Tuesday 8 February 2011

Reviving the Sage

Continuing the theme of how to re-invigorate over-wintered herbs...

During the Winter, most plants hunker down and save all their energy for when the weather warms up. New leaves are a rarity. My Sage follows this pattern.

This is Purple Sage. Currently more grey than purple, but I'm sure the colour will return in the Spring.

This one is the Variegated Sage - yellow and green.

Both of these Sages have lost most of the leaves on their lower stems. Only a cluster of leaves at the end of each branch remains.

I am going to try to propagate the plants by taking some cuttings and I will also to try to re-invigorate the parent plants by a process I call "mounding". This is what these processes involve:

Firstly, clean up the bare crown of the plant, removing from the pot any fallen leaves and other debris

Cut a few suitable stems for potting-up. They should be about 15cm  / 6" long

Fill the bare centre of the pot with fresh new compost, mounding it up so that it stands well above the level of the pot rim. 

That's it for now! Hopefully, the plants will produce new shoots from underneath the new compost. At very least, the bare stems will send out some roots. When this happens (some months later probably), you will be able to snip them off and plant them straight away.

Trim the cuttings to a suitable length (I use a craft knife). Cut the stems on a slant, preferably just below a leaf joint. Remove any dead leaves and all but a few of the healthy ones. Having too many leaves will cause the cuttings to lose an excessive amount of moisture through transpiration. (Looking at my photo again, I think maybe I should have removed a few more of the leaves. It's not too late...)

Dip the stems in Hormone Rooting Powder, and push them into a pot of moist compost.

Place the potted cuttings somewhere light and frost-free, and keep the compost moist but not wet. Most of them (but probably not all of them) will take root, and within a couple of months you will have a number of new Sage plants. You will be able to tell when / if the cuttings have rooted, because they will start to produce new leaves.

Some people would cover the pots with plastic bags secured in place by rubber bands, to create a sort of miniature greenhouse, but I usually don't do this because I think it produces too much humidity, which can increase the chances of fungal growths taking a hold.


  1. My sage bush is in the ground in the herb garden. I started mine from a small piece of my mother's plant. Presently it is under two feet of snow. I can usually harvest from it all winter by digging through the snow. In the spring, I will cut some of it back and it grows like crazy.

    I think that you will have success rooting it the way you are. I also agree with you regarding the plastic cover. I don't see why it would need that.

  2. Thank you Mark for showing how to save troubled plants. Great post!

  3. My sage looks like yours at the top but I won't be cutting them back for a little while yet as I guess we could have some more cold spells up here in the north!

  4. I think I got a bit confused Mark, but may have got it now. So the photo where you are mounding up the dirt is the roots and crown of the plant, and that will send out new shoots from under the soil?

    And then you also plant the cuttings and try to get them to root?

    Somewhere light and frost free shouldn't be too hard :)

    My sage plant is looking very sorry for itself, I think all the rain drowned it. I'll have to go and take a look at it and see if there's any hope for it.

    Thanks for this post :)

  5. Good luck with your sage, we have some similarly sad looking sage in the herb garden after our December freezes. Some of it is starting to come back though, but it might need a little help to look its best.

  6. Thanks for this post Mark. I've been trying to propogate some of my herbs but haven't really known what I was doing and have been having no luck. This will help.

  7. My sage is looking the same way as yours. I will wait for spring and prune it then.
    When I try to grow new plants from cuttings, I also never put plastic cover. It just needs more watering and it will be fine.

  8. Ah, some sage advice from and old Sage, eh? I am just about to cut my sage back and have a go at drying it for later use. This should be fun. I am hoping my sage in the potager will just over-winter by itself...after all it is no where near as cold here as it is at your place.

  9. thank you Mark for this very sage advice! A timely post as was looking at my dishevelled Sages yesterday and wondering what to do. Did not know that could take cuttings now but wll give it a go.

  10. Hi Mark. Thanks for the comments on my blog, i don't think it's anywhere near as good as yours yet, but i'm slowly getting the hang of it.
    This is a great post as i trimmed my sage at the weekend, and was wondering if there was a way to encourage new shoots from the base.... and now i have it! Keep up the good blog!

  11. Good advice Mark,I remember, years ago, mounding up the soil to encourage rooting was called an Irishmans' cutting and we used to do the same with bedding geraniums. Looking forward to following your blog through the season.

  12. I had a sage plant in my garden also, it has all dead branches on it. I cut it down a little at a time, but nothing. I gave it some wood ash and compost, do you think it will come back. I think all the rain/snow we got last year drowned it, along with my strawberry's, they were literally sitting on top of the soil dead last month. Should I just buy another plant?

    1. Sounds like you need to buy some new plants, Jeanie!

    2. Thanks Mark, I just thought there was something else I could do. I did see one leaf last week but that died too. I thought maybe there were some roots that were still alive. Thanks again..


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