If there's any herb that has a history, it's white sage.
it's been used for hundreds of years, most notably among the native american tribes, where it's known as qaashil, pilhtaay, shaltai, and many more ancient names.
It lives well past two years if properly cared for, and it's easy to care for — so you should have no problem growing white sage in your garden!
Read on for an in-depth gardener's guide to this ancient herb.
The white sage plant can grow up to five feet tall, and has stems (often called “sage wands”) that can grow up to six feet. The leaves flower along the stems and have a white tinge to them that comes from the fine hairs that grow on the leaves themselves. Flowers from the sage plant are generally white or a light lavender in color.
White sage is native to North America, specifically the southwestern United States where it's been used by Native American tribes for centuries.
It has an intense scent when crushed or rubbed, making it a wonderful herb for smudge sticks, burning, and essential oils.
On top of those uses, the seeds are edible and were once a staple of Native American tribes in pinole, an ancient grain mixture.
Planting White Sage
White sage grows into quite a large shrub, so care must be taken when planting to make sure that it has the conditions it needs to thrive and produce the beautiful "sage wands" that many gardeners grow it for.
White sage seeds are plentiful in the seed pods of the plant, but germinate poorly. To increase your chance of germination, start the seeds indoors and sow them no deeper than 1/8th of an inch from the surface of the soil.
You can also surface-sow, as the seeds prefer light when germinating. It will take around 2-3 weeks for the seedlings to appear.
Transplanting White Sage
You'll know your white sage seedlings are ready for transplanting when they have 2-4 sets of true leaves. Try to transplant near a rock wall or something reflective to get as much sunlight as possible on this herb.
Caring For and Cultivating
White sage is surprisingly easy to care for — it honestly doesn't require much to thrive!
Because it's native to the Southwestern US, white sage prefers as much sunlight as possible and hot temperatures. It thrives in a desert environment, meaning high humidity can cause issues.
Be sure to watch your plant for signs of extreme heat or wind damage, though.
Sage plants do not do well in cold temperatures, meaning anything less than 20°F (-7°C).
White sage plants need dry, sandy soil that drains extremely well. The best choice here is a cactus potting soil mix. If growing in a container, be sure it's one with ample drainage holes in the bottom.
During the spring and summer, use a liquid fertilizer once a month when watering your sage plant to supplement growth as the plants develop.
In the early stages of growth, water your white sage plant more often. When the top of the soil feels dry to the touch, water until it starts to run through the drainage holes or until water has permeated about 12" deep in the soil.
Once your white sage plants are well established, you only need to water once the top soil is completely dry.
When you plant your sage outside, be sure to space them at least 2' apart in order to avoid overlapping. Sage can grow up to 5' tall and 2' wide, so make sure you plan for them to get to that size!
Most gardeners just grow white sage on its own, but it companion plants well with the following plants:
- California Buckwheat
- Black Sage
- Hollyleaf Cherry
- Sugar Bush
- Lemonade Berry
- California Sagebrush
Harvesting and Storing
Most growers of white sage harvest the plant for smudging, but sage is also a prized herb in the kitchen and as a medicinal herb. The seeds and roots are also edible elements of the plant, making it an extremely useful plant to grow and harvest!
Harvesting White Sage Leaves
When harvesting sage leaves, remember that if you snip off the lower part of the stem, no more leaves will grow. Cut the stem close to the top to get the maximum amount of leaves off of a single white sage plant.
By harvesting in the fleshy area, you guarantee the growth of two stems the next year, meaning double the harvest!
Harvesting White Sage Seeds
To harvest seeds, you must wait until the plant produces white-lavender flowers and the corresponding seed pod.
The fruit will mature and the seeds will fall to the ground. Try to pick the sage fruits before the seeds fall to avoid having to pick them up off of the ground!
To store sage leaves, bunch the sage wands you've cut off and hang them upside down to dry them. After dry, you can either bunch the sage wands together for smudging, or you can take the leaves off of the wands and store them in an airtight container.
To store sage seeds, simply store them in an airtight container after collection.
Pests and Diseases
Sage doesn't have too much trouble with pests or diseases, but the few that it suffers from can cripple your plants unless you prevent them.
Although the name implies this fly only enjoys sweet potatoes, that's far from the truth. These flies will suck on the sap of the sage leaves, killing the leaves quickly. The best way to get rid of them is simply to apply an insecticide that is formulated to eradicate whiteflies.
Red and Black Flat Mite
Mites will hit the stems of your sage plants, and only after destroying those will they move on to the leaves. Mites are easily taken care of with insecticides, whether they be chemical or natural.
The only difference between the greenhouse whitefly and sweet potato whitefly is that the effects of a greenhouse whitefly infestation are much harder to detect.
This annoying bug is also resistant to many insecticides, meaning that the best course of treatment is an insecticidal soap.
Contrary to its name, mint rust actually appears as an orange dust on the leaves of the sage plant. It's named mint rust because it primarily affects mint, but can also affect sage.
If you see signs of mint rust, immediately remove the affected plants and then treat the remaining plants by soaking their roots in water that is at least 111°F (44°C) hot.
Crown gall primarily affects the roots of the white sage plant. It infects the plant through open cuts, so when harvesting sage be sure to use a clean and sharp knife to avoid passing any diseases into the plant tissue.
Because sage likes low humidity and high temperatures, it is susceptible to mildew if put in high humidity environments. You can prevent most if not all mildew issues simply by avoiding high humidity.
Learn more: Control and prevent powdery mildew
Q. How do I use white sage for smudging?
A: Simply take your harvested white sage wands, dry them, and bundle them together. You can use some twine to secure them together tightly. Then light the bundle at the tip and blow the flames out. You are looking for a smoldering effect rather than a fast burn.
Q: How much sage can I get off of one plant?
A: While the amount of sage you can get off of one plant will depend on how well you grow it, it's safe to say that 2-3 sage plants can provide you all the sage you need for a year (or more), depending on how you use it.
Q. Where can I get white sage seeds?
A: You can buy them from your local garden center, Amazon, or reputable online garden stores like Bakker - no matter which you choose, make sure you get high-quality seeds!
Do you already grow white sage? Are you thinking of adding it to your garden? Let me know in the comments below!
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