Learn About Sage

How to Sow

Sage may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, directly sown, or planted as a potted plant.

Sowing Seed Indoors:

  • Sow sage seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost in spring using a seed starting kit
  • Sow seeds 1/8 inches deep in seed-starting formula.
  • Keep the soil moist at 70 degrees F
  • Seedlings emerge in 14-21 days.
  • As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
  • Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
  • If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 2 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots.
  • Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.

Direct Sow:

  • Sow seeds when all danger of frost has passed in early spring.
  • Sow seeds thinly and cover with 1/8 inch of fine soil.
  • Firm soil and keep moist.
  • Seeds emerge in 14-21 days.
  • Thin to 15 inches apart when seedlings have two or three pairs of leaves.

Planting in the Garden:

  • Select a location in full sun with rich, well-drained soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
  • Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
  • Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root development.
  • Set the plants 15 inches apart.
  • Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
  • Use the plant tag as a location marker.
  • Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.
  • If planting in a container, do not use anything smaller than a 12 inch pot. Be sure to use a commercial potting mix rather than garden soil.

How to Grow

  • Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating. 
  • Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For herbs, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
  • Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated. Basil should not be allowed to dry out.
  • Prune established plants back by one-half to two-thirds in early spring if they are getting too large or leggy.
  • Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.

Growing tips

  • Harvest short sprigs or a couple leaves at a time as needed. Sage may be used fresh or dried. When used in cooking it is usually used dried.
  • To dry leaves, cut whole stems on a sunny morning. Tie stems loosely in small bunches and hang in a dry, airy location out of the sun. OR spread on a cheesecloth or a window screen in a dry, shady location. OR dry herbs in the oven for 2-3 hours on a cookie sheet at the lowest heat, leaving the oven door open. OR use a dehydrator following the manufacturer’s instructions. Crush thoroughly dried leaves before storing. Store in a tightly sealed container in a dry, dark location such as a cupboard.
  • Sage may frozen chopped and in ice cubes.
  • Sage may also be made into sage butter or infused in honey. It makes a great vinegar as well.

Common Pests and Problems

Common Disease Problems

Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers form on the upper surface of the leaves. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.

Mint Rust: Small, whitish, slightly raised spots that turn reddish orange or brown. This occurs on the underside of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Avoid overhead irrigation systems. Water early so the leaves have the whole day to dry out. Do not plant members of the mint family in the same location.

Powdery Mildew occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends:  Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Septoria Leaf Spot: Small, angular, gray-brown spots. Spots have defined red margins. Black fruiting bodies may be visible. Leaves will eventually become chlorotic or necrotic. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops, avoid overhead watering. Plant to allow for air circulation.  

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Slugs: These pests leave large holes in the foliage or eat leaves entirely. They leave a slime trail, feed at night and are mostly a problem in damp weather. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick, at night if possible. You can try attracting the slugs to traps either using cornmeal or beer. For a beer trap, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re finished. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat. For a cornmeal trap, put a tablespoon or two of cornmeal in a jar and put it on its side near the plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent but they cannot digest it and it will kill them. You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth or even coffee grounds. They cannot crawl over these.

Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Spittlebugs: These hopping insects protect themselves from predators with a white foam while the young insects feed on the leaves and stems. When the insects emerge they are hoppers with large "froggy" eyes. There is only one generation each year but the larvae can hatch over a period of several weeks as the eggs were laid in the fall. Burpee Recommends: To control wash the foam off with a strong water spray. This will usually also kill the larvae. Do this once or twice a week for as long as needed. The damage is usually minimal.

Thrips: Thrips are tiny needle-thin insects that are black or straw colored. They suck the juices of plants and attack flower petals, leaves and stems. The plant will have a stippling, discolored flecking or silvering of the leaf surface. Thrips can spread many diseases from plant to plant. Burpee Recommends: Many thrips may be repelled by sheets of aluminum foil spread between rows of plants. Remove weeds from the bed and remove debris from the bed after frost. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls.

FAQ

Can I grow sage indoors? Yes, sage may be grown indoors in a sunny location for winter use.

How can I use sage as a companion plant? Sage can benefit members of the cabbage family by deterring insects. Sage also helps control carrot fly and so can help carrots. Plant with strawberries and tomatoes to improve their flavor.

How can I keep my sage from getting leggy? Sage will grow leggy if it does not have enough sun, it requires at least 6 hours of sun per day. To encourage a bushier plant pinch sage as it grows in spring.

When should I add sage to my cooking? Sage is not a delicate herb and should be added dry twenty minutes before the cooking is finished.

My sage is getting woody, what can I do to rejuvenate it? Sage will grow woody in age and may be rejuvenated by dividing the plant in spring and using the newer part of the plant, discarding the old crown. You can also take cuttings in early summer and root them.

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