Growing Sage: A Quick and Dirty Primer

Sage is a hardy shrub that you can grow indoors or outdoors. Its distinctive, intense flavor profile makes it a favorite of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, and it is also the main flavor of breakfast sausage. Sage’s flavor is minty and earthy, with a touch of pine. Its fuzzy leaves and pale green color make it an attractive ornamental, and the fact that it requires little maintenance once established means that it is a perfect starter herb for new gardeners. Growing sage and cutting it fresh from your plants allows you to get even more of its flavor. Here’s our quick and dirty primer on how to grow it.

How to grow sage

Start growing sage from seed or cuttings. You can also grow plants by layering and from seedlings that you purchase. Use sandy soil for your sage, since it offers better drainage.

Grow sage plants from seed by planting the seeds two inches below the surface. If you are starting seeds indoors, keep them in a warm spot. Germination should take about three weeks.

To grow sage from cuttings, take a three-inch clipping from the tip of a stem and strip the leaves from the bottom two inches. You can either dip your cutting in root hormone or place it in a container of water until it forms roots. Plant in a sterile medium like vermiculite. Roots will start to grow in around six weeks.

Layer sage by pinning a long stem to the soil with wire. The stem should be in direct contact with the soil. Stems should begin to grow in under six weeks.

To grow sage indoors, start by choosing the right variety. Some varieties grow better indoors than outdoors. Berggarten and purple sage are among the varieties recommended for indoor cultivation.

Provide at least 18 inches between plants if you plan to keep more than one plant per container. Sage plants need lots of room because of how bushy they can get. Ideally, you will want only one plant per container that is at least 12 inches across though you may be able to get away with 10 inches. It’s a good idea to plant more than one herb in a container when planting indoor herbs. Make sure your container provides proper drainage, as excessively moist soil will kill your sage plant. Clay pots are better for ensuring that soil drains properly.

How much sunlight does sage need?

Give your sage plant the right amount of sunlight. Sage is more flavorful when it gets adequate sun. Whether indoors or outdoors, sage plants require at least six hours of sunlight each day. If possible, move indoor containers outdoors during the warmest parts of the year. Alternatively, you can keep your sage under grow lights if natural light is out of the question.

How much water does sage need?

Water your indoor or outdoor sage plant only when the soil around it is dry to about an inch deep.

Harvesting sage

Harvest sage by cutting the leaves off right above the point where two of them meet. To get the highest concentration of sage’s aromatic oils, harvest the leaves in the morning after the dew has evaporated. While you can harvest at any time after the plant is mature, you may want to limit yourself to a couple of large harvests during the growing season. This keeps the plant growing evenly and ensures that it remains productive. Harvest no more than half the plant at a time.