can cut the leaves off or pinch them off.
- Don’t harvest sage during the cold months. If you live in a warmer climate, you can harvest sage year around, you lucky devils!
- You can dry sage leaves, then put them in airtight jars for storage in a cool, dark place.
- Fresh sage is good for about a week in the fridge, but it starts to lose flavor within 2 or 3 days.
- One of the best ways to keep sage fresh is to freeze it in Zip Lock-type bags or airtight glass jars.
PREVENTATIVE AND NATURAL SOLUTIONS TO COMMON PESTS AND PROBLEMS
- The main pest that afflicts sage is spider mites.
- Spider mites are very tiny and appear as red specks on your sage. Heavy infestations of spider mites will destroy leaves.
- If the spider mites get too profuse, you can use diatomaceous earth, pyrethrins, or organic insecticidal soaps. Dust or spray your plants weekly until the problem disappears.
- Root Rot is an occasional issue with sage, but only happens in heavy soil that doesn’t drain well. It’s fairly simple to avoid by planting in dryer and sunnier locations where the soil drains well.
- Powdery mildew may also infect sage. It appears as a white fuzzy coating on the upper leaves that will kill the infected leaves.
- Don’t over-water your sage plants; water early in the day when you do. Don’t crowd your plants to tightly.
- You can also make an organic fungicide spray using bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). In a gallon of water add a couple drops of organic olive oil, a couple drops of environmentally-friendly liquid soap, and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Spray it on your sage leaves to effectively control fungal diseases.
- Damping off is another fungus that can cause your seeds to rot or kill your seedlings before they emerge from the soil, or cause the base of the stem to rot causing the seedling to fall over and die.
- If you use sterilized potting soil, sterilized containers, on clean water on your plants, you shouldn’t have this problem.