How to grow sage from cuttings

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a wonderful perennial herb to grow. We grow sage from seeds indoors but also from cuttings from an established plant.

When you hear the name sage you may think of the wonderful herb with the small blue flowers. We use sage in herbal teas as well as cooking – both fresh and dried.

But for others sage is a garden plant grown for its beautiful colors and ability to attract bees and butterflies to any garden. One example would be purple sage (Salvia dorrii) also known as desert sage with its delicate blue to purple flowers.

And both views are of course correct. After all there are over 900 different varieties of sage spanning from annuals to perennial and from herbs to small bushes and shrubs.

Here today we will focus on Salvia officinalis, also known as garden sage, common sage and even culinary sage. 

In our garden sage has a place in both our herb garden and our regular garden. 

Sage is actually one of my favorites perennials with its olive-green long leaves, purple-blue flowers and semi-bushy growth. 

The sage plant is a beautiful companion and addition to any (herb) garden.

Growing sage from cuttings

Sage plant grown from cutting
Sage plant from cutting

Sage can be grown from seeds or by propagating sage cuttings. You can of course also buy plants from your local grocery store or gardener – but where is the fun with that?

We start growing sage as early as February/March in pots indoors. 

When our plants mature later in the summer we multiply our plants by propagating sage from sage cuttings from our new healthy plants – usually from early summer and onwards.

Sage is a beautiful and fragrant plant and it is truly a case of more sage is better.

It is all about getting started in time. When you start growing your own sage from seed in early spring, you will be able to propagate sage from cuttings from your very own plants and place them throughout your garden.

How to propagate sage from cuttings

Yes, sage is like many other shrubby herbs (lavender, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, tarragon and oregano) ideally suited for propagating from cuttings. Two more favourites are basil and lemongrass.

I prefer to take soft sage cuttings in the springtime when the plants are full of energy and new growth.

We do not use rooting hormone when we propagate cuttings for out garden. We are yet to find a rooting hormone that is labelled as suitable for edible plants. Sure, most rooting hormone powders write that they are safe from year 2. But who wants to wait that long?

Taking cuttings from plant

Use a sharp pair of scissors or knife to cut off a young sage cuttings about 6 centimeters (2,5 inches) below the crown of the branch. 

Now gently pinch off all the lower leaves leaving the cutting with 3-5 pairs of leaves. 

Next we plant the cutting into potting soil and water it carefully. It is important to keep the soil moist but not soaking. 

Root sage in potting soil or water: here sage cutting rooted in water
You can also root sage cuttings in water

We can also place sage cuttings in water making sure only to submerge the stem and not the leaves. If we place the cuttings in water it will take 3-4 weeks for the sage cuttings to develop roots.

Transplanting seedlings

My rule of thumb is to transplant the sage cuttings when the seedlings are large enough to handle.

Sage seedlings in plastic pot ready to be transplanted
Sage seedling ready for transplanting

As soon as the average temperature is above12 degrees Celsius (53 degrees Fahrenheit) and there is no more risk of frost we can start hardening our sage plant seedlings.

Start by exposing the plant to the outdoors for a few hours a day, and then gradually increase the time spent outdoors over a week.

Plant the seedlings approximately 20 centimeters (8 inches) apart. If you are planting in rows (drills) keep the rows approximately 30 centimeters (12 inches) apart. 

When we sow sage from seeds it will take the plant a couple of years to mature. A mature sage plant reaches a height of approximately 50 centimeters (20 inches).

Transplant shock and want to do

When growing sage from cuttings there is always going to be a certain degree of transplant shock when you move the sage cuttings. After all, we are disturbing the plant by moving it to a completely new growing environment.

There are however things you can do to help new plants cope with the move. The base of a mature plant is woody but the root system is still delicate. Handle the root system with care and make sure the root system is moist throughout the move.

You should also always water the plant thoroughly when it is planted in the new location. Sage should be planter in soil with good drainage why you should not have to worry about over watering. Water more than you are used to ensuring that the root system gets all the moisture it needs to get established.

Where to plant the sage seedling plants

The sage plant will thrive in a warm location with full sun.  Make sure to plant in a bed with good drainage and add a liquid feed two to three times during the growing season.

Plant care & how to water sage

Sage likes to be watered regularly. Do not stress about the amount of water but try to keep the soil damp. Give the plant a good helping when drying up and you should be fine. 

Also, I have found that my plants thrive when I let them almost dry out before I water them again.

I use a soil moisture meter to help me know when it is time to water. Simply insert into the potting soil and wait a few seconds for the reading. And always measure in at least a couple of different spots and levels as moisture can differ inside a pot or container.

