HARDINESS: Zones 3 to 9
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Slightly acid
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Moist, fertile, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Partial shade
ATTRIBUTES: A low, spreading plant with tiny white fragrant flowers; for groundcover
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring, summer
FAVORITES: Species; sold by species or common name
QUIRKS: Leaves fade in too much sun; plants go dormant in drought or high heat
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, woodland phlox
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Under deciduous trees in moist, fertile soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: If soil is not sufficiently fertile, plants yellow and begin to die out
RENEWING PLANTS: Persists indefinitely; divide only to increase plantings
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good except for deer
SOURCE: Bedding plants, division
DIMENSIONS: 4-12 in (10.2-30.5 cm) tall and equally wide
Sweet Woodruff in the Landscape
This dainty-looking plant is actually a durable and vigorous groundcover. For success with sweet woodruff, let it do what it does best: cover broad areas of ground in semi-shady spots. Once established it excludes weeds, so it's wonderful for carpeting a slope, filling in underneath trees and spring-flowering shrubs, or prettying up a ravine or equally difficult spot. All it really requires is moderately damp soil, but be careful not to mire the roots in boggy ground, which can induce fatal root rot.
The apple green leaves of sweet woodruff are tiny, thin, and borne in starlike whorls around brittle stems that poke up only 4-5 in (10.2-12.7 cm) above the soil. The airy-looking leaves provide a welcome lightness and delicacy that other shady ground-covers fail to provide. The sprightly 1 in (2.5 cm) diameter white flowers appear in great numbers, like a froth covering the plants in spring, and last for a few weeks. Both the leaves and the flowers exude a soft, spicy scent that adds to the plant's appeal. The fragrance is even more pronounced when the leaves and blossoms are dried for potpourris and sachets.
Tapestry of Flowers
Thanks to its tendency to spread into mats, sweet woodruff is a great addition to a spring flower display. It emerges slightly later than most spring bulbs, allowing them to show off their charms solo and then covering up their foliage as it yellows and dies. The petite white starry flowers mix well with everything from white-flowered daffodils to tulips of almost any hue. Think of sweet woodruff as a filler, like baby's breath, in a living spring bouquet.
With a little planning, you can spice up your sweet woodruff planting by interspersing other spring bloomers. Sprinkle in some woodland phlox, or plant sweet woodruff in a skirt around ferns, Solomon's seal, or
hellebores. Just don't crowd any of these bedfellows; allow about 12 in (30 cm) on all sides at planting time, then watch the tapestry emerge as the plants mature. Sweet woodruff doesn't give the impression of being a fast traveler, yet it does cover an impressive spread of ground in a fairly short time. If it grows where it's unwanted, just pull it up by the roots.
Growing Sweet Woodruff
Buy flats of sweet woodruff from a garden center in springtime. It takes quite a few plants to make an impressive initial display. Choose a spot in partial shade, such as under tall trees. Plants in strong light may bleach to a lighter shade of green or turn yellow. Soil should be moist and enriched with acidic peat moss or partially composted leaves. Space the plants 12 in (30 cm) apart. In late winter, fertilize dormant sweet woodruff with a 2 in (5.1 cm) deep mulch of composted manure or a commercial controlled-release fertilizer. Plants undergoing long droughts or high heat may go dormant in summer.
While rarely bothered by pests or diseases, the plants can attract hungry deer. If you discover deer browsing your sweet woodruff, tuck deodorant-bath soap into plantings to deter them, or use commercial deer repellent applied per package directions.