Every herb garden needs at least one planting of sage (Salvia officinalis), a gray-green hardy perennial native to the Mediterranean. The thick oval leaves of this herb are 2 to 3 inches long with a pebbly texture on stalks that can grow to about three feet. In late spring spikes of sky-blue flowers appear above the leaves. Sage prefers full sun and relatively dry conditions. It is hardy to Zone 6 with protection from frost.
Most sages in herb gardens are grown for cooking. One attractive variety of sage to appear recently is ‘Silver Leaf’. It grows the same size as traditional sage but the leaves are a bit narrower and have more of a silver-gray color. Another favorite on the market is ‘Berggarten’. The large leaves are more oval shaped and grow compactly on short stems that rarely grow more than a foot high.
There are also some sage varieties grown more for their more colorful appearance than flavor. You’ll sometimes see ‘Golden’, ‘Purpurea’, and ‘Tricolor’ sages in nurseries. These three sages are not as hardy as traditional sages so be prepared to replace them more frequently. Keep in mind also that the genetic breeding program that produced those lovely leaves managed to diminish the natural flavor during the process. They may be attractive in the garden but they don’t have the best flavor in the kitchen.
All varieties of sage need soil with fast drainage. Space young plants about 18 inches apart, where they will receive plenty of sunlight. Pair sage with darker-colored herbs such as rosemary for color contrast. ‘Golden’ sage and ‘Tricolor’ sage are less hardy in hot climates found in the Houston area, so plant them where they will enjoy some shade. Don’t overwater your sage. Too much water is the biggest cause of this herb’s death. Also avoid using sprinklers on them because this encourages spider mites to set up home in the plant interior. Combat any infestation with a light pruning and insecticidal soap.
Whether you decide to grow the high-producing ‘Silver Leaf” or the colorful ‘Tricolor’ sage will make a great addition to your herb garden. Plant some now and reap the benefits for years to come.