How to cut flower sage and spice sage correctly - tutorial with instructions

How to cut flower sage and spice sage correctly - tutorial with instructions

Sage species differences

The diverse genus Sage brings home gardeners magnificent ornamental perennials and aromatic calycanthus alike. Each of the two categories inspires with convincing attributes, so that both variants can be found in many gardens. Knowledgeable pruning should take into account the variety of growths in order for each species of sage to show its best. Representative for the extensive genus, the following overview summarizes important cut-relevant differences for two popular species:

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Blossom sage, steppe sage (Salvia nemorosa)

  • Herbaceous growth
  • Lavish flowering period from May to October
  • Inedible leaves and flowers
  • All above-ground parts of the plant die off after the first frost
  • Fresh shoots in spring from hardy rhizomes

Spice sage, garden sage, real sage (Salvia officinalis)

  • Broad bushy growth as a subshrub
  • Progressive lignification from base to tip
  • Herbaceous annual shoots with aromatic, edible leaves
  • Few purple-blue flowers from June to August
  • Woody shoots mostly glabrous

Although sage is native to the Mediterranean, both species and the varieties that emerged from them prove to be well hardy in the Central European climate.

Cut the flower sage twice a year

In creative garden design, a regular place is reserved for flowering sage in the perennial bed. The inedibility of its felty leaves makes up for the steppe sage with a lavish display of flowers in summer, accompanied by a wonderful scent. Since flowering sage is one of the remounting perennials, it celebrates its colorful appearance twice a season. Accordingly, the scissors are used in spring and summer. How to properly cut flower sage:

  • Cut off all shoots in February / March at ground level
  • Then fertilize with compost and horn shavings
  • Cut back withered flower stalks from mid-July to early August
  • Cut about a hand's width above the floor

The summer cut should leave some leaves on the stems so that the perennial can sprout and bloom again. Then apply a mineral fertilizer that quickly unfolds its effect and accelerates growth. If the second flower pile is coming to an end, no cut is made. The dead shoots and leaves act as natural winter protection. You can only clean off withered flower spikes, if self-sowing is not desired.


The summer pruning of flowering sage leaves a rather bare spot in the herbaceous bed for a while. Until the plant drifts through again, beautiful neighboring plants bridge the waiting time. Socialize steppe sage with needle-leaved girl's eye (Coreopsis verticillata), dyer's chamomile (Anthemis) or pearl basket 'silver rain' (Anaphalis triplinervis). Sage also maintains good neighbors with pennon cleaner grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), so that no bed areas are swept empty.

Spice Sage - Cutting Instructions

The pruning of spiced sage is a permanent fight against progressive lignification . True sage primarily produces its aromatic leaves on the herbaceous annual shoots . These freeze back completely in the harsh winter and sprout again in spring. From below, the plant constantly strives to lignify its shoots. Without regular pruning, the lignification process gains the upper hand and puts an end to the growth of spicy leaves. In terms of pruning, sage therefore pulls together with other Mediterranean beauties such as lavender and rosemary. How to do it right:

  • The best time is between late February and mid-March when the weather is frost-free
  • At the beginning, thin out all dead shoots at ground level
  • Cut back the remaining shoots to just above the woody areas

After the central shape and maintenance cut, sage gratefully accepts an organic fertilizer. A combination of ripe compost and horn shavings stimulates the growth of the herb plant. In August, the hardiness benefits from a potassium-emphasized fertilizer such as comfrey liquid manure.

Sharpening optimizes crop yield

Just a few weeks after the main cut in late winter, sage is once again the focus of cut care. In this case the scissors can of course remain in the shed. If you peel off the fresh shoots from mid-May, the measure scores with several advantages. The beginning of the flowering period is shifted so that the aroma content of the leaves is retained longer. Furthermore, you encourage further herbaceous branching, which increases the crop yield and reduces lignification.

To pinch, as the sharpening is called in technical jargon, hold the tip of a sage stick between your thumb and forefinger. Use your fingernails to snap off the tip of the shoot where the next pair of leaves or buds is waiting. Of course, you can also use clean, sharp scissors to pinch.


Hedge trimmers master sage giants

If the chosen location simulates Mediterranean framework conditions, Spiced Sage develops expansive dimensions. To dedicate yourself to every single shoot with the one-handed secateurs costs time and nerves. You are well equipped for the annual shape and maintenance cut with two-handed hedge trimmers, ideally with a bypass mechanism (€ 135.56 at Amazon *). As long as you stay within the herbaceous area when pruning, the subshrub tolerates the shirt-sleeved approach without any problems.

Taper cut reverses lignification

If older shoots are more than half or even two-thirds lignified, there is the option of rejuvenation using a derivation cut. Look for an herbaceous side shoot along the woody sage branch. If you do not find what you are looking for, a swelling bud signals that the subshrub still has potential for herbaceous, aromatic growth. The further down there are side shoots or buds, the more profound the rejuvenation effect.

Apply the scissors just above the vegetation point. A distance of 5 to 10 millimeters guarantees that you neither cut into the herbaceous shoot or the bud nor leave an excessively long stub. As the figure below illustrates, the recommended pruning significantly reduces the local degree of lignification and paves the way for herbaceous shoots with numerous sage leaves.

