Delicious in hearty autumn and winter dishes, sage pairs well with pork and chicken, tastes divine with butternut squash, and works well in a variety of soups, stews, and pasta dishes. Growing sage in pots is a great way to have a fresh supply of this culinary herb right outside your door!
Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is technically a small evergreen subshrub used as a culinary herb. It has a woody stem, with green or gray leaves and purple or blue flowers. Part of the mint family, sage originated in the Mediterranean region like so many of its herb cousins. Today it’s common in many parts of the world. Since ancient times, sage has been used for both medicinal and culinary purposes.
Wildly versatile, sage is a must-have in any container garden and is ideal for natural pest control and pollinator gardening too!
Read on for all the details about how to grow sage in pots and containers!
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How to grow sage in pots
Sage is an easy-care herb that is drought tolerant and can grow well in a range of conditions. Make sure you provide rich, well-draining soil and medium to full sun, and you should be good to go.
While naturally adapted to dry climates, young sage plants need a little extra care and more frequent watering, preferring to be watered once or twice a week while they’re just getting established.
As plants mature, reduce watering significantly and give plants a deep drink every week or two.
Does sage do well in containers?
A hardy herb that grows as a perennial in zones 5 and above, sage can grow rather large (up to 3’ tall) and often does best with in-ground planting. That said, with a little extra care, growing sage in pots can work very well!
Growing sage from seed
Sage is a slow-growing herb and is easier to start from cuttings; however, you can grow sage from seeds too.
For indoor planting, start your seeds six to eight weeks before your last frost date (find yours using this frost date calculator, if you’re not sure!). To get started, scatter your sage seeds across a flat of seed-starting mix and cover them with about 1/8” of soil.
After that, be sure to keep your seeds well moistened, but not soggy, until they germinate, which can take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks.
Once your plants have two sets of true leaves and are about 4” tall, they’re ready to transplant outside.
While sage seeds often do better when started inside, you can also try directly sowing them outdoors after the soil is warm and all danger of frost has passed. Just scatter your seeds, cover them with 1/8” of potting soil, and keep your containers well-watered until your sage germinates.
Because sage does not grow reliably from seeds, try planting more seeds than you think you’ll need as germination rates can be rather low, then thin your plants out later as needed.
How to grow sage from cuttings
As sage can be so slow to germinate, starting new plants from softwood cuttings, rather than seed, is often the best option.
You can often find starter plants at garden stores or farmers markets.
If you’d like to start your own from an existing plant in your garden or a friend’s, propagation cuttings can be taken at any point throughout the growing season; just snip off a healthy section of stem that is about 4 to 6” long and make your cut right below a leaf node.
After taking your cutting, carefully remove the leaves from the bottom 2 to 3” of the stem and then place your sage cutting in a glass of clean water.
While your sage plant is developing roots, be sure to change the water in your glass frequently to prevent disease spread.
After about four weeks, your sage cutting should begin to develop roots. Once those roots are 2” long, transplant your cutting to soil and keep it well watered. It will take another three to four weeks for your plant to become strong enough to transplant outdoors.
To avoid transplant shock, be sure to harden off your new sage plants for a week or more prior to transplanting. Check out my post about how to harden off seedlings for instructions!
Best varieties of sage for containers
Best containers for growing sage
As far as herbs go, sage is on the larger side so, when growing sage in pots, opt for the largest container you can. A minimum size pot for a single sage plant should be at least 10” diameter by 8” deep; however, if you want to plant other herbs with your sage, choose a pot that is at least 18” diameter.
Because sage does best in dry conditions, avoid planting your sage in plastic pots, which can keep roots too moist. Instead, look for terracotta planters or fabric grow bags, as these often provide better drainage and airflow for plant roots.
My favorite containers for growing herbs, including sage, are fabric grow bags. They provide aeration and help maintain needed moisture levels, without drying out too fast or holding in water.
- 5-gallon fabric grow bag (12.5″ diameter, good for 1-2 sage plants)
- 10-gallon fabric grow bag (15.9″ diameter, good for 2 sage plants and/or sage plus other herbs)
Growing sage in containers outdoors
- Slow to get started, sage can take 3 to 6 weeks to germinate.
- When transplanting outdoors, be sure your plants have adequate space and try to space your sage plants at least 18” apart or plant them in 10” diameter pots.