Soil moisture meter helps check soil moisture level

Another method is to insert a finger into the potting soil and if the soil feels moist you wait another day. When it is difficult to push a finger into the soil it is time to water. 

And again, make sure to plant the sage in a place that is well drained. The roots do not like being soaked for long periods of time.

Pruning the sage plant (perennials)

I never prune sage in the fall or winter. Instead I do all the pruning in the spring before the new growth starts.

I cut back the stems leaving about 5 centimeters (2 inches). Pruning the plant will help new shoots to form and also make the plant grow bushier and more beautiful..

How to harvest sage

Like many other herbs, sage prefers to be harvested a little at a time and often. You can harvest both leaves and flowers and use in cooking or preserve for future use. 

My rule of thumb when harvesting sage is to harvest as the plant and the leaves develop.

When the sage plant starts to bloom the leaves will lose some of their flavor.

If you are harvesting sage to preserve – dry or freeze – you are well advised to harvest before blooming to maximize flavours.

How to look after sage growing indoors

Sage is a relatively easy herb to care for indoors. 

Do make sure you keep the plant in a cool and bright place during winter and ensure that the pot has good drainage. 

Much like when growing sage outdoors the plant does not want its roots to be soaked in water for long periods of time.

Prepare outdoor perennial sage plants for winter

The sage plant is a perennial and needs to be covered in winter if there is risk of frost. 

We prune and cut last year’s plants in spring and replace them after approximately 2-3 years.

Pruning is however to be avoided during fall and winter. Pruning the plant late in the year risks exposing the plant to rainwater causing the plants root system to rot. 

To help your plants do well over winter you should use an insulating ground.

If you are growing sage in pots you can of course move them inside a greenhouse or conservatory.

You can also apply mulch on top of the soil all the way up the the rim of the pot. This will help insulate the soil and protect the roots. Also keep in mind that simply using a larger pot with more soil will add a protective layer for the root system.

We also recommend wrapping blankets, bubble wrap or any other protective material around the outside of the pots for extra insulation. 

You should also never leave the pots on the ground but elevate them to create a protective cushion of air between the pot and the cold ground. Lifting the pots off the ground also ensures they get a good air circulation even during the winter months when they prefer to have it dry around them. 

Finally, avoid watering too much during winter.

Sage is more than sage tea

A great way to use sage when it’s party time is in a sage cocktail. A sage cocktail is a fresh, fruity cocktail with a definitive earthy contrast. It makes a delicious, unexpected welcome drink at any gathering, small or large.

Adding the distinctive fragrance and flavor of this herb to your cocktails will give you a fantastic taste that pairs well with gin or in non-alcoholic berry cocktails. 

Whatever type of party you are throwing, cocktails can be offered as welcome drinks or later on in the evening after desert and coffee. Either way, you may want to offer both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties, for those who do not enjoy gin or martini.

As gin and martini are the preferred pairing partner for this serious but under-estimated herb.

Making cocktails at home has never been easier. After all, who doesn’t like to think they can shake with the best of them and awaken our inner mixology and bar-tending skills?

For a small investment there are some great cocktail sets to choose from. They come with all the items you need to create super cocktails effortlessly at home. 

How to make sage cocktails

Most great herb cocktails start with making a simple syrup.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole sage leaves, washed and dried in a paper towel

Preparation

  1. Place the water in a saucepan over a gently heat
  2. Add the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolved
  3. Bring to a simmer
  4. Remover the saucepan from the heat and add the leaves.
  5. Place a lid on the saucepan and let the sage infuse for about 2 hours
  6. Strain the mixture and discard the leaves
  7. Keep the syrup in an airtight jar or bottle in the fridge
  8. The syrup will stay fresh for about 2 weeks

Our Best Sage & Martini Herb Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 1 ounze (30 ml) of Martini
  • 1 ounze (30 ml) sage simple syrup
  • 2 tbsp fresh orange juice, strained
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • Sparkling cloudy lemonade
  • Ice

Preparation

  1. Mix together the ingredients and pour into a glass over ice.
  2. Add the leaves as garnish.
  3. Serve immediately.

Our favorite Gin and Sage Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 1 ounze (30 ml) of Gin (we prefer to use Pink Gin for extra sweetness)
  • 1 ounze (30 ml) sage simple syrup
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, strained
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 ounze (30 ml)Cloudy apple juice
  • Sparkling ginger ale
  • Ice

Preparation

  1. Mix together the ingredients and pour into a glass over ice.
  2. Top up with a splash of sparkling ginger ale. Add leaves as garnish.
  3. Serve immediately

Frequently asked questions

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.