Herb Garden Essentials: Grow Your Culinary Sage

There are dozens and dozens of sages out there that can add colour and punch to your landscape. Some are strictly ornamental; others are also used for everything from scenting soaps and perfumes to repelling moths and removing cooking scents.

For the herb gardener and cook, common sage (Salvia officinalis) is probably the best alternative. Luckily, this easy-to-grow plant is currently available in a number of varieties.

Pineapple sage (S. rutilans, S. elegans) along with fruit-scented sage (S. dorisiana) are colorful and edible choices for quite warm-weather climates. Be careful not to confuse pineapple sage, with its bright red flowers, with the easily accessible scarlet sage (S. splendens).

Caution: Not many sages are edible, and some can cause nasty side effects, so check the species until you consume any.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Light requirement: Full sunlight; semi shade in hot climates
Water requirement: Little once recognized
Prime growing season: Spring through fall
When to plant: Spring; can plant in fall in warm-winter climates
Favorites: Aurea, Berggarten (Mountain Garden), common, Icterina, Italian Aromatic, Purpurea, Tricolor

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Planting and maintenance: Pick a sunny site with good air circulation and excellent drainage; amend the soil as needed to provide this. You can start from seed, but seedlings and nursery plants are typically more trustworthy. Set them 3 feet apart with the crown just above the ground.

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If you’re growing sage in a container, select a pot that is at least 12 inches wide and 8 inches deep. Water frequently until established, then water as needed. A deep watering once a month could be. Apply a complete fertilizer every spring. In cold-winter climates, bring plants indoors to overwinter. Sage is susceptible to fungal diseases like mildew and can develop root rot in wet soil.

Like many other herbs, sage can get rangy. To keep it in check, return to just over the new increase in the spring. You may need to replace the plants every couple of years.

Harvest: Pick off leaves and flowers as needed. Harvest softly the first year to encourage growth. Do not do a large harvest fewer than two months before the first anticipated frost date in fall, to stop damaging new growth. Dry the leaves for storage. Drying also intensifies the taste.

More: See how to grow more culinary customs

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