Sweet Woodruff Plant Profile

Sweet woodruff under a tree
David Beaulieu

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a creeping, mat-forming perennial that is commonly used as a ground cover in shady areas. It bears pretty clusters of white, star-shaped flowers in the spring and has very fragrant, lance-shaped, dark green leaves. Sweet woodruff is exceptionally easy to grow and readily adapts to a wide range for soil and moisture conditions. It is a deer-resistant plant and is considered one of the few rabbit-proof flowers.

Botanical Name Galium odoratum
Common Name Sweet woodruff, woodruff, wild baby's breath, bedstraw, sweet-scented bedstraw
Plant Type Perennial herb
Mature Size 6 to 12 inches tall with a spread of 9 to 18 inches
Sun Exposure Part shade to full shade
Soil Type Medium to wet and well-drained
Soil pH 4.8 to 8.3 (tolerates a wide range)
Bloom Time April and May
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 4 to 8, USA
Native Area Europe, Northern Africa, Northern Asia

How to Grow Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff grows prolifically when planted in average, well-drained soil with medium to wet moisture. It quickly spreads by creeping roots and self-seeding and can end up becoming too aggressive in some gardens if the conditions are ideal. Controlling the plant might require periodic mowing with a lawnmower set at a high blade height.

The plant can suffer in conditions that are too hot and dry, requiring water to resurrect it. However, withholding water also can be a means of taming its spread. It is generally a suitable ground cover for dry shade, and even full-blown drought rarely kills the plant. Furthermore, sweet woodruff typically has no serious issues with diseases or pests.

Light

Sweet woodruff grows well in full shade to partial shade, particularly when it is planted under trees. Full sun, especially when it's at its brightest in the middle of summer, can scorch the leaves.

Soil

The plant tolerates a wide range of conditions, though it prefers consistent moisture, good drainage, and a slightly acidic pH. It does best in rich, loamy soil, but it also will grow in clay and sandy soil.

Water

While sweet woodruff grows most vigorously in damp to wet soil conditions, it also tolerates dry shade. To prevent it from spreading too invasively, only water the plant in times of prolonged drought.

Temperature and Humidity

This plant thrives in the various climate conditions found throughout its hardiness range, and it has even been known to push its boundaries to chillier northern climates slightly out of its range. But in very hot temperatures, sweet woodruff might go temporarily dormant, though it readily returns once conditions moderate.

Fertilizer

Sweet woodruff generally requires no feeding. But a new plant might benefit from an all-purpose fertilizer to help it get started, especially if soil conditions are poor.

Propagating Sweet Woodruff

This plant is easily propagated simply by digging up sections with the roots attached and replanting these clumps in new locations. Aim to choose sections that have had at least a couple years to become established. The best time to do this is in the spring or fall.

Sweet woodruff also can be propagated from seed, but this is rarely done because root division is so easy. If you wish to use seeds, wait to gather them until they fully ripen in July or August. Then, either sow them directly into the ground in early spring or start them indoors up to 10 weeks before your area's last frost.

Uses for Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff plants are primarily used as a flowering ground cover or edging for shady areas in a landscape. These perennials will spread out to form a low mat that, in conjunction with landscape mulch, will help to choke out weeds. They also are one of the plants that grow well under pine trees where many plants fail to thrive due to soil acidity. And they will even grow under a black walnut tree, despite the toxic chemical, juglone, that is emitted by this tree.

Sweet woodruff's usefulness doesn't end with the landscape. In addition to its traditional application as a stuffing material for mattresses, the plant also has been used as a flavoring agent for beer and wine, as well as tea and fruit drinks.

Nowadays, sweet woodruff is most valued as a fragrant plant, with its aroma being compared to freshly mown hay and vanilla when its leaves are cut or crushed. This pleasing scent has been used commercially in perfumes. People also dry foliage to increase its aromatic quality and use it to lend fragrance to linens, sachets, potpourris, kissing balls, wreaths, and more. The aroma can last for years. For optimal fragrance, harvest the leaves of sweet woodruff right after the plant blooms. Harvested branches should be tied in bunches and hung to dry in a warm, dark room with low humidity.