Why You Should Grow Aromatic Sage In Your Flower Beds

Aromatic, attractive, and medicinal—sage is a wise choice for flower beds.

July 18, 2017
sage plant
Norma Murace Melia / EyeEm/getty

Sages are mounded to shrubby mints with the tubular, bilobed flowers and square stems indicative of their kinship. The flowers have inflated protruding upper lips that project over the lower ones. They are borne in tiered whorls at the tips of branching stems. Many have aromatic foliage. Leaves may be oval or broadly lance-shaped.

Sage grows from woody crowns with fibrous roots. Species vary in hardiness from tough to extremely frost-tender. 

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growing sage
How To Grow Sage

Plant sages in well-drained, sandy or loamy soils in full sun or light shade. They will get leggy and flop in too much shade. Overly rich or moist soils also encourage flopping. Most species are tough and extremely drought tolerant. Divide plants in spring or fall if they overgrow their position. Cut plants back to the ground in fall or early spring. Tender and woody salvias should be cut back in spring only. Propagate by stem cuttings in early summer.

The less hardy species can be treated as annuals in colder zones and grown each season from seed sown indoors or from overwintered cuttings. Mulching with a cover of straw or chopped leaves may improve hardiness. Woodland species need rich, evenly moist soil in some shade.

purple sage blooming
work by Lisa Kling/getty
Uses In The Landscape

Sages are excellent additions to well drained perennial gardens. There are so many sizes and forms that there is one for every garden situation. Combine meadow and garden sage and their hybrids with yuccas (Yucca), yarrows (Achillea), catmints (Nepeta), stonecrops (Sedum), black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), daylilies (Hemerocallis), tickseeds (Coreopsis), daisies and mums (Chrysanthemum), and ornamental grasses.

Plant culinary sage in herb gardens or with ornamentals. In borders or prairie gardens, combine autumn sage with verbenas, winecups (Callirhoe), lavenders (Lavandula), sundrops (Calylophus), ornamental onions (Allium), asters, yuccas, and grasses. Large species such as anise sage look great with tropicals like cannas, elephant ears, and coleuses. All sages respond well to container culture. Contrast their rich colors with filamentous bronze New Zealand hairy sedge (Carex comans ‘Bronze’), ever-blooming diascias, and bold African daisy hybrids (Gazanias). 

Related: 8 Plants That Repel Mosquitoes Naturally

sage at the market
Varieties Of Sage

Salvia argentea (ar-JEN-tee-a), silver sage. Size: 2 to 4 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide. Silver sage is grown for its luscious, crinkled, soft silver-gray foliage. The ragged white flowers are best removed before they open. USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 9. 

S. azurea (a-ZEW-ree-a), azure sage. Size: 3 to 4 feet tall, 2 to 3 feet wide. This upright bushy sage has lance-shaped basal leaves, leafy stems, and dense terminal spikes of azure blue flowers. Var. grandiflora has larger flowers. S. uliginosa, bog sage, has a similar form, with azure-andwhite bicolor flowers on 4- to 5-foot stems. Zones 4 (with protection) to 9. 

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S. darcyi (DAR-see-ee), Darcy sage. Size: 2 to 3 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide. A stunning plant with vermilion flowers held above fragrant wedge-shaped, resinous leaves. Look out hummingbirds! S. regia has small, kidney-shaped leaves that are mostly basal, and tall spikes, to 3 feet, of red flowers in fall. ‘Jame’ is a good redorange selection. Zones 7 to 10. 

S. farinacea (far-i-NA-see-a), mealycup sage. Size: 1 ½ to 4 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide. This open, loosely branching sage has narrowly oval leaves and terminal spikes of violet-blue flowers held above foliage. Grown as a popular annual in colder zones. ‘Blue Bedder’ has deep blue flowers on 2-to 2 ½-foot stems. ‘Victoria’ is similar but more compact (18 inches). ‘Indigo Spires’ is an open-crowned hybrid sage to 3 feet tall with spikes of tiered deep blue flowers. Zones 8 to 10. 

