Caring for sage — tips on the plant with a long tradition

The aromatic herb sage is an integral part of Mediterranean cuisine. Classics such as Saltimbocca or deep-fried sage leaves have enriched the menu for a long time and you certainly have a recipe with sage. The characteristic scent of the leaves makes the herb an indispensable ingredient in the kitchen and gives the dishes a typical touch. As a subshrub, the real sage is not only found in the garden, the herb is also suitable for large containers and window boxes. Young leaves and shoot tips can be used fresh or dried. With little care, Salvia officinalis is decorative and useful at the same time. The herb is easy to cut and unfolds a special effect in the garden with decorative foliage even without flowering.

Useful information Location Planting Care Watering Overwintering Harvesting Species Pests & Diseases FAQ

Interesting facts about sage

Botanical name: Salvia officinalis Other names: common sage, spice sage, medicinal sage, kitchen sage, pharmacy sage, sage Use: spice plant, plant for balconies and containers, bee pasture, leaf structure plant, sage tea Origin: Mediterranean Flowering period: May to July, sometimes a second flowering in late summer Flower colors: various shades of blue Special features:

The name sage is derived from the Latin «salvare» and means something like «to heal». All parts of the plant contain essential oils as well as tannins and bitter substances. A suitable method of preservation is to soak the fresh leaf in vinegar or oil or to gently dry it.

In which location does the sage feel most comfortable?

The optimal location for Salvia in the garden is sunny and with well-drained soil. Shadows and stagnant moisture will not be accepted. As a Mediterranean plant, the herb prefers calcareous, sandy loam and loamy sandy soil. Heavy clay soils are improved with sand. A place near a house wall or in herb spirals in connection with stones is ideal. Even in the pot, the evergreen subshrub prefers full sun. When growing in pots, it is important that there is a drainage layer for water drainage and that there is never waterlogging. Planted in the ground, the common sage is hardy, varieties with variegated or red leaves need some winter protection and are considered conditionally hardy. In rough locations, winter protection with leaves and brushwood is recommended. As a container plant, sage also needs sufficient moisture in winter without standing water and a sheltered place in the house at temperatures below -10 °C. The spice can also be on the window sill indoors for a short time, but sage is a garden plant for the open air and suffers if it stays indoors for too long.

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Our gardening tip: Plant different types of sage and experience the variety of leaf colors and shapes. Mixed plantings with hardy varieties also create a Mediterranean flair in containers.

How do I plant my sage in the garden?

As an undemanding herb, sage is best planted in early spring. A drainage layer with gravel helps on heavy soils that tend to waterlogging. Light sandy soils need some potting soil to improve the soil condition. Place the well-watered plant in the planting hole with herbal soil and organic fertilizer and water well immediately after planting. A dry and well-drained soil with full sun exposure is ideal. Planting sage is possible until the beginning of September, later plantings no longer root well and are therefore endangered in cold winters. Similar to ornamental sage, growth and flowering in the second year are enormous and the plant takes up a considerable amount of space.

Our gardening tip: You can also enjoy Salvia in a sunny and warm place on the balcony. When planting in boxes and containers, it is important that you combine sage with plants that have similar soil moisture requirements. Optimal plant partners are rosemary, lavender and thyme. Enjoy the aromatic smell on the balcony and terrace and harvest the large leaves fresh from the pot.

How do I care for my sage?

Salvia officinalis is very easy to care for. The undemanding perennial likes it sunny and rather dry. In addition to the right location and optimal soil conditions, only regular harvesting of the leaves is beneficial. Shorten the shoots by a third in spring. By cutting, you ensure that the perennial branches out and grows compactly. Do not cut back in autumn, because the foliage serves as a natural protection in low temperatures. Winter protection is recommended for variegated varieties, especially in rough locations. Sage blossoms adorn the plants and attract insects. However, growth is weakened by flowering. Therefore, it is up to you whether you like to continuously harvest leaves or enjoy the flowers and see the plant as a nectar plant. In general, it is easy

Our gardening tip: You can fertilize the sage at the beginning of the vegetation period. An organic natural fertilizer or herbal fertilizer is suitable for this. The last fertilization should take place at the beginning of August, so the plant is mature and not too vigorous in autumn and winter. Fertilize sparingly, because Salvia is very undemanding.

How do I water my sage?

Immediately after planting, it is important that the herb is well watered. In the following weeks you should water depending on the temperature, sunlight and soil conditions. Needs-based watering is important until new roots have formed and the plant has established itself. Once rooted in the ground, sage requires little maintenance and only needs watering during extremely dry periods. Older plants only need additional water if the soil is very dry; precipitation is usually sufficient. As a container plant, a little more effort is required because the limited root space stores less water, but standing water is also harmful here.

How do I overwinter my sage?

Planted in the herb garden, common sage survives temperatures down to -10 °C as a hardy variety in mild locations. The evergreen spice plant can be protected with some leaves or brushwood. It is important that it is not too humid even in winter, but that it is not completely dry either. If the sage plant has suffered a little in winter, remove the upper part, but without pruning too much. As a semi-shrub, the plant thrives and recovers well until summer. Salvia as a potted plant should be overwintered in a bright and frost-free room. Variegated species and particularly herbaceous species such as honey sage or pineapple sage (Salvia elegans and Salvia rutilans) are perennial, but need sheltered wintering indoors.

