Spice Up You Life: A Beginners Guide to Growing Sage

Do you enjoy cooking with fresh herbs or admiring them in your garden? If so, growing sage at home could become your new favorite hobby. In this guide, we’ll explore how to grow Sage in Central Florida, featuring varieties that thrive in the region, essential growing conditions, pest and disease management, and seasonality.
Photo courtesy of the University of Florida.

Commonly Grown Varieties

Sage is known for its savory flavor and fragrant leaves. In Central Florida’s climate, the following sage varieties flourish:
  1. Common Sage (Salvia officinalis):
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
    • Growing Conditions: Full sun, well-draining soil
    • Uses: Classic herb to season poultry and other dishes and add fragrance to potpourri.
  2. Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans):
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
    • Growing Conditions: Full sun to partial shade, moist, well-draining soil
    • Uses: Valued by people and pollinators for its pineapple-scented foliage and vibrant red blooms.
  3. Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha):
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
    • Growing Conditions: Full sun, well-draining soil
    • Uses: Known for its striking purple and white flowers, which attract pollinators. 
  4. Tricolor Sage(Salvia officinalis‘Tricolor’):
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
    • Growing Conditions: Full sun to partial shade, well-draining soil
    • Uses: Variegated foliage of purple, green, and white is both an attractive ornamental plant and a colorful addition to culinary dishes.

Growing conditions

Sage originated in the Mediterranean region and is a member of the mint family. Its adaptability, flavor, and aroma have made it a popular herb in Florida gardens. Sage is an evergreen herbaceous shrub that can grow up to 2 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. Pollinators enjoy sage, particularly bees and butterflies, for its abundant nectar and pollen. To ensure sage thrives in Central Florida, it’s crucial to provide the following growing conditions:

Soil Preparation:

Sage thrives in well-draining, slightly alkaline soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Ensuring proper soil drainage is essential to prevent root rot and other moisture-related issues. Remember, sage originated in the dry Mediterranean. It will tolerate drought and poor soils once established. 

Sunlight

Sage requires full sun exposure for optimal growth and flavor development. Plant sage in a location where it will receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily.

Fertilization

Sage is relatively low-maintenance and does not require much fertilization. Avoid over-fertilization, which can lead to leggy growth and less flavor in the leaves.

Pest and Disease Management

While sage is generally resilient, it may face occasional pest and disease challenges in Central Florida.
Pests
  • Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects can cluster on the undersides of parsley leaves, sucking sap and causing wilting. Signs include distorted growth and sticky honeydew residue on the foliage. Honeydew is insect waste (aka: poo) left behind from feeding.
  • Treatment: Use a strong jet of water to dislodge aphids from the plant. Spraying insecticidal soap or neem oil will help control their numbers.  Always follow the label instructions on the product to prevent plant injury.
Diseases
  • Root Rot: Root rot is exactly what it sounds like. When plants grow in excessively wet conditions, the roots don’t have enough air, and they begin to rot. These conditions attract fungi and molds that infect the roots and kill them and the plant they support.
  • Treatment: Avoid overwatering and ensure proper drainage around parsley plants. There is no saving a plant with root rot, remove the affected plants and improve soil drainage for the other plants if root rot is detected.

Seasonality

Start sage from nursery-grown plants or cuttings in the fall or early spring to establish robust root systems before the onset of summer heat. Growing sage from seed is easy and will take about 75 days from planting to first harvest. In the winter months, protect sage plants from potential frost damage by covering them with frost cloth or bringing potted plants indoors. Avoid overwatering sage during periods of cooler weather to prevent root rot.

Pruning Sage for Optimal Growth

Pruning, or when you selectively remove parts of a plant, will promote bushy growth, prevent the plant from flowering prematurely, and keep the leaves flavorful. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prune sage effectively:

  1. Identify the Nodes: Nodes are the points on the stem where leaves are attached. So, the base place to prune is at the node. This will help the plant grow out instead of up, keeping a bush like figure. Take sharp scissors or sheers and cut just below the nodes to harvest the plant.
  2. Prune Regularly: Prune throughout the growing season to promote new growth. Prune no more than 1/3 of the plant at any given time to encourage new growth without stress. 
  3. Remove Flower Buds: Sage produces pretty flowers during maturation. If your goal is to grow sage ornamentally, or attract pollinators, keep the flowers. But for culinary purposes, it is best to pinch off the flower buds as soon as soon as they appear.

Harvesting:

Harvest sage leaves as needed throughout the growing season, and one final time before flowering. For immediate use, place sage stems in a jar of water. To store sage, dry the leaves in a cool dry place and seal them once completely dry for future use. For long term storage, freeze sage in ice cube trays and defrost as needed. 

Tips for the Floridian Gardener

To cultivate thriving sage plants in Central Florida, consider the following tips:
  1. Water Wisely: Sage does well with consistent watering in well-drained soil. Water deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings to prevent root rot.
  2. Provide Adequate Air Circulation: Plant sage 18 to 24 inches apart to allow air circulation between the plants as they mature. This will help reduce the risk of fungal diseases. 
  3. Mulch Conservatively: Apply a thin layer of mulch around sage plants to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Avoid mulch buildup around the base of plants to prevent moisture-related issues.

Conclusion

Cultivating sage in Central Florida offers both culinary delight and visual appeal to your garden. By following these tips tailored to Florida’s climate, you can enjoy sage thriving in your garden.  With the right growing conditions, pest management techniques, and seasonal considerations, you’ll be well on your way to growing a bountiful basil harvest in no time. Happy gardening!

Next in the series we will explore marjoram!

Supervising agent: Dr. Whitney Elmore County Extension Director, Urban Horticulture Agent

Have a question?

If you have any questions about gardening in Central Florida, please contact the UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County at 352-518-0156. For more information on UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County Community Gardens, and how you can join one, visit http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/pasco/.

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More resources:

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Julia Sirchia, Program Assistant at UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County
Posted: June 6, 2024


Category: Crops, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Health & Nutrition, Home Landscapes, Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: #RightPlantRightPlace, Central Florida, Community Garden, Community Gardens, Eating, Family Nutrition Program, Florida Friendly Landscaping, Food, Garden, Gardening, Gardens, Goals, Health, Healthy, Herbs, Horticulture, Irrigation, Landscape, Nutrition, Produce, Resilient Landscaping, Right Place, Right Plant, Summer, UF/IFAS Pasco Extension Office, Vegetables


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