S. greggii (GREG-ge-ee), autumn sage. Size: 2 to 4 feet tall and wide. A small, rounded shrub with delicate, soft, hairy leaves and terminal clusters of red flowers all season. In colder zones, plants die back partially or to the ground and do not begin blooming until early summer. ‘Dark Dancer’ has deep raspberry red flowers. S. × jamensis is a red-flowered hybrid. 612S. microphylla is similar to autumn sage but a bit less hardy. Leaf size is variable, not always small as the name would indicate. ‘San Carlos Festival’ is a great compact selection with deep fuchsia-pink flowers. ‘Wild Watermelon’ is watermelon pink. Many hybrid selections are available. ‘Maraschino’ has cherry red flowers. ‘Raspberry Royale’ has glowing raspberry flowers. ‘Silke’s Dream’ is rich scarlet. Zones 7 to 10. (Some selections a bit less hardy.) 

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S. guaranitica (gar-an-IT-i-ka), blue anise sage. Size: 4 to 6 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide. A tall, leafy sage with deep blue flowers on stout stems. ‘Argentine Skies’ has soft sky blue flowers. ‘Black and Blue’ has deep indigo flowers with near-black calyces on compact plants to 3 feet tall. Zones 7 to 10. 

S. koyamae (ko-YAM-eye), yellow sage. Size: 1 to 2 feet tall, 2 to 3 feet wide. A woodland sage with spear-shaped leaves and spikes of milky yellow flowers in late summer and fall. S. nipponica has a similar form but is more compact. ‘Fuji Snow’ has white-edged, speckled leaves. Zones 6 to 8. 

S. leucantha (lew-KAN-tha), velvet sage. Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. This shrubby sage has woolly stems and leaves and 10-foot spires of white flowers with purple calyces from midsummer through frost. ‘Midnight’ has red-violet flowers and purple calyces. ‘Santa Barbara’ is a compact selection, 2 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. ‘Anthony Parker’ is a hybrid with purpleblue flowers on open plants. Zones 8 to 10. 

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S. nemorosa (nem-or-OH-sa), garden sage. Size: 1 ½ to 3 ½ feet tall and wide. This lovely sage is smothered in stiff spikes of violet- blue flowers for 3 to 4 weeks in early to midsummer. Triangular leaves are soft, hairy, bright green. ‘Caradonna’ is tall (2 ½ feet) with open spikes of blue-violet flowers all summer. ‘Lubecca’ has blue-violet flowers on tall, open spikes. ‘Marcus’ is a true dwarf to 8 inches with blue-violet flowers. ‘Ostfriesland’ (‘East Friesland’) has deep purple flowers on compact stems 1 to 1 ½ feet tall. Cultivars are sometimes listed under the similar hybrid S. × sylvestris. The following selections belong here. ‘Blaukonigin’ (‘Blue Queen’) has violet flowers and is 1 ½ to 2 feet tall. ‘Mainacht’ (‘May Night’) has purple flowers and red-violet calyxes. ‘Rosenkonigin’ (‘Rose Queen’) has rose-pink flowers. ‘Schneehuegal’ (‘Snow Hill’) has white flowers. ‘Viola Klose’ has dark blue flowers. Zones 4 to 7. 

S. officinalis (o-fis-i-NAY-lis), culinary sage. Size: 1  ½ to 2 feet tall, 2 to 3 feet wide. Ornamental and culinary, a semiwoody shrub with woolly, oblong leaves and somewhat insignificant blue-violet flowers. Many handsome leaf colors with compact form are available. ‘Berggarten’ has broad oval leaves and is quite showy with blue-violet flowers. ‘Compacta’ is a compact grower to 15 inches with smaller leaves. ‘Icterina’ has gold-andgreen variegated foliage. ‘Purpurescens’ has gray-violet leaves. ‘Tricolor’ has pink, green, and white leaves. Zones 3 to 9. 

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S. pratensis (prah-TEN-sis), meadow sage. Size: 1 to 3 feet tall, 2 to 3 feet wide. This slender sage has bushy rosettes of oval leaves and tall, branching stems tipped with showy violet-blue flowers. Excellent cultivars are available. ‘Haematodes’ has showy blue-violet flowers. ‘Rosea’ has rose-purple flowers.

S. verticillata, whorled sage, is a sprawling species with blue flowers atop lax spikes. ‘Purple Rain’ is smoky purple. ‘White Rain’ is whiteflowered and has a more compact form, to 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Zones 3 to 9.