Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum): A Shade-Loving Woodland Groundcover Plant

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a lovely herbaceous perennial plant well-suited as a groundcover in a shady woodland garden. Delicate green leaves appear as the ground thaws each spring, becoming a rich emerald tone in April. The fine foliage is topped with tiny white flowers in May and remains attractive throughout the growing season. Read on to learn all about growing this lovely plant in your garden.

Sweet Woodruff

What Is Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff is a low-growing flowering herbaceous perennial plant native to Europe and Asia. This plant thrives in Zones 4-8 in shady spots that have consistently moist soil. Sweet woodruff is moist commonly used as a shade garden groundcover in natural woodland gardens.

Here is a little video I made about Sweet Woodruff in the garden:

Sweet Woodruff Foliage

Sweet Woodruff has delicate green foliage. Each thin stem is surrounded by whorls of simple green leaves, with a few inches of space between each whorl. The leaf clusters almost look like stars or pinwheels of green flower petals that circle the fine stems. The foliage of sweet woodruff is generally between 8″ and 12″ tall.

Sweet Woodruff foliage emerges in spring after the ground has thawed, becoming established in April. The leaves are sometimes harvested and dried after bloom for their delicate fragrance. Foliage is attractive throughout the season. The foliage of Sweet Woodruff dies back to the ground in late autumn. The dried foliage is very fine and can simply be raked away in the late fall or early spring.

“The fragrance, often compared to that of freshly cut hay, reminds me of spring earth and honey. Only faintly aromatic when fresh, the leaves develop their full bouquet when dry and remain fragrant for years.”

Herbs: The Complete Gardener’s Guide, by Patrick Lima

Sweet Woodruff Flowers

Sweet Woodruff has tiny white flowers. The flowers grow in small bunches, with each individual flower having four tiny petals.

Bloom time for Sweet Woodruff is generally during the month of May. Some early flowering areas may have late April flowers, while cooler spots may enjoy Sweet Woodruff blooms into June.

Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum - shade groundcover for woodland garden

How to Grow Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff is most easily started from an existing plant, but can also be grown from seed (as long as you’re patient enough to wait for the seeds to germinate!).

Where to Buy Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff can be purchased from larger nurseries and garden centres, as well as online. Some smaller garden centres and big box stores may not stock Sweet Woodruff, as it is not the most common landscaping groundcover. Here are some places to buy Woodruff plants and/or seeds:

Buy Sweet Woodruff Plants

Buy Sweet Woodruff Seeds

Sweet woodruff plant at the garden center in purple pot
Sweet Woodruff plant for sale at the Home Depot garden center

Where to Plant Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff thrives when planted in moist soil in a shady area. It is often planted under trees as a living mulch to create a woodland garden atmosphere. An ideal planting spot would have well-draining soil, filtered light, and adequate air circulation. That being said, this plant can tolerate less-than-ideal location conditions including clay soil and limited periods of direct sunlight.

Sweet woodruff is a creeping groundcover plant and can be a rather enthusiastic spreader in the right garden location. While it is assertive, it rarely becomes truly invasive as its quite easy to pull out or edge with a shovel. Still, it should only be planted in areas where it can be allowed to roam freely. Aim to allow a whole area to be covered in a mass planting of Sweet Woodruff rather than trying to maintain a single specimen plant in a contained area.

When to Plant Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff is best planted in the early spring or early fall. Early spring planting offers a chance for the roots of the plant to become established in the soil before the heat of summer sets in. Fall planting allows for a similar period of mild weather before frosty winter temperatures arrive. That being said, sweet woodruff can be successfully planted any time of year so long as the plant has what it needs (air, water, light…).

Sweet Woodruff Herbaceous Plants - Shade Loving Groundcover
Sweet Woodruff – Shade Loving Groundcover Plant for Woodland Gardens

How to Care for Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff is a low-maintenance perennial groundcover. With moist soil and a bit of shade, this is a happy plant. Care for sweet woodruff mainly entails keeping the soil consistently moist and ensuring the plant has some shade (particularly in the afternoon). A good organic mulch can be quite effective in keeping the soil moist during hot days.

Sweet woodruff is deer-resistant and rarely becomes a target for them in the garden. Sweet woodruff is also rarely bothered by common garden pests and disease.

How to Propagate Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff is most easily propagated by division or by planting runners off a mother plant. I have had great success by simply seperating off chunks from the edge of an existing plant and transplanting them out into the garden. Younger shoots from the side of the plant tend to establish faster than divisions from the centre crown area.

Companion Plants for Sweet Woodruff

The best companion plants for sweet woodruff are other woodland plants that thrive in moist soil and low-light areas. Here are some wonderful companion plants for Sweet Woodruff:

  • Fern
  • Hellebore
  • Hosta
  • Ivy
  • Brunnera
  • Snowdrop Anemone
  • Astilbe
  • Columbine
  • Azalea
  • Bleeding Heart

Further Reading: Herbs that Grow in Shade

Mary Jane

Mary Jane is a home gardener who loves creating healthy, welcoming spaces (indoors and out!) - About Mary Jane (https://www.homefortheharvest.com/authors/about-mary-jane-duford/)

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