Growing Sage

Sage plant before being harvested for cuttings

Sage is one of our favorite herbs to grow. It’s hardy, produces a tasty harvest, and the plant is stunning when it’s planted in the landscape or a container.

In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know to grow your own sage.

Planting sage seeds

If you are starting your sage from seed, the timing of your planting will be a bit different than if you are planting a small plant outside.

Aim to plant the seeds with enough time for them to germinate, sprout and mature before you plant them outside. Typically, it’ll take 2-4 weeks for the seed to germinate and then a few more weeks for the seedling to mature before you plant it outside.

To plant the sage seeds, purchase some potting soil and fill a container or tray with the potting soil. It doesn’t have to be a deep container — even a shallow tray will be fine for sage seeds. 

You can purchase plastic pots or packs to plant them, or use something you have lying around your home, such as an egg carton.

Once the container is full of potting soil, poke a hole in the soil with your finger no deeper than the first joint in your finger. Then, place the sage seed in the hole and cover it up lightly with potting soil.

To initiate the seed’s growth, water the sage seed lightly.

Try to keep the soil in direct sunlight as much as possible. You can cover it with some clear plastic to keep the humidity high as well. 

Make sure to keep on watering the soil lightly whenever it dries out. The soil doesn’t need to be more than damp, but it does need to be moist consistently for the sage seed to germinate.

You’ll soon start seeing a baby sage sprout emerging from the potting soil.

Transplanting sage seedlings

After the sage sprouts, you’ll want to let it grow a little bit to establish a root structure. If the seedling is planted with its own space to grow, you won’t need to transplant it until it grows its own root cube. 

However, if the sage seed was planted with other sage seeds in its own space, it should be planted earlier so that its roots aren’t in competition for limited space.

As long as the roots have room to grow, you’re fine to keep the sage in its container. 

If you notice that the sage seedling is drying up fast, this may be a sign that it’s time to plant it in a larger container. You can transplant a sage however many times you’d like before planting it in its final destination.

To transplant a sage, pinch the bottom of the container as you gently pull the sprout up. If the seedling is tiny, you can turn the pack upside down as you do this for each sprout so that the plant and its early root structure fall out into your hand. 

If the sage is rootbound, meaning that the roots are tightly wound together forming the shape of whatever container it was in, then you’ll want to gently rip the roots apart once before transplanting the sage into its next container.

After you have transplanted your sage, water it in and make sure it gets some sunlight for continual growth.

Planting sage outside

Whether you are growing your sage from seed, or you purchased a young sage plant from a local garden center or greenhouse, eventually you’ll want to plant it outside.

To plant your sage, gently squeeze the bottom of the container and pull the plant out of its pack.

Then, use a trowel or your hand to remove soil from where you’d like to plant it. 

If the soil is hard and packed down, consider using a tiller to break it up, or just push a shovel in the soil a few times to break up the clumps.

Best soil type for sage

You can check your sage plant’s tag for specific information regarding soil needs.

Sage will grow well in nutrient-rich, well-drained soil.

You may need to mix in some potting soil or other soil additives to get your soil to the ideal consistency.

When to plant sage outside

Choosing when to plant sage outside is an important consideration. If you plant them too early, there’s the risk of a late frost killing them off.

As a general rule of thumb, typically if you wait until after Mother’s Day you’ll be fine to plant sage outside. That being said, in Central PA we have had late frosts later than Mother’s Day, so make sure to check the forecast for your area in the spring to make sure that there isn’t a deep frost on the horizon.

In some cases, planting sage outside before Mother’s Day is definitely doable. Some annuals are just hardier than others, so you’ll want to consider the hardiness of your sage, too. For example, the Bubblegum Supertunias that Homestead Gardens sells can often be planted outside as early as mid to late March, which is well before Mother’s Day.

It depends on the plant’s size, maturity, hardiness (did the greenhouse you purchased the plant from “harden it off”?), and spring weather.

Where to plant sage

Once you have your sage, you’ll need some soil and a spot to plant it. If you’re going to be planting it directly outside from the pack you purchased it in, you have the option of planting the sage in the landscape, in a hanging basket, or in a pot. A sage will do great in any of these locations.

Sunlight requirements for sage

If your sage receives too little or too much sunlight exposure, it will likely still live, but may not grow as abundantly and could require more care.

Sage grows the best with at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day.

There are general sunlight requirements for all sage. For specific sunlight requirements for the variety of sage that you purchased, make sure to check the plant tag.

Best temperature and humidity for sage

Most areas have plenty of temperature swings, so an easy way to determine if your growing area will work for sage is to check your USDA growing zone.

A sage will grow well in most USDA growing zones, but the length of its season will vary depending on the region.

Watering sage

One of the most important factors in keeping your sage looking healthy is to diligently water the sage plant throughout the summer. 

For sage plants, you’ll know they need water when the top inch of soil is dried out. To check, you can stick your finger into the soil down to the first joint in your finger. If it’s moist, no need to water the sage plant. If it’s dry, you’ll want to water it in.

Be careful that you don’t overwater the sage. A sage plant can be susceptible to diseases if it gets too much water. 