- It will take about 75 days from germination for your sage leaves to reach a harvestable size.
How often to water sage
Sage is native to the arid regions of the Mediterranean and doesn’t need a lot of moisture.
For mature plants, water your sage once every week or two and allow soil to dry out thoroughly between waterings.
Fertilizer for sage in pots
If you planted your sage in commercial potting soil, you may not need any additional fertilizer. Sage is a light feeder and too much fertilizer can actually weaken your sage plant’s flavor.
If you do want to fertilize your sage, add a thin layer of compost or a bit of slow-release organic fertilizer once a year in springtime to give your plants a boost.
Jobe’s Organics Granular Plant Food for Herbs is a great option! I’ve always had great results with the Jobe’s line.
(To learn more about fertilizer for container garden plants, check out my Fertilizer 101 post!)
Common pests for sage
The strong scent of sage is undesirable to many garden pests, making sage naturally pest-resistant; however, there are a few exceptions:
- Spider mites
Spider mites are tiny white mites that form spider-like webbing over infected plants and feed on plant juices. As infestations worsen, plants will begin to look dry, leaves will yellow and drop and plants may become stunted or die.
As spider mites thrive in dry conditions, ensure that your sage has adequate humidity levels and try companion planting with alliums (garlic, chives, onions and leeks), dill and chrysanthemums.
To treat an existing infestation, spray your sage plants down with an organic insecticidal soap or neem oil spray.
Best companion plants for sage
Sage is a great companion plant for many other herbs and vegetables due to its natural pest-repelling abilities. Some particularly great companion plant options include:
- Brassicas (such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage). Sage naturally repels many of the pests that are attracted to brassicas, making this a wonderful pairing for natural pest control.
- Tomatoes.Tomatoes are often plagued by many pests, including flea beetles, which sage happily drives away.
- Rosemary. Another herb that loves arid conditions, rosemary and sage share many of the same care requirements and grow well together in containers.
While sage grows nicely with many garden plants, there are a few species you should avoid potting up with it:
- Cucumbers. Sage and many other aromatic herbs can stunt cucumbers’ growth, so try to keep these plants away from each other.
- Basil. Basil and sage both stunt each other’s growth and do not make good companions in the garden.
- Rue. For various reasons, rue doesn’t grow well with many plants, including sage.
Sage growing stages
- When started from seed, sage can take up to 6 weeks to germinate.
- Sage plants are ready to transplant outdoors when they are about 4” tall.
- In general, sage is ready to harvest when it is 75 days old; however, try to avoid harvesting much during your plant’s first year.
- Sage reaches maturity when it is 2 years old and will flower pretty, purple blooms during summer. Bees and other pollinators love sage flowers!
How to harvest sage
Sage can be harvested any time throughout the year; however, to keep your plants growing strong, limit your harvesting during the first year of your plant’s growth.
Once you’re ready to harvest, snip off as many leaves as you need, aiming for small, baby leaves, which have better flavor. Sage plants also taste better before they bloom, so try to harvest before your plant flowers or snip off flower buds to extend your harvesting window.
Just keep in mind, pollinators love sage flowers and allowing your plants to bloom can increase pollinator activity in your garden. Read my post about how to attract pollinators for more ideas on ways to entice these beneficial friends!
If you want to harvest larger portions of your plant for drying, cut off lengths of stem that are at least 6 to 8” long and hang them to dry in a warm, dry location. This process can help rejuvenate your sage plants too, just be sure to leave at least 1/3 of the plant so it can recover.
How to store sage
- To store fresh sage, wrap your leaves in a damp paper towel and place them in a quart- or gallon-size bag inside your crisper drawer. Stored this way, your sage leaves will last for about 4 to 5 days.
- To keep your sage fresh up to 3 weeks, store leaves in a jar of olive oil in the fridge.
- For longer term storage, try dehydrating your sage leaves or storing them in an airtight quart or gallon bag in the freezer.
- Check out my post about how to dry herbs, for more ideas!
More ideas for growing herbs and veggies in your container garden:
- How to grow basil in a pot
- Growing rosemary in containers
- How to grow thyme in a pot
- How to grow catnip in a pot
- Growing chamomile in pots
- Growing cilantro in pots
- How to grow lavender in pots
- Best container garden herbs for beginners