Sage likes dry feet and some com­pany

Hardy aro­matic herb hails from north­ern shores of the Mediter­ranean

Central Otago Mirror - - FEATURES -

You may need only a leaf or two to flavour a dish but don’t let that stop you from plant­ing sev­eral sage bushes in your gar­den.

This aro­matic herb is ed­i­ble and or­na­men­tal, its soft grey­green fo­liage an at­trac­tive ad­di­tion to shel­tered spots.

Sage is a sub-shrubby ev­er­green peren­nial that is na­tive to the north­ern shores of the Mediter­ranean. It is a hardy plant but it does not like wet feet; it is less hardy in heavy soils where win­ters are cold and wet, so make sure your soil is light and freedrain­ing. It is best to plant in raised beds or large pots if in any doubt. In­cor­po­rate or­ganic mat­ter and a hand­ful of dolomite lime be­fore plant­ing – sage likes a neu­tral or slightly alkaline soil.

It does not like rich soil; floppy stems are of­ten the re­sult, and plants are more sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­eases, es­pe­cially when ni­tro­gen lev­els are high.

Po­si­tion in full sun and en­sure ex­cel­lent air cir­cu­la­tion.

Mildew can oc­cur if plants are over­crowded, as can the fun­gal dis­ease rust. If sev­eral of the leaves are yel­low, take a closer look at the un­der­sides. If you see web­bing, you prob­a­bly have spi­der mites. All you will see of the mites with the naked eye are tiny mov­ing dots.

If you see teeny tiny bugs about 3mm long, you may have herb leaf­hop­pers (also known as mint leaf­hop­pers and sage leaf­hop­pers).

They pre­fer herbs in the mint fam­ily, so you may also see them on spearmint, cat­mint, lemon balm, laven­der, rose­mary and oregano. Both th­ese pests feed on the sap of plants, suck­ing out the juices and caus­ing stip­pling on the leaves. Even­tu­ally leaves may yel­low. If you wish, you can use a pes­ti­cide suit­able for leafrol­lers, or you could try some­thing like pyrethrum. If spi­der mites are present, sim­ply blast the leaves reg­u­larly with wa­ter. Spi­der mites like a dry sit­u­a­tion, so they should even­tu­ally move on.

Com­mon sage ( Salvia of­fic­i­nalis) can be prop­a­gated by seed but it can take a while to pro­duce a rea­son­able sized plant.

Un­less you want to grow sev­eral plants (for or­na­men­tal pur­poses) you will get a quicker har­vest if you buy small plants from gar­den cen­tres. Or you could try prop­a­gat­ing from cut­tings in spring or lay­er­ing in au­tumn.

In any case, sage tends to be­come woody and less pro­duc­tive af­ter four or five years, so re­place at least ev­ery five years. To keep your sage plants bushy, prune lightly in spring, then once again when flow­er­ing has fin­ished in late sum­mer, cut­ting the stems back by about a third. Feed plants with liq­uid fer­tiliser or worm cast­ings in spring and af­ter cut­ting them back. When har­vest­ing, try to avoid pick­ing off in­di­vid­ual leaves. Snip off whole sprigs in­stead. This pro­motes the devel­op­ment of fur­ther shoots.

Flavour­some: Sage is an ed­i­ble and or­na­men­tal ad­di­tion to your gar­den.

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