If you planted the sage in a container, make sure that it has holes in the bottom for excess water to escape. Otherwise, the water can collect at the bottom of the container and cause root rot, or other diseases.

Fertilizing sage

Another important factor for plant health is keeping your sage fed with nutrition.

If the sage is planted in the ground, you can lessen the amount of fertilizer it’ll need by building up the soil with compostable material in the year(s) leading up to your planting. Otherwise, you’ll want to fertilize the sage throughout the summer. 

A good rule of thumb for fertilizing sage is to give the plant a water-soluble fertilizer every third watering. This rule helps to account for the change in temperature and weather throughout the season. For example, in May you won’t be watering your sage plant as much as in the heat of the summer in August. So feeding the plant every third watering helps to provide sage what it needs throughout the season, no matter the weather conditions.

It’s also recommended to plant the sage with a slow-release form of fertilizer to feed the plant slowly throughout the summer. You can add this in with your potting soil in a pot.

Growing sage in a hanging basket

If you’re growing sage in a hanging basket, you’ll want to make sure you don’t overfill the basket with plants. Plants will generally fill in the space you give them, so if the hanging basket isn’t packed full when you first plant it, that’s great.

The more sage you plant in your hanging basket, the more you’ll need to water the hanging plants. In general, if you have more plants competing for water and soil, it’ll take more maintenance to keep the hanging basket looking beautiful.

If you’re watering your sage in a hanging basket, you can check if it needs water by lifting the basket from beneath. If the basket is noticeably light, it could use some water. 

You’ll know you overwatered your sage in a hanging basket if water comes dripping or streaming out the bottom of the basket where the holes are.

Growing sage in a pot

As mentioned above, be careful you don’t plant too much sage in a flower pot.

The answer for how to care for sage grown in a pot will vary according to the size of the pot. In general, ensure it has plenty of room to grow and has adequate sunlight exposure where the pot is placed.

A sage that is planted in a container, whether it’s a pot or a hanging basket, will need to be watered more than sage is grown in the landscape since they won’t be able to pull natural water from the ground.

Growing sage in the landscape

Choosing sage for your flower beds or other landscaping is a great choice. They make for great borders and can help add beauty to your yard.

Since you’re planting them in a permanent spot, you’ll want to be extra careful when planting sage in the ground outside. Make sure that there’s little chance of frost and that the sage are in a spot that matches their sunlight needs.

If you do have a late frost, and your sage are already in the ground, you can cover them overnight with a bucket or sheet to protect them in most cases.

Sage blooms

Sage blooms are typically a light lavender hue.

If possible, try to trim your sage bush enough so that it doesn’t go too seed. It’s not terrible for the sage plant to have blooms, but if left alone too long, it may cause the sage plan to become wimpy.

Pruning sage

Cutting back or pruning your sage can be healthy for the plant. You shouldn’t need to do this more than a few times throughout the summer. It can be good to do this if the plant is overgrowing its area or overpowering another plant in a container.

Common diseases for sage

A sage is more susceptible to common diseases, such as downy mildew or root rot when it isn’t cared for properly. That being said, even sage that is given the correct care can fall victim to some diseases.

Some common diseases sage plants have are:

  • Alternaria Leaf Spot
  • Mint Rust

Consult with your local garden center if you notice that your sage has a disease.

Overwintering sage

While it is possible to overwinter your sage, this will depend largely on what growing zone you are growing in. In many growing zones, sage can be overwintered with no problems.

For this reason, a sage could be considered an annual or a perennial, again, depending on the growing zone you are in.

Pest control for sage

Typically, natural predators are enough to take care of bugs and pests that eat at your sage. For example, ladybugs will eat aphids and can help control them.

However, in some cases, you will need to take extra measures to kill off plant pests. Again, consult with your local garden center for a specific solution to your pests.

Companion plants for sage

There are many other plants that grow great with sage. These are what we would call “companion plants.” This means that if they are planted together they will generally complement each other with their colors and growing styles.

Other herbs are great companion plants for sage plants.

When looking for companion plants for your sage, look for plants that have similar growing needs. This is an easy way to find plants that grow well. For example, if two plants love the sun, require similar fertilizer needs and one is taller while the other is a spreader, they will probably be great companion plants in a pot or hanging basket.

Varieties of sage

There are many varieties of sage. In general, their growing needs will be consistent across these varieties, but it’s always best to check the plant’s tag to make sure there aren’t specific instructions for your variety of sage.

Here are some common varieties of sage plants:

  • Autumn Sage
  • Scarlet Sage
  • Texas Sage
  • Clary Sage

Propagating sage

It’s possible to propagate sage

To do so, you can cut off a small piece of the plant and put it in water for a week or so. Soon, the sage should start growing fine roots.

Eventually, you’ll be able to plant the sage cutting into some soil.

For some varieties of sage, propagating and then selling your cuttings as plants once they are established is illegal. Make sure there isn’t a patent on the sage variety before you would do this.

Some annuals, such as sun coleus, can be propagated just by placing the cutting directly in potting soil.