Trimming sage properly isn’t as easy as it seems. “Easy to harvest” is true – but the sage is a very special type of shrub and you need to know what to cut and to where you can cut it. You can find out in the article, at which times sage is best pruned (for care and harvest), and how you can create a supply of delicious and healthy sage leaves by drying.

What kind of plant is sage actually?

The sage makes it a little complicated, it is a “subshrub”, which at first precisely says nothing to very many people.

So from the beginning to the subdivision of the garden plants, here is an overview of the categories:

  • Short-lived and long-lived plants, herbaceous and woody, grow in our gardens
  • Annual and biennial plants are short-lived and always herbaceous
  • They bloom, fruit, and seed only once and then die
  • Long-lived plants are called perennial if they only reproduce once (after x years) and then die
  • They are called persistent if they live for several years and reproduce several times
  • Both types of long-lived plants have herbaceous or woody plants
  • Long-lived herbaceous plants are called perennials, long-lived woody plants are called shrubs, trees, lianas – or subshrubs

A shrub is a woody plant that grows for several years, does not climb anything and does not form one, but several trunks from buds close to the ground. A perennial actually does the same thing, it just does not develop woody shoots, but adorns the garden as perennial flowers, ferns and grass or bulbous plants.

You will usually get by with the terms tree, shrub and perennial when describing the permanent guests in your garden. After a few years of gardening experience, you will also know exactly how to prune trees, shrubs and shrubs, including the special features of the individual species and varieties. Even woody lianas such as ivy, blackberry and wine do not scare an experienced gardener when it comes to cutting (which is usually particularly uncomplicated with lianas), but semi-shrubs?

Why pruning semi-shrubs is tricky

Subshrubs are small plants that do not grow completely herbaceous like a perennial and are not completely lignified like a shrub. So something in the middle between the two; without an exact definition of when a perennial or shrub becomes semi-shrub. That doesn’t depend on the botanical species, but on the degree of lignification. A tightrope walk in the truest sense of the word, the result of which is that subshrubs are classified as shrubs or perennials according to their appearance.

What is certain is that the lower part of the plant is lignified, it is not certain what exactly is to be regarded as this “lower part” and how big it will be. Botanists give pointers to find out:

  • The branches of the current growing season do not lignify, but develop flowers and fruits
  • In the real subshrub, they die at the end of the season and sprout again from the woody parts of the plant in spring.
  • Very often the explanation “subshrub” ends right here and is therefore not entirely logical:
  • If new shoots die in autumn, no woody shoots can arise …
  • In fact, subshrubs develop shoots with different tissues or “genetic programs”
  • First a woody base grows, then the short-lived (fruit) shoots
  • Whereby base can mean a few centimeters or a meter
  • And sooner or later woody ones can be present with the new shoots …
  • Incidentally, sage is one of the evergreen subshrubs that only dies at the end of the season because of frost

So there is room for maneuver in all directions, and half-shrubs are quite imaginative in another direction: Sometimes they only float at the tips of the lignified (“old”) wood, sometimes even when this old wood has been cut down deep. With rosemary, cut back into the old wood z. B. must be avoided at all costs, it will never sprout again. Sage is difficult to sprout if it is cut back too far, thyme can be cut deep into the old wood and even divided completely. This is definitely the case with the original, “real” plants, with cultivated varieties you can experience very different behavior …

The cut

True sage, Salvia officinalis, grows best when pruned a lot:

  • As soon as the sage has developed into a strong young plant, it is pinched (cut off or snap off the shoot tips)
  • In this way, the base shoots are stimulated to branch instead of growing upwards (and lignifying).
  • This cut is continued throughout the life of the sage, always cutting away whole branches including their tips
  • You can also cut away the flower bases from the sage, then there are more leaves instead of flowers
  • “Kindly” the real sage is said to be a subshrub that is willing to grow and that still sprouts when you cut lightly into the old wood
  • So cut all new shoots all around during the season up to or a little into the woody base
  • This should ensure that you keep the woody part permanently small
  • But this is only possible if you cut from the first shoot into autumn, no plant can tolerate sudden clear-cutting

In addition to this “permanent cut”, there are some points in time for greater cut:

The best time to cut

You can pinch as soon as the young plants look as if they do not fall over after losing a piece of the tip of the shoot.

When it comes to sage, continuous pruning should be done throughout the summer as soon as the first strong shoots have appeared.

If you prefer to harvest than (let) multiply, the flower bases are removed as soon as they can be recognized. If your sage was allowed to bloom, the withered twigs and stems can be removed in autumn, with sage in the garden in any case, without the dying flower stalks, the plant can gather more vigor until winter.

The last harvest should be in late summer; the subshrub needs the remaining shoots as winter protection. If you prune a sage too late and too hard in the fall, it may not sprout in the spring. With their own leaves as a winter coat, the native sage, on the other hand, sprout again even after a heavy frost. “Almost” hardy sage guests from the south probably also, but they also need a cover for winter protection.

