How to Grow and Care for Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff plant with lance-shaped leaves and small white flower clusters

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a creeping, mat-forming perennial that is commonly used as a groundcover 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 of soil and moisture conditions. It is a deer-resistant plant and is considered one of the few rabbit-proof flowers. This plant spreads easily and can become invasive, so plant it where you can keep it under control.

Common Name Sweet woodruff, woodruff, wild baby's breath, bedstraw, sweet-scented bedstraw
Botanical Name Galium odoratum
Family Rubiaceae
Plant Type Perennial, herb
Mature Size 6-12 in. tall, 9-18 in. wide
Sun Exposure Partial, shade
Soil Type Moist but Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 4-9 (USDA)
Native Area Europe, Africa, Asia

Sweet Woodruff Care

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 groundcover for dry shade, and even full-blown drought rarely kills the plant. Furthermore, sweet woodruff typically has no serious issues with diseases or pests.

Sweet woodruff plant with small white flower clusters in star shapes with lance-shaped leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Sweet woodruff plant with small white flowers and lance-shaped leaves on side of path

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Sweet woodruff plant with lance-shaped leaves and small white flower clusters mixed with other foliage

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

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. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions.

Pruning Sweet Woodruff

This groundcover loves to spread, and while pruning isn't necessary, you can cut it back to keep it contained in the area you'd like to showcase it in. If it becomes too thick for your liking, you can also thin it out by pruning the plant.

Propagating Sweet Woodruff

This plant is easily propagated simply by digging up sections. When selecting an area to dig up, choose sections that have had at least a couple of years to become established. The best time to do this is in the spring or fall. Here's how:

  1. With a shovel, dig up a section with the roots attached.
  2. Replant the clump in the desired new location.
  3. Water and let the plant settle in and establish itself in the new area.

How to Grow Sweet Woodruff From Seed

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.

Overwintering Sweet Woodruff

This groundcover will tend to go dormant and die back but will reappear again in the spring. In the zones that get colder weather, you can throw a layer of mulch over the area to winterize the plants to help protect them.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Sweet woodruff is a great fly repellant, and has no real issues with pests or diseases. The aroma of the flowers is an added benefit, especially if you've planted it near your outdoor sitting area. You might see a white chalky residue on the leaves known as powdery mildew, which can be managed by cutting off the affected area and using an organic substance such as neem oil.

Sweet Woodruff Uses

Sweet woodruff plants are primarily used as a flowering groundcover 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 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.

FAQ
  • Does sweet woodruff attract butterflies?

    The fragrant white flowers attract both butterflies and bees.

  • How fast does sweet woodruff grow?

    If it has ideal growing conditions, sweet woodruff can easily spread out as much as 18 inches in one year.

  • Will sweet woodruff choke out other plants?

    This groundcover plant spreads quickly and if not kept controlled, will take over the area and choke out other plants.

  • What plants go well with sweet woodruff?

    Some companion plants for sweet woodruff include hostas, bleeding hearts, and rhododendrons.