Sweet Woodruff Care: Growing The Galium Odorata

Galium odorata (GAL-ee-um oh-dor-AY-tum) is an herbaceous perennial groundcover that is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa.

This member of the Rubiaceae family is a hardy, low maintenance plant that makes a good addition to shady locations, such as woodlands. The plant even thrives when planted under Black walnut trees.

White blooms of the Sweet scented woodstraw
White flowers of Galium odorata | ChrWeiss-Adobe

The plants’ genus name, odorata, is derived from the Greek “gala” which means milk. It is a reference to the fact that similar plants are sometimes used in the curdling of milk for cheese production.

The specific epithet, “odorata” means fragrant and is a reference to the plants’ sweet scented blossoms and leaves.

Common names include:

  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Sweet Scented Bedstraw

Woodruff is an Old English term which means unraveling wood. This probably refers to the creeping growth habit of the plant.

Sweet Woodruff – Galium Odoratum Care

Size & Growth

Galium odoratum typically grows to be about 8” inches tall, but it can grow as tall as 12” inches tall. Individual plants have a spread of about 18” inches wide.

Flowering & Fragrance

The pretty, showy, fragrant flowers bloom in the springtime, typically throughout the months of April and May. Blossoms are small, four petaled, white and honey scented.

Foliage

The attractive deep green, fragrant leaves are lance shaped. They grow in sets of 6 to 8 in a whorl around the square stems. 

When the foliage is crushed, cut or otherwise disturbed, the leaves emit a strong smell of new-mown hay.

Because this pleasant scent grows even stronger when the foliage is dried, Sweet Scented Bedstraw leaves are a common component in potpourri and sachets.

Light & Temperature

Sweet Woodruff is an excellent ground cover in shady places, and it can do well in light exposure ranging from partial to full shade. The plant is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8.

Watering & Feeding

This shade loving plant likes medium-to-wet soil.

Soil & Transplanting

Even though this plant likes consistent moisture in the soil, it’s important to ensure good drainage.

Like all plants, if the roots are forced to stay soggy for prolonged periods of time, root rot can set in.

Galium odoratum can tolerate a wide range of soil pH levels. It does well in acidic to alkaline soils with levels ranging from 4.3 to 8.3. [source]

Grooming & Maintenance

In the summertime, it’s especially important to water regularly to encourage good growth. In very hot, dry weather, this plant may go dormant and die back.

Don’t worry, though, it will regrow from the roots when the weather cools and rains return.

In ideal conditions, growth can get out of control. If this happens, you can simply mow Galium odoratum back with your lawnmower to prevent unwanted spread.

How To Propagate Sweet Woodruff – Galium odorata

Sweet Woodruff is easy to propagate by sowing seed, rooting cuttings or dividing and separating mature plants. It self sows easily and also spreads by creeping roots.

If you’re going to sow seed, you’ll need to expose it to cold during the wintertime and then sow it early in the springtime directly into a prepared garden bed.

In springtime, you can take softwood cuttings to root in water or in moist soil.

In spring or autumn, you can divide the existing plants to double your ground coverage.

Galium Odoratum Pest or Disease Problems

This rugged, strongly scented plant is not subject to insect predation. If properly cared for, it will not experience any disease problems. 

As with all plants, standing in water will cause root rot and other fungal problems.

There are no toxic effects reported for this edible herb.

Is Sweet Woodruff Considered Invasive?

In ideal growing conditions, Sweet Scented Bedstraw can become aggressive, verging on invasive. As mentioned, if it gets out of hand, it can simply be mown down.

The distribution of this plant is quite limited throughout the United States, and it is not considered invasive overall.

However, it has been listed as invasive by the city of Ann Arbor Michigan Parks and Recreation, and also by the Native Plant Society of Oregon. [source]

Suggested Uses For Galium Odoratum

The sweetly scented leaves of this plant are very useful in potpourris and sachets, and they are also used commercially in the making of perfume.

This edible herb also makes a good addition to some types of tea and other beverages.

The leaves are a main component of a beverage known as May Wine, which is a combination of white wine, pineapple, orange and Sweet Woodruff.

This pretty, sweet-scented plant with white flowers is a great addition to your rock garden, herb garden or as a pleasant border in a shady place, especially around a patio or porch where its scent will add to the ambiance.

Sweet Woodruff is the perfect choice as a naturalized ground cover in a wooded area. We see it naturalized in a woodland setting amongst wild violets and other natural plants.

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