Sweet Woodruf Plant Profile

A Great Ground Cover to Grow Under Trees

Sweet woodruff under a tree
David Beaulieu

Sweet woodruff is a creeping, mat-forming perennial that is commonly used as a ground cover in shady areas, such as in woodland gardens or beneath dense shade trees. It bears pretty clusters of white star-shaped flowers in 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. Sweet woodruff is a deer-resistant ground cover and is considered one of the few rabbit-proof flowers.

  • Botanical Name: Galium odoratum
  • Common Name: Sweet woodruff, woodruff, wild baby's breath, bedstraw
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial herb
  • Mature Size: 6 to 12 inches tall, with a 9- to 18-inch spread
  • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
  • Soil Type: Medium to wet, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: Tolerates a wide range, 4.8 to 8.3
  • Bloom Time: April to May
  • Flower Color: White
  • Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
  • Native Area: Europe, northern Africa, northern Asia

How to Grow Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff is very easy to grow when planted in average well-drained soils that with medium to wet moisture levels. It quickly spreads by creeping roots and by self-seeding, and its spread may be somewhat too aggressive if conditions are ideal. Controlling the plant may require that you periodically mow with down with lawnmower set at a high blade height.

In conditions that are very hot and too dry, midsummer may see the plants go dormant, requiring watering to resurrect them. However, withholding water can also be a good means of taming this plant. It is generally one of the better ground covers for dry shade that stops short of full prolonged drought conditions. Even full-blown drought rarely kills this plant permanently.

Sweet woodruff has no serious disease or insect problems.

Light

Sweet woodruff grows well in full shade to partial shade.

Soil

This plant grows well in ordinary soil and tolerates a wide range of moisture and pH conditions.

Water

While sweet woodruff grows most vigorously in damp to wet soil conditions, it also tolerates dry shade, and withholding water is an effective way to control growth that is too aggressive. This plant should be watered only in conditions of prolonged drought.

Temperature and Humidity

This plant thrives in the climate conditions found throughout its hardiness range. In very hot climates, sweet woodruff may go temporarily dormant, but it readily returns when conditions moderate.

Fertilizer

Sweet woodruff requires no feeding.

Propagating Sweet Woodruff

This plant is easily propagated simply by digging up sections of the plant with roots attached and replanting the clumps in new locations. It can also be propagated from seed, but this is rarely done because root division is so easy.

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 stuffing material for bed mattresses, 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.