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Sage is a classic perennial grown for the unique, pungent flavor and aroma that its gray-green leaves produce. It sends up a lavender flower spike in summer.
Stock your garden with fresh herb flavors by growing common sage. This shrubby plant is known botanically as Salvia officinalis and also goes by a host of common names, including garden sage and garden salvia. This is the culinary sage that’s used to season poultry and stuffing. Common sage has gray-green pebbled leaves that add a nice texture to plantings.
Salvia officinalis is a Mediterranean herb, which means it likes soil on the dry side that drains well. Rocky, not-too-fertile soil is just right for garden sage to thrive. Wet, poorly draining soils can actually deliver a death blow to common sage. This salvia plant thrives in containers, too, and grows well in terra-cotta pots, which wick moisture from soil.
Heat is garden sage’s friend, but plants don’t perform well in high humidity. In the sultry, tropical conditions of Zone 9 and warmer, mildew can develop on sage leaves. In these areas, grow Salvia officinalis as an annual. Otherwise, this sage plant is hardy in Zones 4 to 8, although its lifespan as a perennial usually winds down between three and five years.
Garden sage grows 24 to 36 inches tall and wide. Plants produce green shoots each year that turn woody as they mature. Prune plants annually in early spring before new growth appears, cutting stems back to 4 to 6 inches. Aim to remove the oldest growth to make room for new shoots.
The first year that common sage is in the garden, harvest only lightly, taking a few leaves at a time. After the first growing season, harvest freely from plants. Pick individual leaves, or snip 6 to 8 inches of green stem with leaves. Garden sage flowers in summer, and it’s best to harvest leaves prior to flowering.
Salvia officinalis dries well for long-term storage. For best flavor, harvest garden sage in mid- to late morning, after dew dries. Essential oil concentrations are greatest in leaves near noon. Air dry leaves on stems spread on screens or laid in baskets, or bundle a few stems together and hang upside down in a dark place. Once leaves are dry, store them whole in air-tight jars with tight fitting lids. Flavor remains more intense if you don’t break up leaves until you need them.
Look for different varieties of garden sage, including golden variegated sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’), with green leaves edged in gold. This bright sage plant makes an eye-catching edging in herb gardens where it’s hardy, Zones 7 to 8.
‘Tricolor’ sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’) brings a medley of colors to the garden. Its leaves are marbled with shades of grey green, cream, purple and pink. ‘Tricolor’ is hardy in Zones 6 to 9 makes a striking combination when planted to skirt purple-flowered mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea).