Growing Tips for Herbs: Why is My Sage Dying?

| 5/7/2009 4:04:40 PM


Q: I started my first herb garden 13 years ago—I never had any trouble growing sage. My husband and I moved to a new house three years ago—each year, I plant sage, and it dies. Any ideas? 
– E.  Darnell

A: Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a member of Labiatae or the mint family. This herb is a fairly resilient herb, so it can bear a trial-and-error gardening method. Like most herbs, sage is better when fresh, yet still good when frozen.

If you are planting seeds, it should germinate in temperatures that don’t drop below 60 degrees or go higher than 70 degrees. Also, growing sage seeds indoors with lots of light is more successful then leaving them outdoors as the sage germination period can be tricky. Keep overnight temperatures in mind if you plan on leaving seeds outdoors. A couple of weeks ago, I planted sage seeds in a pot. This past weekend, they were starting to come up when a spring cold front moved into the Denver area. I’m not sure what the damage is, but just in case I planted more seeds. If your sage plant is established, but still young, you have a little more leeway with the temperature—keep it about 55 degrees to 85 degrees. If your sage is an adult shrub, it can withstand -30 degrees winter temperatures, if properly covered.

Like rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), also from the Labiatae family, sage prefers a light fertilizer and for the soil pH to be between 6.0 and 7.0. To measure the soil’s pH, you can buy a pH reader from your local garden store. Sage thrives in fairly rich soil that is well-drained. However, sage can tolerate droughts and poor soil conditions just like lavender.

The size of the plant will determine how much water it will need. Start with two cups of water every three days. Adjust this amount if you see mold or fungus at the base of the plant, which indicates too much water, or if the soil dries out.