In the Garden
Common sage takes the form of a low shrub that can be wider than it is tall. The soft gray-green foliage is great in pots or the garden. Consider planting sage in a container with rosemary, basil, and other Mediterranean herbs for a fragrant mix. While cooks appreciate the distinctive taste and scent of sage, gardeners also enjoy its velvety, evergreen foliage, and delicate blooms.
Soil, Planting, and Care
If you live in zones 5 to 8, your sage will grow as a hardy perennial. However, in the humid climes of zones 9 and farther south, sage is usually an annual, as it does not easily tolerate summer heat and humidity. Set out plants in spring or fall, planting seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart. Choose a sunny spot in well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. If you have clay soil, add sand and organic matter to lighten up soil and provide better drainage.
Prune plants back in early spring every year, cutting out the oldest growth to promote new growth. You will begin to see little pink or purple flowers in late spring. Even with pruning, plants can get woody and stop producing lots of branches after 3 to 5 years. At this point, you may want to dig up your original and plant a new one.
Mildew is a problem for sage, so thin plants regularly to encourage air circulation. Watch carefully on the hottest, most humid summer days. You can also mulch with pebbles to help keep the area immediately around the leaves dry. The moisture from pebbles evaporates quickly compared to organic mulches.
Harvest and Storage
In areas in which it is perennial, harvest sage only lightly during the first year. In subsequent years, harvest sage as you need it, year-round. Cut an entire stem if desired, or just pinch a leaf at a time. To give new foliage time to fully mature, leave 2 months between your last big harvest and the first frost of the season. Dry harvested sage by hanging bunches of stems upside-down. Strip the dry leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container. Keep the flowers on the stems to cultivate pretty pods that work well in dried herb arrangements.
Use fresh or dried sage in your holiday recipes, as well as to accent pork, poultry, sausage, game, stuffing, and vegetables.