Does anyone recognize this variety? Is it normal for sage to have a woody base?
I'm not convinced this is Salvia officinalis, or 'white sage', or a Salvia at all - the leaves are not long enough for S. officinalis, and it is unlikely to form a trunk in this way, however old it is. I think it's Phlomis fruticosa, common name Jerusalem Sage. Whilst all parts of the plant are edible, it is not usually used for seasoning food, but grown more for ornamental purposes.
Clearly, this one is very old and has been pruned back hard in the past, leaving a single, woody stem which is unusual and quite attractive. It flowers in spring on growth from the previous year, producing long, upright stems with a tiered arrangement of yellow flowers, so there might be 3 flowers, one above the other up the stem. Prune it at the wrong time, and any parts that would have flowered will be cut off, so it should only be pruned immediately after it has flowered. More information here, though there is no image of the flowers http://www.georgiaperennial.org/newsletter/article001/
I've never seen a sage tree! Is that some sort of graft at the bottom of the trunk near the soil? Would love to see a close up.
I would love to help you prune this little tree! What side of the house is this? Think of a Bonsai look. You go in and thin cutting out branches that are shaded. This will also help with ventilation, air flow. You'll be able to see more branching, little peek a boos of structure.
Using a good pair of bypass pruning shears, not the anvil type, cleaned with alcohol and sharpened (Felco makes the best) cut out branches flush at the main branch and branches. Keep the cutting blade closest to the main trunk/branch. You have to turn the shears so that the cutting blade is held closest to the live trunk/branch. If you are right handed with right handed shears cutting a branch from that trunk on the right side of that trunk, the cutting blade will be to your left. The other blade to your right. This helps to maintain a clean cut leaving less of the old branch. By having the non cutting blade next to the trunk, that added thickness will cause the stump of the branch left to be too long.
Anvil type pruners actually mash the vascular system and can cause possible disease or poor cuts with the 'stump' left being too large.
Never cut more than a third of a plant off in one session. Focus on removing plant material that is not helping the plant because those branches are in the shade of other leaves and not able to do much photosynthesis, so those branches are actually causing the plant to use up more energy for maintenance of that branch and leaves than that branch of leaves can support in return. Eventually the plant itself will kill off branches/leaves that are not able to hold their 'weight' in production; the branch is requiring more energy for maintenance than what that branch is capable of producing in photosynthesis. "Free Loader"?
Cut any branch that crosses other branches or is growing toward the center of the plant. Cut branches off that have stems obviously smaller than the branches getting sun. Cut off branches that are broken or dying or dead.
Do a little now and take pictures to send back? After removing a few internal branches, using your shears you will now be 'heading back'. This means you will be nipping the very ends of the branches taking off 2 or three sets of leaves at a snip. At the ends of branches are the apical buds. Most of a branches' energy is right there wanting to grow longer to get at the light. By cutting this off that energy is temporarily allowed to go down the branch to the lateral buds. More energy to make healthier leaves and branches that you are leaving behind to do the most effective job with photosynthesis and a healthier looking plant as well.
By thinning out the non producing branches, tipping the remaining branches you will be able to maintain the size of this little tree and reduce the growth of roots so close to your foundation. When in doubt, don't cut. Send pictures of your progress. Keep soil and mulch away from the bottom of this trunk, like you are already doing. Do not over water. If you have never fertilized this plant with a balanced fertilizer now would be a good time. Equal numbers, Osmocote all purpose 14-14-14 at half the directed amount is very safe and lasts a good 6 months to a year.
Sage is a woody perennial, so yes, most mature Sage will have a trunk of sorts. This one is very old and very special. If there is anything I've said that is confusing please ask! If you don't already have your own bypass pruners that you know how to sharpen, look up Felco. These pruners will last a lifetime with proper care. One of the few companies where you can buy a new replacement blade. If you don't know how to sharpen we can walk you through that as well. That cutting blade is only sharpened on one side, burred off on the outside of the blade. Like scissors. Proper sharpening stone or file. I am very glad you saw the possibilities of this plant! Ground cover around this little tree would be a great next question. Do you have a basement? Is this wall concrete foundation?
Note added: The other thing about heading or tipping the branches also removes weight from the end of a branch. Some of these branches could use more than just tipping, they could use (wish I knew metrics better) 6" or more taken off. The fourth picture down looking from above you can see that the mass of foliage leaning into the home needs to be thinned. Entire branches holding that foliage should come off at the main branch. Any branch that is aimed at the home, or concrete wall, should come off the main branch feeding those branchlets. The mass growing away from the wall should be headed back by cutting the size of that clump back to fit the size of the rest of the entire tree.
Let's do the pruning in small amounts sending us pictures as you go. You can wait to do the pruning to do whenever it is best for you. I'd write another question apart from the ID anyway. Is that a little balcony? Is this tree viewed from above more than the side? Down the line we could talk about ground cover or a 'foundation' planting. Does it rain profusely when it rains? What is that mass of what looks like burlap? Stay in touch!
Please send the analysis of that soil!! I missed that bit of information. Soil tests are rare and you've already got one done? Good job Ammoun, seriously!
I am trying to see any hint of seed capsule, such as this one I am attaching, in the debris on the soil around your little tree. I am not saying it is this species at all, just hate to waste that debris on the ground?