Butterfly Sage Care: How To Grow Butterfly Sage In Gardens

Butterfly Sage Care: How To Grow Butterfly Sage In Gardens

By: Liz Baessler

Butterfly sage, also commonly called bloodberry, is a small heat loving evergreen shrub that produces beautiful tiny flowers that are excellent for attracting butterflies and other pollinators. But how do you grow butterfly sage plants in the garden? Keep reading to learn more about growing cordia butterfly sage and tips for butterfly sage care.

Butterfly Sage Info

Butterfly sage (Cordia globosa) gets its name because it is so attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. It produces clusters of tiny, white, star-shaped flowers that aren’t especially showy but are very popular among smaller butterflies who have a hard time feeding on bigger flowers.

The plant’s other common name, bloodberry, comes from the abundant clusters of deep red berries it produces when the flowers fade. These berries are excellent for attracting birds.

It is a native plant in Florida, where it is listed as an endangered species. It may be illegal to harvest butterfly sage plants in the wild in your area, but you should be able to buy seedlings or seeds through a legal native plant supplier.

How to Grow Butterfly Sage

Butterfly sage plants are multi-stemmed shrubs that grow to a height and spread of 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m.). They are hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11. They are extremely cold sensitive, but in warm enough weather they are evergreen.

Once established, they are very drought tolerant. They cannot handle salt or wind, and the leaves will burn if they are exposed to either. The plants grow best in full sun to partial shade. They can tolerate moderate pruning.

Because the berries are so attractive to birds, it’s not uncommon for the seeds to be scattered around the garden through bird droppings. Keep an eye out for volunteer seedlings and weed them out when young if you don’t want the shrubs to spread all over your yard.

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Garden sage is easy to grow—and a wonderful culinary herb that flavors meat and bean dishes (including that Thanksgiving stuffing). See how to plant, grow, and harvest sage.

Sage is a hardy perennial with pretty, grayish green leaves that like as good in a perennial border as they do in a vegetable garden. It grows spikes of spring flowers in different colors, including purple, blue, white, and pink.

Not all sage varieties are culinary the most popular kitchen sage is called Salvia officinalis.


How to Plant Sage

  • Plant sage in full sun.
  • Sage should be planted in well-draining soil it won’t tolerate sitting in wet soil.
  • The easiest and best way to start sage is from a small plant. Set the plants 2 feet apart.
  • You can also sow seeds up to two weeks before the last frost date. (See local frost dates.) Plant the seeds/cuttings in well-drained soil 1 to 2 weeks before the last spring frost.
  • For best growth, the soil should be between 60º and 70ºF.
  • Plants should grow to be between 12 and 30 inches in height.
  • In the garden, plant near rosemary, cabbage, and carrots, but keep sage away from cucumbers.

How to Grow Sage

  • Be sure to water the young plants regularly until they are fully grown so that they don’t dry out. They’ll need a consistent moisture supply until they start growing quickly.
  • Prune the heavier, woody stems every spring.
  • It’s best to replace the plants every few years so they remain productive.


  • Rust
  • Powdery mildew
  • Stem rot
  • Fungal leaf spots
  • Whiteflies
  • Aphids
  • Spider mites


How to Harvest Sage

  • Pinch off leaves or snip off small sprigs from the plant.
  • During the first year, harvest lightly to ensure that the plant grows fully.
  • After the first year, be sure to leave a few stalks so that the plant can rejuvenate in the future.
  • If fully established, one plant can be harvested up to three times in one season.
  • Stop harvesting in the fall so the plant can prepare for winter.

How to Store Sage

  • Sage’s flavor is best when fresh, but it can be stored frozen or dried.
  • To dry, hang sprigs in a shady, well-ventilated area and allow them to air dry, waiting until the leaves crumble easily to store in tightly lidded jars.
  • Sage keeps its flavor better if stored in the freezer. Freeze leaves or stalks on a tray, then move the leaves into a zippered bag or container. Some cooks blend the leaves with oil, pack the ground mixture into ice cube trays to freeze, and then transfer the cubes to a container.
  • See our full article on preserving herbs.

Recommended Varieties

Wit & Wisdom

  • Anyone who has sage planted in their garden is reputed to do well in business.
  • For other greens to use in your cuisine, see the Leafy Greens: Health Benefits page.


Sage Plant Care

You need just three things to grow garden sage – fresh air, good soil drainage and plenty of sunshine. Sage can be grown from seed, or you can purchase small plants at a garden center to give you a head start.

Follow these tips for sage plant care and you’ll be enjoying the fresh flavor before you know it.

Sunlight needs for Sage

Outdoors, sage likes full sun to very light shade. 6-8 hours of sunlight is ideal, but if you live in the Southern part of the USA, sage will benefit with some relief from the afternoon sun.

You can also grow sage Indoors in a bright sunny window. A south facing window is ideal.

When is the best time to plant sage?

Wait until the ground temperature is about 65º F which is normally 1-2 weeks after the last frost.

