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Plant Profile: Common Sage (Salvia officinalis)

My mother always claimed that she put a pinch of sage in turkey dressing but I have always suspected that it was more like a handful. Although I generally love spicy, highly seasoned foods, I disliked her turkey dressing and would never eat it. I had to grow up and make dressing myself (without sage) to appreciate dressing and now it is a holiday favorite. Of course, sage has numerous culinary uses and is delicious with pork and chicken, and in cheese, sausage, and sauces.


My lack of love for sage in dressing, however, has never deterred me from growing it in my garden as an ornamental. The gray-green leaves are textured and somewhat wooly, almost asking to be stroked. There are many good cultivars that offer a variety of colors and I can never resist buying ‘Icterina’ with its yellow and green leaves, ‘Purpurascens’ with a dusting of purple on gray-green leaves, or ‘Tricolor’ with its blend of cream, rose, green, leaves. The plants are woody by the second year in the garden and carry their leaves through winter. Their compact, dense growth form make them attractive additions to both containers and the perennial border.

Type: Woody perennial herb.

Bloom: Small pink to blue flowers borne on spikes in spring.

Foliage: Heavily textured, wooly, gray-green leaves; variegated forms available with cream, rose, purple, and yellow.

Size: 20” H x 18-30” W.

Light: Full sun.

Soil: Average, alkaline, well-drained; likes dry soil once established.

Fertilizer: Light application of 10-10-10 fertilizer in spring can be beneficial.

Hardiness: Zones 5-8 (varies a bit with variety).

Care: In humid areas, plant where air circulation is good to reduce foliar diseases; prune after flowering to maintain compactness.

Pests and Diseases: Foliar diseases in humid areas.


Propagation: Seeds; division.

Outstanding Selections:

    ‘Bergartten’ (large, round leaves; hardy to zone 5).
    ‘Icterina’ (yellow variegated leaves; hardy to zone 7).
    ‘Purpurascens (reddish-purple leaves when young; hardy to zone 7).
    ‘Tricolor’ (rose, cream, and green leaves; hardy to zone 7).

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