Sage pruning


Spice sage skimpy on buds

As a typical Mediterranean subshrub, spiced sage goes on the defensive when you cut into wood. As generously as the Mediterranean herb plant lets spicy leaves sprout from the herbaceous shoots, it is just as economical when it comes to disposing of sleeping eyes. Native trees can fall back on this iron reserve to continue growth after a strong pruning. On spice sage, a cut in the wood usually results at the end of growth. The only exception is in the rare event that you discover a thick, vital bud on the woody shoot. If you place the scissors at a distance of 5-10 mm, there is a good chance of sprouting.

Harvest and cut at the same time

Sage gardeners with limited time handle harvest and pruning at the same time. This also has the advantage that you harvest sage exactly when its aroma is at its zenith. The only prerequisite for the rational approach is sufficient capacity to freeze or dry the excess harvest. How to proceed step by step:

  • The best time is just before the start of flowering
  • Shower off the sage bush the day before for a clean harvest
  • Cut off whole shoots until just above the lignification
  • Clear out dead wood, poor or diseased stems at floor level

Do not cut into the old wood, as this is where growth usually comes to a standstill. If you limit the circumference of the cut to the herbaceous, leafy area, new shoots will begin, which will bring you another harvest if the weather conditions are suitable. This year's harvest and pruning season for sage ends in mid-August so that the subshrub can mature before winter.

Does the combined harvest and pruning produce a higher yield than the kitchen can use? Then look for unwooded head cuttings. With a length of 5 to 10 centimeters, the shoot tips are perfect for propagation. Remove all leaves in the lower half and put each offshoot in a pot with potting soil. In the warm, partially shaded location with regular water supply, the rooting progresses quickly.

frequently asked Questions

Is sage hardy?

The most popular types of sage for beds and balconies are sufficiently hardy. This applies to real sage (Salvia officinalis) and blossom sage (Salvia nemorosa) as well as all the varieties derived from them. Silver leaf sage (Salvia argentea) and muscatel sage (Salvia sclarea) also prove to be frost-resistant with light winter protection. If you are flirting with extravagant sage species from subtropical regions, there is no question of winter hardiness. This applies to, among others, crested sage (Salvia viridis), honeydew sage (Salvia elegans) and fruit sage (Salvia dorisiana).

Are steppe sage flowers and leaves edible?

Steppe sage (Salvia nemorosa) is also called flower sage because its advantages relate to decorative aspects. The popular sage variety adorns the summer shrub bed with picturesque blossoms from May to October, accompanied by a seductive scent. If you are aiming for the harvest of spicy leaves and aromatic flowers, please use the common sage (Salvia officinalis) or one of its diverse varieties.

Would we like to transplant our three-year-old spice sage to a sunnier location? When and how does it work best?

The best time to relocate spiced sage is in early spring, as long as the plant has not yet sprouted. The less root volume is lost during excavation, the better the plant can cope with the procedure. In the new location, plant the sage so that the previous planting depth is preserved. Combine the transplanting work with a strong pruning to restore the balance between underground and above-ground growth. A sufficient water supply is important in the following period to support the re-rooting.

Is blossom sage a suitable rose partner?

From a botanical point of view, roses and blossom sage go well together. Both types of plants place similar conditions on the site and do not interfere with their roots. The essential oils also help repel aphids and other rose pests. Last but not least, blossom sage and roses want to be pruned at the same time in spring.

The withered flowers of my garden sage bothers me a lot. Can I prune the perennial now in October?

We strongly advise against radical pruning so shortly before winter. The herbaceous shoots serve as important winter protection even when they are dead. There is nothing wrong with cutting off the withered flower panicles if the well-groomed appearance in the bed is impaired. After the first frost, flower sage should no longer be cut.

Flower sage 'Pusztaflamme' should actually grow upright. In my garden it falls apart and is partly on the ground. What to do?

Extreme heat and drought can cause Sage Blossom to fall apart. A thrown ball or a careless kick are also typical causes of the mishap. The perennial naturally grows upright. By cutting back all the shoots to a hand's breadth above the ground, you will encourage renewed growth, this time upright.

The 3 most common mistakes

If you cut spiced sage as well as flower sage, in the worst case you will struggle with a total failure of the valuable herbal plant. If real sage cheats through regular pruning, the shoots lignify rapidly and no longer produce a tasty harvest. This table draws attention to common cutting errors on sage, points out typical damage patterns and gives brief tips for effective prevention:

Cutting errorsDamageprevention
Spice sage cut like flower sagepoor growth to total failureDo not cut the seasoned sage into the wood
cut into bare woodEnd of growthLignified shoots derive from a side shoot or a bud
never cutoversized growth, massive lignificationcut every year in late February to mid-March

Another common cutting mistake affects both spice and blossom sage. After the onset of winter, tidy house gardeners can be tempted to cut off the dead plant parts prematurely. With this measure, the Mediterranean plant loses its natural winter protection. Note the date for the pruning of sage on the care plan at the end of February at the earliest, provided that no strong periods of frost are expected.



Cutting spiced sage leaves more clippings than the kitchen can handle. How good that sage leaves retain much of their aroma after drying. Bundle whole shoots into bunches. Hang this upside down in an airy, dry place. Sage leaves are dry within one to two weeks and can be stored in the airtight jar until needed.