Seeds or seedlings should be planted 18 – 24 inches apart. You can also plant seeds or seedlings in patio pots. I once grew my entire herb garden and vegetable garden on my back deck.

I like having my herb garden right out my patio door. It ensures that I will be more likely to use them than if I have to trudge to the garden to get them.

Soil, Watering and Fertilizing Requirements

Plant in sandy, well draining soil. The ideal pH for garden sage is between 6.0 and 7.0. Soil rich in nitrogen is also beneficial.

If your soil has a high clay content, add organic matter such as compost so that it will drain more completely when watered. Avoid over head watering if possible to prevent fungal types of diseases.

Sage is fairly drought resistant and you should avoid over-watering the herb. Just add more water when the soil starts to dry out. Sage grows well in containers as well as in garden beds.

Don’t add too much fertilizer or you will end up with a plant that grows quickly but with a less intense flavor.

Leaves and flowers of sage plants

The leaves of a sage plant are elongated and come to a point at the end. They are a dusty gray green color. Sage leaves have a velvety texture that is pretty in the garden and also feels nice when you pick the leaves.

With soft textured leaves you need to be very careful of over-watering. Sage leaves can turn yellow if the plant is too wet, or if the leaves get splashed with water too often. This makes them more susceptible to developing leaf-spot fungus.

Water from below for best results.

Sage plants have purple or white flowers that appear in the summer time. The flowers are edible and often used in making vinegar or in decorating cakes.

Cut sage flowers right before they peak. The flowers will be partially opened, but not all the way.

Note on flowering: Most herbs will get more bitter if allowed to flower. If you want the look of flowering sage (which is very pretty) grow some for flowers and others for herbs to get the best of both worlds.

How large does sage get?

Sage grows to about 2 – 3 feet tall and has a spread of about 18 – 24 inches wide. It does well planted as a low background herb plant in a border with other herbs and also in its own bed.

How to propagate sage

Sage can be propagated from cuttings to get more plants for free. Make softwood cuttings in early summer. A rooting powder will speed up with rooting process.

Place the cuttings in well draining soil and keep watered until roots develop and the plant starts going.

You can also divide mature sage plants in spring or early fall every 2 or 3 years. The stems of sage will root well by layering.

To layer sage stems, secure long pieces of the stem along the garden soil with some landscape pins or bent wire, leaving the tip free. Make sure the stem comes in contact with the soil.

Roots will form along the stem in about a month and the entire stem can be removed from the parent and planted up separately.

Older sage plants tend to develop a woody taste to the leaves, so after 4 or 5 years, it’s a good idea to start over with new cuttings.

Companion plants for sage

Sage does well planted near tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and strawberries. The flowers of sage are lovely and attract pollinators. It does not do well near cucumbers.

This aromatic herb will attract honeybees and the cabbage butterfly and repels cabbage flies, carrot fly, cabbage looper and cabbage maggot.

Plant sage in containers with rosemary, thyme, basil, and other Mediterranean herbs, since these flavors are often used together in recipes.

Are you interested in growing herbs but can’t identify them very well? This herb identification chart will be a huge help to you.

How cold hardy is sage?

Sage is a perennial herb that is evergreen and cold hardy in zones 4 through 9. It will also grow in the warmer zones, but the high temperatures and humidity are hard on the plant, so it is often grown as an annual in these zones.

This herb handles the cold well but mulch for winter protection. Most varieties of sage will go dormant in the winter and come back again the following spring.

Prune sage plants back in the early spring each year, cutting out the oldest and woodiest growth to promote new growth.

When to harvest Sage

Garden sage will be ready to harvest in 70-75 days from small plants, or 90-100 days from seed.

Harvest lightly in the first year if you grow sage as a perennial. In subsequent years, you can harvest more often. The woody old sage plants produce the leaves with the strongest flavor.

Sage can be harvested almost all year long. The plant survives even after the snows have fallen. To harvest, cut the top 5-6 inch of the stalks before the plant flowers. Repeat as new growth develops.

Unlike many herb plants, sage leaves are still flavorful and aromatic even after the plant flowers. The flavor intensifies as the leaves grow larger.

Pests and diseases

Be on the lookout for mildew. You can discourage this condition by making sure that the plants are wide enough apart to encourage good air circulation. Check often for mildew on the hottest and most humid days.

Mulching with pebbles around the crown also helps to keep the area around the leaves dryer than normal mulches.

Other diseases and insects that infect sage are stem rot from over-watering, aphids, spider mites and rust.

Sage Plant Uses

Sage is useful in stuffings and stews and is often used to flavor sausages. It is very flavorful and combines best with rich meats such as pork, beef and game.

Combine sage with coarse sea salt to make a flavorful salt that makes a great addition to crispy potatoes.

You can use the herb to make sage butter and it also makes a wonderful herb-infused vinegar. Sage has a very intense flavor, so only a small amount is needed to flavor a recipe.

Sage is also a useful plant to repel mosquitoes. The leaves send out a strong fragrance and produces oils that repel the insect. Find out how to make a homemade mosquito repellent with essential oils, and learn about other mosquito repelling plants here.

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