Why is My Sage Plant Wilting? (How to Solve it)


Sage plant wilting

The reason for sage plants wilting or drooping can be because of over watering, fungal disease, too much fertilizer or under watering. Sage is a drought resistant plant and sensitive to too much moisture around the roots so over watering is the most common cause of a sage plant wilting.

To ensure a sage plant is healthy and does not wilt or droop as a sign of stress it is important to recreate some of the growing conditions of its native environment.

Keep reading to learn why your sage plant is wilting and how to solve it…

Too Much Moisture Around the Roots

As sage is a plant that originates in Southern Europe and grows on hillsides in a Mediterranean climate, sage is adapted to growing in almost drought like conditions with infrequent rainfall, and well draining sandy soils.

With a preference for dyer soils, sage is water sensitive and does not like the soil to be persistently damp around the roots for a long time.

The wilting or drooping leaves of a sage plant is often a sign of stress that the soil is too damp, which a lot of people misinterpret as a sign of under watering.

Excessive moisture around the roots can be due to a few factors:

  • Over watering (potted sage only requires watering once per week in hot weather and once every two weeks in cooler conditions).
  • Slowing draining soils (sage prefers well draining soil and does not grow well in heavy clay or low lying boggy soil).
  • High rainfall (sage is adapted to climates with low rainfall, however they can easily adjust to growing in rainy climates with good soil preparation).

Over watering…

If you are watering your sage more then once per week then you are over watering the plant. Scale back the watering to once per week in dry, hot weather during summer if it is planted in a pot.

In most cases for sage planted in garden boarders watering once every two weeks is the right balance for watering, particularly if there has been some overcast days or rainfall.

Always water sage generously with each bout of watering to encourage the roots to establish as a light watering on the surface encourages shallow roots.

Slow draining soils

Consider that sage plants are native to countries on the Mediterranean coast where they grow in sandy or stony soils, often on hillsides.

Therefore sage is suited to soils that do not retain too much moisture and allow for good drainage which is why sage is grows so well in pots and containers.

Clay soil or rich compost that holds moisture for long periods will cause the sage to droop as a sign of stress.

It is always important to amend the soil before planting sage with some horticultural sand or grit to increase the porous nature of the soil so watering can drain through more efficiently rather then stay damp around the roots.

Whether you are planting sage in a pot or in a garden boarder, add roughly 20% sand or grit to 80% compost or potting soil. This will replicate the soil conditions of the sage’s native Mediterranean environment and improve drainage.

If you have already planted the sage in slow draining soil then I recommend transplanting the plant to a pot or container.

It is much easier to control the soil profile in a pot to suit the sage’s preferred conditions then it is to amend garden soil.

High rainfall

Sage is native to hot and dry climates but it can be grown in cooler, climates with higher levels of rainfall (such as the pacific north west or the UK) with some adjustments.

In areas of high rainfall, by far the most important factor is to prepare the soil properly before hand.

Sage is not a fussy plant in terms of soil preference but it is essential that the soil is well draining to counteract the high levels of rainfall.

This means adding a higher proportion of sand or grit to the soil mix. Too much sand is always better then not enough when it comes to preparing soil for sage in rainy climates. Add as much as 1 third sand or grit to 2 thirds multi purpose compost or potting soil to ensure that the soil has the well draining qualities that sage requires to stay healthy.

In rainy climates I would also suggest spacing sage plants a good distance apart. This will ensure that not only the sage is in full sun but also so that the surrounding soil is not too shaded which can slow down the rate of evaporation and cause damp soils.

By ensuring you are watering the sage plant appropriately, preparing the soil to improve the drainage and ensuring the plant is in full sun so the soil around the roots of the sage plant dries out better, the sage can recover from its wilting or drooping appearance due to water stress within a few weeks.

Fungal Disease Causes Wilt

If there is persistent moisture around the roots of the sage plant then damp soil promotes the conditions in which fungal disease pathogens are common.

The fungal disease pathogen VerticilliumĀ wilt affects many woody perennials such as lavender, rosemary and sage. For sage plants VerticilliumĀ wilt symptoms are wilting, foliage falling off and leaves turning yellow.

This disease can often kill the sage plant and the pathogens can live in the soil for a long time so any other plants planted in that area may become infected.

If you are determined to save the sage then the best thing to do is to take a cutting from a healthy disease free part of the plant and propagate it (watch this video for how to propagate sage).

However if this is not possible, burn the infected plant or dispose of it and treat the soil with a fungicide.

The best way to prevent sage plants from fungal infection is with good soil drainage and the appropriate balance of watering so that the soil dries out somewhat between bouts of watering.

Too Much Fertilizer can Cause Wilt

Another cause of sage plants looking as though they are wilting or drooping is the use of excessive fertilizer.

Sage thrives in its native environment in sandy or stony soils often on hill sides. Sand does not contribute much nutrients to the soil and it also does not retain as much nutrients in the same way the loam soil does.

If the soil conditions are artificially to high in nutrients because of a fertilizer then the sage plant may have a wilting appearance as excessive nitrogen can cause:

  • An excess of foliage growth that is soft, sappy and more vulnerable to disease with a wilting or drooping appearance.
  • A less pronounced aroma and taste from the leaves.
  • Another sign of high nitrogen is that the leaves can start to turn yellow.

In most cases the use of fertilizer is not necessary for growing sage in garden soil, however if the plant is planted in pots or has shown signs of poor growth then a half strength all purpose general plant fertilizer applied in the Spring can be useful to stimulate more growth.

If you have applied an excess of fertilizer then do not apply any more to allow the plant to recover and in the following season the growth should return to normal rather then a wilted appearance.

Under watering

Whilst sage is drought resistant as it is native to the hot and dry climate of the Mediterranean it is possible that it could be wilting due to under watering.

This might be the case if…

  • The pot the sage is planted in is too small
  • The sage is indoors and has been neglected

Small pots heat up in full sun and tend to dry out too quickly for the sage’s roots to uptake effectively.

With small pots, watering sage once per week may not be frequent enough, however the solution is not to increase the frequency of watering but to re-plant the sage in a bigger pot that holds more soil and does not heat up to the same extent in full sun.

As sage plants can start quite small from the garden center, I recommend re-potting the sage in the Spring every year or so as it grows or you can plant it in a pot that is roughly 12-16 inches proportionally. A pot this size allows for the roots of the sage to establish properly so it can access the water and nutrient it requires as well as insulating the roots in Winter.

Ensure that the pot has drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to escape so the soil can dry out and this will prevent the sage from wilting or drooping.

Indoor sage may be wilting because it has not been watered enough (around once every two weeks is the right balance).

A wilted looking sage (due to under watering) is surprising resilient and can recover after a generous soak, and a more consistent watering schedule.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sage plants are drought resistant plants that prefer the soil to dry out between bouts of watering. The most common reason for sage plants wilting is as a sign of stress due to too much moisture around the roots. Fungal disease, under watering and the use of excessive fertilizer can all cause sage to wilt.
  • Ensure the soil is well draining, and you water sage the appropriate amount (water once every 2 weeks or once a week in hot weather).
  • Do not use a high nitrogen fertilizer as sage is not a heavy feeder prefers medium levels of soil nutrients. Too much nitrogen can cause the leaves to turn yellow and the plant to wilt.
  • Under watering can cause sage to wilt if the pot is too small and cannot hold much soil or moisture. Sage responds well to watering after a drought.

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