Growing Sweet Woodruf

You Can Grow This Ground Cover Under Trees

Sweet woodruff under a tree
Sweet woodruff can perform just fine under trees. David Beaulieu

Sweet woodruff plants are herbaceous perennials that can be grown as herbs as well as ground covers. They are shade-tolerant and cold-hardy, suitable for USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. These aromatic plants bear pretty white flowers in spring.

Taxonomy of Sweet Woodruff

Plant taxonomy classifies sweet woodruff plants as Galium odoratum. The species name or "specific epithet," odoratum is descriptive of the plant's aromatic quality. It is related to Galium mollugo (wild madder), which grows wild in some regions of the U.S. Both are Old-World natives and can also go by the common name of "bedstraw." In fact, the plant family to which they belong, Rubiaceae, is commonly known as the bedstraw family (many of these plants were used traditionally as bed stuffing).

Growing Sweet Woodruff

This herb prefers shade and a well-drained, slightly acidic, soil. Sweet woodruff plants will grow more vigorously with regular watering, but this will also result in their spread (perhaps to areas where they are not welcome). If you wish to keep sweet woodruff contained within a certain space, cut back on watering.

These ground covers bear clusters of small, white, star-shaped flowers and reaches 8 to 12 inches in height, with a slightly greater width. In cold-winter climates, such as zone 5, the flowers bloom in early May. The foliage is aromatic and takes the form of whorls of lance-shaped, dark green leaves. Sweet woodruff is a deer-resistant ground cover and is considered one of the rabbit-proof flowers.

With its ability to spread by means of stolons, sweet woodruff can be invasive. However, it will not spread much if grown in dry soil. Since many plants perform poorly in dry shade, this sturdy customer offers a solution for spots on the landscape plagued by such conditions. Sometimes, it pays to have a plant tough enough to be considered potentially invasive working on your side.

Uses for Sweet Woodruff

Use sweet woodruff plants as a flowering ground cover for shady areas in the landscape. These perennials will spread out to form a mat that, in conjunction with landscape mulch, will help choke out weeds. They are one of the plants that grow well under pine trees. They will even grow under a black walnut tree, despite the toxic chemical juglone emitted by this tree.

Sweet woodruff's usefulness doesn't end with the landscape. In addition to its traditional use as bed stuffing, this herb has been used for medicinal and culinary purposes. In Germany, it has been used as a flavoring for beer and wine. Nowadays, sweet woodruff is most valued as a fragrant plant. It is dried and used to lend a fragrance to linens, sachets, and potpourri. You can also use the dried leaves and stems to make a fragrant wreath.

The intensity of the fragrance of sweet woodruff's foliage increases when dried, and its aromatic quality lasts for years. It is, consequently, a favorite for craft projects using dried plant material, such as potpourri and kissing balls. The fragrance of sweet woodruff herbs has been likened to newly mown hay and vanilla. For optimal fragrance, harvest the leaves of sweet woodruff right after the plants bloom. The harvested branches can be tied in bunches and hung to dry in a warm, dark place with low humidity.