Growing Sage - advice on how to grow Sage
Sage is a woody mediterranean herb that is great to grow as once established it is very easy to maintain and long lasting. It also provides year round foliage and its flowers are useful for attracting bees and other pollinating insects into the garden.
Sage has been used for a variety of purposes including use in cooking, for its medicinal properties, e.g. as an antiseptic (it is still frequently use to treat sore throats by gargling with a Sage infusion). It is also used as an astringent and even to reduce the signs of ageing.
Sage grows well in containers. If growing in ceramic containers ensure that the container is lined with a water retaining lining such as old plastic compost bags that help prevent excess water loss due to evaporation.
If growing in containers line the bottom of the container with large gravel to aid drainage. This prevent the roots becoming waterlogged.
If growing in the ground lightly turn the soil and mix in some general purpose compost. If you have a clay soil then you will need to dig in plenty of compost or top soil.
If growing from seed then sow indoors in early spring. Cover the seed with a 1/2 cm layer of fine (sieved) compost. You should see the initial shoots emerge after about 10-14 days.
If growing outside then delay sowing until mid spring. Germination will take a bit longer depending on the temperature of the soil but will probably be about 2-3 weeks.
If growing in seed trays or in 10cm pots prick the strongest seedlings out to minimum 10" containers or into the ground where they should be around 30cm apart.
You can propogate Sage by taking cuttings in early summer from semi ripened branches. Although Sage is hardy it can be affected by extreme cold and so taking some cuttings at the end of summer and keeping them indoors over winter can serve as a good backup.
Sage likes a warm site that receives plenty of sunshine. Most common Sage varieties are hardy such as Common Sage, Purple Sage and Narrow Leafed Sage.
Sage likes a well drained soil typical of mediterranean environments. They do not like acidic soils.
Sage is fairly easy to maintain. Apart from watering, there are only a few times a year you will need to help it along.
Clear any fallen leaves and debris from around the base of the plant in early spring to help air circulation and to prevent mildew.
Prune in early spring to help keep keep the desired plant shape, remove straggly branches and help encourage new growth which gives great tasting leaves.
Prune again after the Sage flowers have fallen near the end of summer.
Sage is a cut and come again herb that produces a good amount of harvestable leaf. Harvest leaves throughout the year to help maintain vigourous growth and plant shape. The young leaves have great flavour. After the plant has flowered the leaves produced in late summer can have a stronger, sharper taste.
Whilst Sage is a hardy annual that repays the effort of sowing / propogating it very well the flavour produced by the leaves does start to decline after about 5 years so it is then worth sowing or propogating some more.
You can add wonderful colours to your garden by using different varieties of Sage. Leaves are soft with a velvety touch. The following are all perennial evergreens.
Common Sage or Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis)
This is the variety most commonly used for medicinal purposes and cooking (as its name suggests) as it has the strongest flavour.
This variety has (silverey) green leaves and can reach up to 60cm in diameter. It has attractive blue/violet flowers. Hardy.
Purple Sage (Salvia officinalis Purpurascens)
This variety has an attractive purple / green/ grey leaves. Will grow to a larger size (about 75cm diameter). Milder flavoured leaves. Grows well from cuttings. Hardy.
Spanish / Narrow Leaved Sage (Salvia lavandulifolia)
With noticeably narrower green leaves it is smaller than the above varieties - up to about 50cm in diameter and so is good for growing in containers. Grows well from cuttings. Hardy.
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