Our gardening tip: Salvia in a pot can stay outdoors in a sheltered spot or stand frost-free in a bright spot at temperatures of around 5 °C. The plant must not dry out, but it must not be given too much water either. Note that some varieties are not hardy.

How do I harvest and use sage?

It is best to use scissors for the sage harvest. You can already cut the fresh sage in spring. Young leaves of Salvia officinalis are richer in content than old ones, so regular harvesting is recommended. Furthermore, Salvia officinalis grows best when continuously pruned. The cut encourages the shoots to branch at the base and prevents them from becoming woody. Harvest the young shoot tips regularly before the first flowers appear, giving the herb a good shape. It is important not to cut down to the old wood, this applies to all types of sage. It is up to you whether you leave the beginnings of the flowers or cut them off. The fragrant flowers are a valuable food source for many insects. However, the formation of flowers costs the kitchen sage strength and fewer young leaves are formed in this phase. Salvia officinalis can be used fresh as an addition to meat, fish, vegetables or gnocchi. The herb can also be used to flavor vinegar and oil. For this purpose, some branches are placed in the liquid for 2 to 4 weeks. The essential oils contained are easily soluble and make an excellent sage vinegar or sage oil. Salvia is a standard spice in Italian cuisine. Sage leaves are best dried. The cut branches are hung upside down in a place protected from rain and sun. It is important that the humidity is not too high and that the sage sprigs hang airy.

Herb Recipes – Beef with Sage Crust
Here you come to the delicious recipe and learn how you can use sage. Our instructions are ideal for copying. Enjoy your meal!

To the recipe

What types of sage are there?

In addition to the common grey-leaved variety, a large number of kitchen sage species have arisen through breeding and selection. The colors of the leaves vary depending on the species, making Salvia a versatile structural plant for beds and balconies. The aroma also differs depending on the variety. Below is an overview of some common species and their colors.

Purple sage (Salvia officinalis «Purpurascens»)

The attractive variety impresses with purple foliage. In addition to being used as a spice plant, this species is suitable for mixed plantings in beds or pots. Plantings with the hardy purple sage are colourful, because when there is enough sun the leaves darken and are extremely decorative.

Tricolored sage (Salvia officinalis «Tricolor»)

The leaves of the tricolored sage are edged in white and have pink shoot tips. The sage plant, which can be up to 50 centimeters tall, blends picturesquely into the herb bed or into mixed plantings with other perennials. The plant species, which needs some winter protection, is also suitable for balcony boxes and pots.

Yellow-green sage (Salvia officinalis «Icterina»)

Planting alone or mixed in groups, this species is a feast for the eyes with its yellow-green leaves. The aromatic leaves are just as suitable for any recipe as those of the conventional kind. In the cold season, the yellow-green sage should be given winter protection in harsh locations.

Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)

Clary sage is a special type of sage with citrus-scented leaves and flowers. It is both a fragrance and an ornamental plant. The aroma is unique and characteristic at the same time.

Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulifolia)

A squat species with lavender-like foliage, Spanish lavender is a particularly aromatic subshrub. Winter protection or sheltered hibernation in a frost-free place is required.

Combine the different perennials and, in addition to the different leaf structures, enjoy the long flowering period and, if cut back, the second flowering in late summer. Read more about garden sage (Salvia nemorosa) and other articles in our plant lexicon.

What pests and diseases can sage get?

All types of sage contain essential oils, have a strong scent and are therefore somewhat protected against pest infestation. With proper care and optimal location, all sage plants are vital and healthy throughout the summer. Pest infestation occurs mainly on weakened plants after the winter or with improper care. You can find more information in our guidebook «Plant-Kölle Doctor».


They mainly suck on the young shoots and the secretion of the animals leads to an infestation with soot mold. Cut off the affected areas generously and dispose of the branches with household waste. Curative treatments with organic active agents revitalize the plants.

Powdery mildew:

The fungal disease in sage often occurs in warm, dry temperatures and primarily affects the leaf surface. The white coating can be wiped off and spreads quickly under optimal conditions. Generously remove the affected shoots and treat the plants with organic active agent for plants susceptible to powdery mildew and fungi. Special plant extracts strengthen the cell walls and thereby prevent re-infestation.

FAQ — Frequently asked questions about sage

What is the difference between common sage and ornamental sage?

Real sage (Salvia officinalis) has a high content of essential oils in all parts of the plant and can be used as a spice and plant. Garden sage, also known as steppe sage (Salvia nemorosa), is an ornamental plant with mostly dark purple flowers. As a perennial with a long flowering period, it is very popular as a bee pasture, but Salvia nemorosa is not suitable for use in the kitchen.

How does common sage flower?

The flowers with their typical lip shape are characteristic of the Salvia genus. Similar to garden sage, the flowers are purple, but white flowers are also common.

How can sage be propagated?

Salvia can be propagated by seed. It should be noted that the seed must not be covered, because Salvia belongs to the group of light germs. Scatter the seed over the potting soil and keep the seed evenly moist. Like many other perennials, the herb can also be propagated by cuttings. Cut new shoots in spring and put them in a growing substrate for rooting. After just a few weeks you will have a new sage plant. With ornamental sage, the propagation is identical.

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