- Author: Linda Lewis Griffith
- Editor: Noni Todd
By Linda Lewis Griffith UCCE Master Gardener
Common Name: Garden Sage, Common Sage
Planting Zone: Sunset zones 2-24
Size: 18-24 inches tall, 2-3 feet wide
Bloom Season: Late spring to early summer
Exposure: Full sun; afternoon shade in hottest climates
Pruning Needs: Delay pruning until new leaves begin to unfurl, then cut just above fresh growth.
Water Needs: Low supplemental water once established
Narrative: A signature plant from the Mediterranean, this herbaceous, mounding perennial is known for its culinary and medicinal value. Sage is a favorite seasoning in stuffing, sausage, pasta, fish and vegetable dishes. It is also attractive to bees and a source of excellent honey. In the 10th century, sage was esteemed for its curative properties and was associated with immortality. Aromatic leaves are oval to oblong, 2-3 inches long and gray-green on top, white and hairy underneath. Branching stems bear loose, spikey clusters of ½ inch flowers. Flowers are most often lavender-blue, but can be violet, red-violet, pink or white. Stems often root where they touch the ground. Plants are short-lived and become woody and leggy. They should be replaced every 3-4 years.
Garden sage and several of its cultivars are frequently planted in gardens, along pathways and in containers. ‘Aurea,' Golden Sage, has variegated, creamy gold leaves. ‘Berggarten,' is compact (up to 16 inches high) and dense, with rounded leaves and fewer flowers. It may live longer than its counterpart. ‘Compacta,' is a smaller, mounding variety that grows to 12 inches tall, spreading to 2 feet wide. It has narrow, close-set leaves. ‘Icterina,' is low-growing and bloomless with gray-green leaves with wavy yellow margins. ‘Purpurascens,' is similar in size and has leaves that are red-violet when new, maturing to pale green. ‘Tricolor,' is petite (up to 12 inches tall) and has new purplish pink growth; mature leaves have white margins. Plants do best in coarse, well-drained soil with minimal moisture through warm summer months. Salvia officinalis is readily propagated once established by mound layering. In the spring, mix soil with equal parts peat and sand, then pile over the plant. Replace any soil that washes away. By late summer, roots will have formed along many of the stems. The rooted layers can be removed and potted. Discard the old plant.