The sage gets the actual main cut in early spring: cut off the overwintered leaves completely, right down to the base. You should also cut back part of the subshrub in the old wood every year, this will keep the sage young.

The harvest sage is then pruned during the summer during harvest, the ornamental sage can be pruned again in summer: Simply shorten all the shoots evenly.

To harvest

As already stated, the best sage harvest is a continuous harvest around the entire subshrub. If you cut a few more twigs every time you need sage for cooking, you can do this all-round trim without any additional effort. You can hang these branches in the sun in front of the house without any effort and store them all together at some point.

If you want to harvest sage in advance, it should be done shortly before flowering, then it has the most aroma and the highest content of valuable ingredients. If possible, wait for a sunny day and shower the sage with a fine spray in the afternoon. The next morning / morning, when the sun has been shining for a while and the morning dew has dried off, is harvested, the aroma is now the highest level of the day. If you wait longer, the aroma will decrease again, the warmer it is, the more.


Sage lends itself well to drying, especially if you are harvesting with maximum aroma. Always harvest whole branches and do not wash them any more – if you have taken the recommended shower the day before, your sage will certainly still be clean. Bundle the twigs in bunches and hang them in a well-ventilated, dark, dry room.

You do not have? There are a few alternatives:

  • Line the baking sheet with baking paper, spread out the sage branches, cover with aluminum foil, place in the sun.
  • Or (without aluminum foil) in the oven, 40 degrees circulating air, keep the oven door slightly open (spoon in the door)
  • Check drying more often, after a few hours the leaves should rustle when touched
  • If that is the case and you don’t see any traces of moisture on the broken stem, the sage can be packaged
  • First of all, not completely airtight, so that residual moisture can dry off
  • For example in a sandwich bag that is poked a few times
  • After a week or two, the sage can be “final packaged”
  • The part for immediate consumption is crumbled and placed in a dark screw-top jar
  • The part that is to be stored longer comes as a whole branch in a larger, dark jar

Cut off too much sage?

Whenever you’ve cut a few branches too many, you can pull these cuttings into new sage plants. Remove the lower leaves from the shoot and stick the cuttings in the ground, sage actually always roots.

Since you hardly need any more sage plants yourself if you have cut “too many branches”, it is best to plant the sage in pots in which you can give it away. Small souvenirs for many occasions are the sage cuttings in a pretty clay pot, which is painted with the words “Sage” and / or a sage picture.

It will be a “real” gift if you equip and decorate a number of such clay pots with a wide variety of herbs; You can make real design pots (paint them in bright colors, use the napkin technique, etc.) or buy them.

You can of course drink too much sage as sage tea or give it away, which is said to be very healthy. Sage is often recommended for sore throats, which inadequately describes its possibilities: “Why should a person die when he has sage in the garden?” Was a saying in the Middle Ages; Today we know that sage is a powerful medicinal plant with strong antifungal, antibacterial, astringent, anti-inflammatory and antiperspirant effects.

Recipe: Pour hot water over 1 tablespoon of sage leaves, let it steep for 10 minutes for healing purposes (very strong and not necessarily tasty), as a healthy tea for in between times a little shorter. You can add a dash of lemon, honey or fruit syrup to make both variants a little more pleasant.

Sage: Many shapes, slightly different cut

So far there has been talk of Salvia officinalis. It is the best-known and best-selling sage, of which there are also cultivars. The pruning treatment described above also applies to these, but may need to be varied a little. Here are some cultivars with their “cut preferences”:

  • Sage leaf, Salvia officinalis ‘Non-Flower’, leaves instead of flowers for enthusiastic cooks, the more, the more often you pinch
  • Tricolor sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’, variegated white and purple, strong, can be harvested abundantly
  • Fluffy sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Crispa’, variety with a serrated leaf edge that is comparatively less woody
  • Golden sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Aurea’, golden variegated leaves, robust species that should be pruned frequently
  • Purple sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’, narrow, long leaves, low growth, only moderate pruning required
  • Sage officinalis, blue flowering, tall Mediterranean sage, must be pruned vigorously in spring
  • Sage officinalis ‘Extrakta’, many small leaves for a rich harvest, with which also constant pruning takes place
  • Salvia officinalis ‘Nazareth’, warm sage with a resinous-sweet aroma and almost white leaves, moderate pruning
  • Salvia officinalis ‘Rosea’, very abundant pink flowers in spring, cleaning accordingly extensive, otherwise little need for pruning
  • Dwarf sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Nana’, see above ‘Nana Alba’, grows very compact, especially pruning after flowering is important

Conclusion As a
subshrub, sage is a kind of perennial that lignifies below and must be prevented from becoming lignified by frequent pruning. This works well with care pruning in spring, pruning back the flower roots or remnants and constant harvest pruning. This basic pattern applies, with slightly different variations, to all cultivars (and to most of the other 800 species of sage). Because a lot of sage occurs with constant trimming, convenient drying is a good way of preserving

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