There’s something truly wonderful about herbs and spices. They’re an easy way to improve the flavor profile of meals and also contain many plant-based compounds that could easily improve our health. Sage is a particularly interesting one. It’s frequently used to flavor sausages and features in many stuffing recipes as well. The herb is also common in smudging, a cleansing ritual used to reduce negative energies in a space. If you use sage regularly or want to start with it, why not learn how to propagate sage?
This is much cheaper than buying sage periodically, as you’re simply creating new plants from your current one. You don’t even need to have a sage plant of your own either, as you can even propagate sage purchased from a grocery store.
There are two main methods of propagating sage – collecting seeds and using these to grow more sage plants or taking cuttings. We will focus mostly on propagating sage from cuttings, as this is the more complex approach. But don’t worry. Growing sage from cuttings is easy once you know how. You’ll be able to do it yourself in no time.
How To Propagate Sage From Cuttings
No surprises here. If you have a sage plant at home, the first step is to take a cutting. You’re looking to create sage sprigs that are between four and six inches long, as these are the most likely to create roots.
The cutting should be taken just below a root node. That’s the intersection between the stem and the side shoot where leaves are growing. The plant’s rooting hormones are the most active here and those hormones are crucial for the next steps.
Look for stems that show evidence of new growth but don’t have any flower buds attached. If you take two or three cuttings, then the plant you use should survive. If you’re happy with the parent plant dying, you could take five or six cuttings instead.
Once you have your sage sprigs, you need to strip leaves off the bottom two inches or so of each stem. This bare stem is where the future roots grow from.
It’s helpful to cut the root at a 45 degree angle as well, right before the rooting step. This exposes the core of the stem and makes root development easier.
Rooting hormones are an optional part of the preparation step. You can buy these hormones as a powder or a gel from many garden centers. The hormones can be simply dabbed onto the end of your sage sprig before placing it in water or soil, to increase the chance of root production. Using hormones also speeds up root development, so you spend less time sitting and waiting.
Rooting hormones aren’t essential at all. Many people grow sage from cuttings without any rooting hormones at all. Still, they can be useful for beginners. The hormones are also relevant when you have very few sprigs to work with. This way you maximize your chance of getting a healthy sage plant.
Choose the product carefully if you want extra assistance from a rooting hormone. Many rooting hormones use synthetic ingredients and may make the plant unsafe to eat for roughly a year after you used the hormone.
To get around this issue, try making your own rooting hormone. Homemade recipes tend to use natural ingredients that are completely safe to consume. Some are as simple as dipping the sprig in aloe vera or cinnamon.
Step Three: The Rooting Process
Now we’re up to the most exciting part, the rooting process. There are two different approaches here. Most people see more success with water than soil, particularly if they don’t use any rooting hormone.
Rooting sage in soil is as simple as planting the sage sprig in soil, then allowing it to develop roots. However, a little planning is needed.
First, think about the container. You’re only going to need a small pot for your sprigs or perhaps a seedling tray.
The soil matters as well. While you could stick with potting mix, you’ll see better results with a 50/50 blend of horticultural sand and potting mix. The horticultural sand is incredibly helpful, as it improves drainage and reduces the chance of root rot.
Regardless, the sage sprig should remain upright and you’ll need to water it regularly.
Alternatively, you can skip the soil entirely and grow your roots in water. Doing so is as simple as placing the sprig in a glass of water and keeping it in a sunny environment.
The two inches of bare stem should be fully submerged while the rest of the sprig can stick out of the water. You should change the water every few days to keep it fresh and prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi.
The kitchen windowsill is a popular place to keep your rooting herbs. This way, you’re regularly reminded to change the water. It’s also fascinating to watch the progress of the roots each day.
Sage grows best in high humidity, so some people create a cap to go over the growing herb. This can be as simple as cutting a soda bottle in half and using the top half to act as a greenhouse. If this becomes too steamy, you can simply open the lid for a while.
After a few weeks, your sage should have developed its own root system. It is now hardy enough to be transplanted into a pot (indoors or outdoors) or directly into your garden.
You can even wait for four weeks to ensure that the root system is well-established.
You’ll still need to be cautious with the plant, as it is in a vulnerable early growth stage. So, if the soil is too dry, moist, hot, or cold, the plant may start to struggle. It can even go through a period of shock as it establishes.
How To Get The Most Success With Your Sage
Cuttings can be taken at any time of the year, especially as sage is a perennial and can even be planted in the fall. However, it’s best to take cuttings in the spring. Choosing spring means that the parent plant is growing well and your new cutting has the entire summer to establish.
No matter how careful you are, only some of your sage cuttings will put down roots. Others may develop roots, but then not establish once you transfer them into soil.
Because of this, you should always prepare more sage sprigs than you think you’ll need. After all, having too many baby plants isn’t going to be a problem, while having too few can be seriously frustrating.
Sage tolerates a wide range of conditions but thrives the most when the conditions match its natural environment. Growing sage indoors can help with this, as you have much more control over the temperature, sunlight, and humidity.
To do well indoors, sage needs well-draining soil and plenty of bright light. A temperature range of 60°F to 70°F with moderate humility is also ideal.
If you’re growing sage outdoors in a garden, it will do best when planted alongside other herbs. It tends to struggle when planted alongside vegetables, as that soil can end up being too fertile for the herb.
