Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is a small, shrubby, perennial culinary herb from the Mediterranean and is part of the mint family. Its grey/green, textured leaves are widely used in cooking and often teamed with turkey or pork. As it is a perennial with leaves year-round, it is popular in winter meals when other herbs are dormant or have died back.

It is part of the huge Salvia genus, which is popular in ornamental gardens for its fragrant flowers and foliage. It can be grown in the ground in well-drained soil or in containers such as a pot or trough. It grows year-round and new plants can be grown from cuttings taken in summer or started from seed in spring.

Grow as a single plant in a herb garden or as a low hedge or border. It can also be grown in among ornamental plants. Flowers are seen mainly in summer and are usually pale purple and attractive to beneficial insects.

Look for plants at your local hardware store or garden centre for varieties that will suit your ideal position. For advice on planting, ask the horticultural staff who can give you tips for your area. Check out these varieties with their colourful leaves:

  • Golden sage (S. officinalis ‘Aurea’) with beautiful variegated leaves that are full of flavour and aroma.
  • Purple sage (S. officinalis ‘Purpurea’) which has purple colouring on new leaves and stems, turning grey as they age.
  • Tricolor sage (S. officinalis ‘Tricolor’) which has variegated white and green leaves blushed with purple.

All are edible.

Growing conditions

Aspect Sage needs a bright, sunny location with sun all day. Not only does sun encourage good growth, it also brings out this herb’s aromatic flavour.

Soil Sage does best with excellent drainage so mix in homemade compost and organic manure and/or Seasol Super Compost before planting. In areas with poor drainage, grow in raised garden beds (raised at least 30cm) or in large containers using a premium potting mix such as Seasol Advanced Potting Mix. Sage prefers a neutral soil so add dolomite lime to the soil at planting if soil is very acidic.

Climate As sage grows naturally in the Mediterranean region, it does best in climates with low humidity. In more humid zones it can be short lived. In tropical zones, grow Mediterranean herbs such as sage through the dry season or in containers that can be sheltered from excess rain.

How to grow and look after sage for a bumper crop of tasty sage
How to grow and look after sage for a bumper crop of tasty sage

General care

Watering Water while establishing. Once established, it is drought hardy. Water more frequently if plants are in hot, dry or exposed conditions or growing in containers.

Feeding and mulching Sage are not heavy feeders. Feed every season with a controlled release fertiliser such as PowerFeed Controlled Release All Purpose including Natives. They can also be liquid fed monthly with PowerFeed All Purpose including Natives while they are growing.

Sage like a warm, well-drained spot and will benefit from a fine layer of mulch.

Pruning Picking regularly when cooking keeps plants compact.

Watch out Sage has few pest problems, but the leaves may occasionally be attacked by caterpillars (remove by hand). Plants in highly humid locations or that are not well drained may die back.