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Sage (Salvia officinalis) is the edible form of sweet-scented salvias grown in ornamental borders. Until recently, sage was a reliable perennial herb in almost every climate. However, due to shifting weather patterns, wetter winters, and drier summers, these once-resilient plants are becoming harder and harder to keep.
In this article we’ll look at the conditions to keep an eye on, how (and more importantly, when) to prune sage, and how to keep sage going over winter.
Will sage grow back after winter?
Sage is an incredibly resilient plant and likes to slow down for a few months each year after flowering, but unlike most herbs does not go totally dormant. In fact, if you can keep sage warm, watered, and deadheaded, you can continue harvesting new growth right through to spring.
For outdoor sage plants, their natural cycle means that they will stop producing new growth, but hold onto leaves. In spring, old leaves will be pushed off by new shoots.
Sage hardiness table
|Hardiness zone||Coldest winter temperature||Is sage hardy?|
Why does sage die in winter?
The most common reasons for sage dying off in winter are root rot and stem rot caused by poorly timed pruning. Follow these simple rules to ensure that your sage comes back in spring:
- Plant sage with excellent drainage
- Don’t prune in fall or winter
- Protect sage from rain, hail, and snow in winter
How to overwinter sage
Do not prune sage until spring unless there are signs of diseased or damaged growth that needs to be removed. Pruning sage in fall or winter can cause stem rot which won’t recover until spring, leaving the plant at risk of severe infection.
Sage is described as a woody herb as it develops into small shrubs with time. However, the young shoots develop spongy stems that are very susceptible to rot and infection from dirty tools or pruning at the wrong time.
The same goes for harvesting sage – whether it’s for drying or cooking, do your main harvesting in spring or early summer, allowing the plant to regenerate, flower and go into dormancy with its foliage intact.
Sage loves good drainage, so growing it in containers is the easiest way to ensure a happy plant through winter. It also means that you can move sage plants indoors, or undercover through winter, where they can continue to grow in slightly warmer temperatures, with less risk of rain or snow causing soggy, waterlogged, soil.
A clay pot that’s at least 10 inches in diameter is the ideal container for sage, but don’t just use any soil mix – make sure it’s as free draining as possible. Either choose a soil mix designed for herbs and cactuses, or add plenty of perlite to your regular potting soil.
Despite being hardy in most mild and temperate zones, sage struggles with excess moisture and standing water.
Because the standard advice for planting sage is that it can be used as both an ornamental and edible plant, there is a temptation to plant it in normal garden soil. That, coupled with close proximity to other plants, creates a cold, humid space around the plant, and traps moisture in the soil.
If you insist on growing sage as a perennial in your garden rather than in containers, choose raised beds. Raised beds do have a tendency to dry out, but we’ll use this feature to our advantage when growing moisture-sensitive herbs like sage or oregano.
Can you harvest sage in winter?
Sage will continue to grow through winter indoors, or in greenhouses where it gets 6 hours of light or more per day, and temperatures over 60°F. Bring young plants indoors and keep them in a bright window to harvest fresh herbs right through to Christmas.
After Christmas, move sage plants outdoors again, so they can have a short period of dormancy before bursting into life in spring.
Sage is a confusing plant, with Mediterranean tendencies, but with excellent adaptations to mild and cold climates. Despite being suited to hot, dry, free-draining conditions, it will survive pretty extreme winters, and can even be encouraged to crop continuously through winter.
So, yes, sage will survive winter, provided you let it do its own thing, and protect it from excessive wind and rain where possible.