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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Jerusalem Sage May Need Some TLC

Q.  My phlomis plants have leaves that have died and some have yellow with brown tips. Should I cut it down in February? Should I increase the water? Do I just leave it alone? What causes the edge of the leaves to dry up?

A.  Commonly, this plant is called Jerusalem sage.  It grows like a weed in the Mediterranean region and has become somewhat of a pest in parts of England where it escaped from gardens and become a “weed”. 
            Judging from the pictures you sent, the newest growth looks great!  It’s some of the older growth which has yellowed or turned brown.  Cut the plant back to the ground just like you would lantana, and let it grow again.  It will.

Want to see what it looks like?

            Even though it has started to grow, you can do it now.  Next year cut it back in January just before it starts to grow.  Apply compost to the top of the soil around it in a 12-inch ring, 1 inch deep, to improve growth, color and flowering.  If it’s growing in rock, apply compost on top of the rock and wash it in with a hose.
            If a plant is going to be a weed it might as well be pretty and taste good!  This is both. Most people grow it as an ornamental because of its yellow flowers.  But it’s in the same family of plants as mint and basil so it smells and tastes good.  Use the leaves as a substitute for common sage; pull off fresh leaves, let them dry, put them in a plastic bag for storage and crush them directly when preparing stuffing or cooking meat.
            Our climate is not Mediterranean and our soils are worse than Mediterranean soils.  Grow Jerusalem sage as you would any other perennial vegetable or herb in our desert climate and soils.  Do not plant in locations where there is intense temperatures and mix compost into the soil at the time of planting in a ratio of 1 to 1.  
            My guess is the damage to the leaves is old, from winter cold temperatures and some watering problems perhaps.  Avoid growing it on the south and west sides in intense hot locations.  Water and fertilize as you would any other perennial vegetable or herb.  Pinch new growth for a fuller canopy and harvest young leaves for more intense flavor and aroma.

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