White sage is native to the low to medium elevations of the coastal sage scrub and chaparral of southern California and adjacent Baja California. The plant is a medium sized shrub that is three to five feet tall and just as wide. The woolly foliage is fragrant and silver gray. The stems carry small whorls of white flowers in late spring and early summer. Flower spikes can be to seven or eight feet high.
White sage is drought deciduous. That means that it will lose some leaves in response to drought. This is a characteristic of plants from the coastal sage scrub plant community. To keep the plants from losing many leaves in the summer, they can be watered sparingly, but this also tends to shorten their life.
White sage is recommended for Sunset zones 7-9, 11, and 13-24 or USDA zones 8-10. Plants should be grown in full sun. The plant is drought tolerant. The plant is sensitive to cold and damp winters. Plants should be grown in well-drained soil. Plants may be difficult to grow in areas with high humidity.
Trimming should be done after flowering. This encourages new growth in the spring and keeps old growth from rotting out in wet winters. You may want to wait to trim until that plant has gone to seed, for quail and small birds like the seeds.
To propagate, sow seeds in March or April and plant out the seedlings in early summer. In places where the plant is at its limit due to the cold, plants should be grown in a greenhouse for the first winter. Cuttings of half hard wood can be rooted and can be taken at any time during the growing season.
Variety compacta is half the size of the species. It is native to the high desert and will take some freezing weather as long as the ground does not freeze.
Salvia ‘Vicki Romo' is a hybrid between Salvia apiana and Salvia clevelandii. Flowers are large and light lavender. Foliage is silver gray and similar to S. apiana. The hybrid is more soil-tolerant than the species S. apiana.
Seeds of white sage were eaten by some Native American tribes. Some peoples would peel and eat the young stem tips. Acorn granaries were lined with the leaves, probably in an effort to repel insects and other pests. Fresh leaves were placed on the forehead to relieve headaches.
The foliage of white sage has been used as smudge sticks by many Native American tribes in purification rituals. It is still used as smudge sticks in modern times by all sorts of people. The indiscriminate harvest of wild plants has led to the destruction of wild stands.
White sage makes a nice background or middle ground plant for the xeriscape garden. The silver gray foliage would make it a highlight in the moonlight garden, and would provide contrast to plants with green foliage. The plant is also attractive to native insects and hummingbirds, making it a valuable addition to the native plant garden