Growing Sage

Latest Update 30th July 2016.

Sage
  • Sage is a perennial plant and is propagated from seed or softwood cuttings. 
  • It has good looking foliage and flowers and attracts bees to my garden.
  • You can harvest sage leaves in the warmer months, but they are best taken before the plant starts to produce flowers and seeds.  You can extend the harvest period by nipping out the flowers as they start to form. The leaves lose their flavour as the plants diverts its energy to flower and seed production.
  • The plant in the photograph is growing under the canopy of my olive tree sharing the space with a number of other herbs and flowering plants.  Its aromatic odour deters pests.
  • I grow Sage as a culinary herb, and use its leaves fresh in poultry stuffing made with bread crumbs, onions and garlic.  I also dry some of the leaves and grind them into small powdery flakes for use as a condiment with other herbs on steamed and roasted vegetables.
Details.
  • Family:                                                        Lamiaceae, (Mint)
  • Garden bed type:                                          Drip line irrigated bed.
  • Recommended soil pH:                                 5.5 - 6.5.
  • Minimum sun per day:                                  3 hours.
  • Plant spacings (centres):                              500mm.
  • Good companions:                                        Broccoli, cauliflower, rosemary, cabbage and carrots.
  • Climate:                                                       Warm temperate.
  • Geography:                                                  Southern hemisphere.
    Growing Conditions.
    • Sage needs full sun.
    • It prefers sandy or loamy, well drained soil and is drought tolerant.
    • However, mine grow happily in heavy clay which has been enriched with plenty of compost over many seasons.
    • They are light feeders and don't need fertiliser.  A top dressing of homemade compost in winter is beneficial and spraying with aerated compost tea every month will maintain good plant health. 
    • You don't need to mulch (but I do).
    Soil Preparation.
    • Choose a place where sage has not been grown for several years, and remove any organic debrit or spent mulch.  
    • Apply a 60mm layer of home made compost and cover it with 50mm of straw mulch.
    • Leave the bed for 4 weeks to build up worm and microbial activity.
    Growing Instructions.
    • Sage is a perennial plant and is propagated from seed or cuttings in spring. 
    • Sow sage seeds in August on the surface of an organic seed growing mix in a mini pot, and lightly cover with finely sieved seed mix.
    • Soak the mini pot for an hour in a tray containing 10mm of water (preferably rainwater).  The water will wick up into the soil without flooding it. 
    • Sink the mini pot up to its rim in a propagator's wicking media.  This will keep the soil moist until the seedlings are ready to transplant.  Protect the seedlings against frost. 
    • After 4 weeks transplant the seeds individually into organic potting mix in jiffy pots and returned to the propagator.
    • When propagating from cuttings in spring, choose your strongest most vigorous plant as a source, and take cuttings from new shoots about 100mm long.  Cut the shoot just below a node and remove the lower leaves leaving one pair of full size leaves and the new shoot in place.  Trim back the leaves by half, and plant the cuttings in a propagator.
    • The propagator's microbial activity and constant soil moisture stimulates root growth, so I don't use rooting powder.
    • When ready seedlings (4 weeks) and cuttings (8 weeks) are planted in the prepared soil in your herb bed after clearing small gaps in the mulch.
    • Water them in with dilute seaweed extract and follow up with foliar sprays of aerated compost tea every 4 weeks.
    • If left to theirs own devices sage plant will become woody after a couple of years, however, regular pruning will extend its productive life to 4 or 5 years. 
    • You should prune the established plant in spring after flowering.  Remove the flowers including the stem, and cut the green growth back by 1/3rd.  Do not cut back into old wood. 
    Harvesting and Storage
    • Sage can be harvested at any time, but don't strip the leaves too much or you could check the plants growth.
    • Begin using the leaves as soon as the plant is large enough to spare some.
    • You can air-dry sage in small, loose bunches, but it retains its flavour best when frozen.
    • To freeze Sage, wash the leaves, dry them and put them in a plastic zip bag. Store them in the freezer.
    • I use sage with onion, garlic and breadcrumbs as a delicious stuffing for meat dishes especially poultry. 
    Organic Pest Control
    • Greenhouse whitefly.  
      • Aerated compost tea improves the plant's resistance to whitefly damage.
      • Control any infestations by spray your crop thoroughly with organic organic oil (Eco-oil in Australia).
      • Spray again in a few days to ensure second generation whitefly do not survive.
    • Aphids (greenfly).
      • Use the same method described above for whitefly.
    • Powdery mildew. 
      • A monthly foliar spray of aerated compost tea is a useful deterrent against powdery mildew.
      • If an infestation occurs, spray with an organic fungicide (Eco-fungicide in Australia).