Cuttings are a simple and reliable way to create new sage plants. However, there are some other propagation approaches as well.
Layering is an interesting propagation strategy that works for some plants, including sage. The idea is similar to propagating sage from cuttings, except that you’re doing it while the sage sprig is still on the plant.
The most straightforward approach is to bend a branch down to the ground and pin it so that around four inches of the branch is below the soil. Then you simply leave the branch there until it starts to form roots, cut it, and transplant your new seedling to a different part of the garden.
In some ways, this is an easier approach than taking cuttings. However, it isn’t as powerful if you want multiple new plants.
Growing Sage From Seed
You can also grow sage from seeds. This is helpful if your sage plant has started flowering or has already developed seeds, as cuttings taken at this point aren’t likely to create roots.
However, growing sage from seed is best kept as a last resort, as the seeds can take up to a month and a half to germinate. There’s a low success rate too, so you’ll need to start with a collection of seeds to ensure you actually get some seedlings.
Here are some approaches that can help:
- Try Cold Stratification. This can be as simple as placing your packet of sage seeds in a jar in the fridge for a few weeks. Allow them to return back to room temperature before planting them. Doing so makes the seed ‘think’ it has been through winter, which helps with germination.
- Use A Soilless Seed Starting Mix. These mixes improve the odds of germinating difficult seeds and are often easy to use.
- Keep The Mix Moist. Sage needs moisture to grow, so it’s best to dampen the starting mix before you plant, then regularly mist it. Covering the container with plastic helps by reducing the amount of moisture loss. You’ll need to keep the seeds moist even after germination.
- Give Them Plenty Of Light. Sage seeds and seedlings require plenty of bright light to thrive. Finding a windowsill with plenty of sun often works well here. You could also experiment with a grow light.
Finally, be patient and vigilant. Sage takes a long time to grow from seed and even missing a single watering could be enough to kill your little seedlings.
Propagating Sage From A Grocery Store
Here’s a fun trick – you don’t actually need a fresh and healthy sage plant in order to propagate the herb. Sage sprigs from the grocery store can produce roots as well.
Doing so is as simple as following the steps that we highlighted earlier.
This process is a little more hit-and-miss than taking cuttings from your own sage plant, as you can’t control the quality of the cuttings. Still, you’ll often get half a dozen or so sprigs in a container, so you have a decent chance of success.
Types Of Sage
Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is the most popular type of sage. This is the version most often sold in grocery stores and hails from the Mediterranean. It has woody stems, small blue to purple flowers, and green-gray leaves.
But, while common sage is indeed common, it isn’t the only type of sage out there. Here are some other noteworthy varieties.
- White Sage. White sage has narrow green-gray leaves and white flowers. Most parts of the plant are edible, but large quantities could be harmful. As such, this is best kept as an ornamental variety.
- Russian Sage. Russian sage produces beautiful spikes of lavender-blue flowers, making it popular ornamentally.
- Golden Sage. This variety has a similar leaf shape and flavor as regular sage, but the leaves are variegated with light golden green and darker green. It’s a fantastic choice if you love the flavor of sage, but want to make your garden look more exciting.
- Texas Sage. This beautiful variety has light purple flowers, is hardy, and doesn’t require much water.
- Spanish Sage. Spanish sage is particularly fragrant and also boasts beautiful blue flowers. Perhaps the most appealing feature is the plant’s hardiness, which allows it to thrive even with minimal maintenance.
- Pineapple Sage. This type of ornamental sage really does release a sweet pineapple-like scent. It also has bright red flowers and large clusters of leaves.
- Purple Garden Sage. This variety lives up to its name, as the plant is purple when it is young. It is edible but can be easily confused with ornamental purple sage.
It should be possible to propagate all of these sage varieties in the same way as common sage. Still, you might see some differences in your level of success.
If you’re going with an unusual variety of sage, think about how you plan to use it. Do you want to include it in recipes? If so, you’ll need a culinary variety of sage. Many varieties are ornamental only and shouldn’t be consumed.
Edible varieties of sage also vary in their flavor profile. While some work well in the place of common sage, others might ruin the flavor of your meal.
How Do You Use Sage?
So now you have a sprig that’s starting to set roots or perhaps even a new sage plant growing in the garden. What do you do with it?
A reasonably famous approach is to create a bundle of sage and use this as part of a smudging ritual. Of course, this idea won’t appeal to everyone. If it doesn’t interest you, no worries. There are numerous other ways to use sage.
- Fry the sage leaves in butter, then use them as a garnish
- Make compound butter using sage (you could stick with just sage or add other herbs as well)
- Include it in your homemade chicken or turkey stuffing
- Make sage tea
- Include it in rubs for meat or in marinade recipes
- Dry your sage leaves to extend their shelf life and make them useful in many more recipes
- Make sage infused oil
- Mix sage and rosemary in with coarse sea salt to give yourself sage infused salt
Of course, you don’t actually need to use sage at all. It’s often grown purely as an aromatic ornamental plant. In fact, some varieties look amazing in the garden and aren’t safe to eat.
Even if you’ve never tried propagating a plant before, the approach is certainly worth doing. You get the chance to grow an entirely new plant from just a few cuttings. You can even do so with sprigs from the local grocery store.
Propagating a few herbs like this could quickly give you your own at-home herb garden. You might even be able to grow all the herbs that you use frequently in your cooking. Doing so is a fantastic way to save money and can also be very enjoyable.