White Sage Plant: Growing Guide, Smudging, and Seeds

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.​

Listen to this post on the Epic Gardening Podcast

Subscribe to the Epic Gardening Podcast on iTunes

History

White Sage History

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!

Sun

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).​

Soil​

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.

Water

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.​

Spacing

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!

Companion Planting

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

Salvia Apiana

An example of how large white sage (salvia apiana) can get.

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

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!

Storing

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.​

Pests

​Sweetpotato Whitefly

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.

Greenhouse Whitefly​

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.

Diseases

Mint Rust​

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

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.

Powdery Mildew

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

FAQs​

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 or Amazon - 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!

Share this with any gardening friend you know who would find it valuable!

Thanks for stopping by!​

White sage (salvia apiana) is a wonderful plant for cooking, medicinal use, and smudging. Learn exactly how to grow, cultivate, and harvest in this guide.

This post was last updated on

22 thoughts on “White Sage Plant: Growing Guide, Smudging, and Seeds

  1. I have a white sage plant. It’s i sunlight and I water it when the dirt on top looks dry. The leaves are turning red. I can’t seem to find anything online that can tell me why the leaves are turning red. Can anyone help me with this?

    • Red / yellow leaves can be the result of many things: over/under watering, rust disease, or even a nutrient deficiency. I’m sorry that doesn’t narrow it down, but hopefully it’s helpful!

  2. Hi, Thanks for the great information. I planted one white sage plant in my garden this year. it has remained fairly small, about 18″. I live on the east coast in Delaware and will most likely have to bring it in for the winter since it gets really cold here by January. Is there anything special I need to know before I put it in a pot and bring it inside? Thanks for your insight!

    • You’re welcome Jackie. I would make sure not to disturb the root system as much as possible. If it’s only 18″ you shouldn’t have TOO big of a root ball, so you should be able to transplant well. Just make sure you get a big enough pot and some high-quality potting soil and you’ll be fine!

  3. I found beautiful white sage seedlings at a local nursery this year. They have grown well in large pots against a south facing brick wall and have done well in the high desert heat here in southern Idaho. I am getting ready to harvest and dry the end growth and will need to let it over winter inside.

  4. Greetings,
    What months of the year is best to pick Sage?
    I live in an area of California that this Beauty-Filled Plant grows wild.
    Respectfully

    • Hey Jan – generally I would harvest on an as-needed basis from mature leaves and stems. Late fall (so at the time of me writing this) is a great time to harvest, as growth will slow down over the winter. Make sure you follow the harvesting tips section though to ensure bushier growth and more leaves next year!

  5. I live in Grants Pass, Oregon. It gets pretty cold in the winter time.my question is, How do I take care of my beautiful white sage plant while it is cold. I don’t want it to die. It is a very nice size plant. Please help!!!

  6. A couple of years ago I started two white sages from our most excellent nursery. I’m in Berkeley, CA and more than 8 summers ago, we used to have warm/hot summers, now, often cold! This past summer had a handful of real warm days. My main plant left is maybe <three feet tall with numerous stems growing straight up. It is placed for the most sun possible given our redwood tree. Thing is, the bottom leaves always turn brown. Thanks to you, I now know to cut from the top which I've been afraid to do and have taken none, fearing a naked plant. It could be that I did not water it enough. Also unsure of what nutrients it might want. If I collect all of the top growth, it will only make a small bundle. Then what? Naked stems? I love sage so much and this makes me nervous, unsure. Never have dealt with cultivated sage before. Do grow many mints which all do well, really well. Clue me in please! Thanks! R

    • Sage will come back the next year if you cut it back, and you definitely need to harvest some and use it anyways! Mints also grow really well, in fact so well that I advise you plant them in their own pot or else they’ll overtake everything!

  7. Thanks, but I’ve read that if I cut only the top of my white sage, new growth will start from ground and so wondered how far down is safe, and from what you said, I guess I can cut all the top ones? It has never yet made flowers. There are lots of brown leaves below the green which always seems the case and has never looked like the big sprawling one pictured. Should I leave the long brown leafed stems as is? And how long should I expect this one to live? I know sage likes to grow in families, but this one’s buddies got offed by landlord and weed whacker! AIEEE! Glad I protected-with chicken- wire this one incense sage and my rosemary, a pink one, which is not doing so well, few stems and straggly. Advice? I so want them to be all they can be.

    By the way, we love to let the mint run wild–spearmint, though I have many others. And, I have chickens too and they love it. We use it for all sorts of things and don’t mind the smell if stepped on! And they don’t mind being stepped on! Spearmint is not the bully that pineapple sage is! Or say the giant yellow gingers-magnificent bullies!
    Does anyone know how to protect, organically, blackberries from the horrible Asian fruit fly? We have The best blackberries that taste like blue berries, huge and prolific. But years ago now, that Asian fruit fly ended our blackberry fun. This blackberry is a bully I love, and so worth it! That whole yard area smells like blackberry pie much of the year and at least feeds birds, but dang, we want some! Miss them. Can anything be done?

  8. Hi Kevin, I live in New Zealand and have been fortunate enough to have been able to successfully grow white sage and make smudge sticks. The last plant I had was about 5 feet tall and a prolific healthy quick growing plant, however I left that property 3 years ago and when I had somewhere to start a new garden and when I went back hoping to retrieve my beloved plantit had been destroyed. I was pretty gutted as my seed supplier can no longer get white sage seeds. But I remembered I had some seed heads stashed away – I have found them, they have been dehydrated (dried) and I am endeavouring to grow them. What are my chances of getting them to grow, what is the best way to do this and how long should they take to germinate please? Thank you. Love your website.

    • If it’s been years, the germination rate will have dropped. I’d give them standard seed starting environment of moisture, heat, and good soil and pray that some of them germinate. Good luck – I really hope it works out for you!

Leave a Comment