How to Grow Sage: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide

Sage (Salvia officinalis). So-called “culinary sage” is a short-lived perennial herb, hardy to Zone 4 or 5, whose strongly flavoured leaves can be used in many meat and vegetable dishes. Sage can be used fresh or dried. NOTE: There are many varieties of Salvia, not all of which have culinary uses.

Cultivation: With soft greyish foliage and attractive flower spikes, sage is an ornamental addition to an herb garden. Varieties with coloured or variegated foliage blend easily into a mixed garden bed. Under the right conditions, a sage plant may grow to be as tall as 75 centimetres, though some varieties are smaller.

In the garden, sage prefers full sun and well-drained soil enriched with compost. Avoid overwatering as this may lead to root rot. Sage is perennial in the Toronto area, though it may benefit from winter protection such as mulch. In areas with colder winters, it is best treated as an annual or grown as a container plant to be overwintered indoors, where it needs bright sunlight. Prune to promote bushy growth and plenty of new leaves.

Sage is typically propagated by cuttings since seed germination is slow. It tends to be short-lived and needs to be replaced every few years. Cuttings taken in the summer can be potted for use indoors in the winter. Harvest leaves throughout the growing season and even into the winter months where it is hardy.

Ornamental varieties include ‘Berggarten’ (which has large leaves and is hardy in Zone 5) and Golden Sage, Purple Sage and Tricolor Sage (none of which is reliably winter hardy in Zone 5). Dwarf varieties are useful where space is limited.

Reduce the chances of slug damage by keeping the soil around the plant free of debris. Sage is susceptible to fungal diseases including verticillium wilt and powdery mildew. Avoid wetting the leaves when watering to reduce the risk of fungal infection. If necessary, an approved fungicidal spray may be considered.

Disclaimer: Toronto Master Gardeners does not advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. Any information in the recommended resources should be regarded as being for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.

For more information:

Planet Natural: How to Grow Sage Organically  https://www.planetnatural.com/growing-sage/

Richters Herbs https://www.richters.com/Web_store/web_store.cgi?product=X5170&show=all&prodclass=&cart_id=968838.12980

RHS Grow your own herbs – Sage https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/grow-your-own/herbs/sage

University of Illinois Extension https://web.extension.illinois.edu/herbs/sage.cfm

University of Wisconsin-Madison: Wisconsin horticulture division of Extension, https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/sage-salvia-officinalis/

North Carolina State Extension https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/salvia-officinalis/

Date revised: December 2021

Prepared by the Toronto Master Gardeners, these Gardening Guides provide introductory information on a variety of gardening topics.  Toronto Master Gardeners are part of a large, international volunteer community committed to providing the public with horticultural information, education and inspiration.  Our goal is to help Toronto residents use safe, effective, proven and sustainable horticultural practices to create gardens, landscapes and communities that are both vibrant and healthy.

Statement on Invasive Plants: When choosing plants, avoid invasive plants, which can spread quickly and dominate gardens.  Invasive plants are sold by nurseries, big box stores or even at community plant sales.  Invasives may already be present in your garden.  They can invade gardens by spreading from under a neighbour’s fence or may be transported by wildlife.  For beautiful, sustainable options to invasive plants, see the Ontario Invasive Plant Council’s “Grow Me Instead – Beautiful Non-Invasive Plants for your Garden” at https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/resources/grow-me-instead/before purchasing or accepting “gifts” of plants.

Statement on Home Remedies: The Toronto Master Gardeners do not recommend home remedies, as these have not been proven effective through scientific investigation, and may even damage other living organisms in the soil or plants in your garden.  There are other garden friendly options you can use.

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