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How I Saved Time and Money with this Low Maintenance Ground Cover

Like so many other people, every spring, my husband and I would spruce up the front walkway of our house. We would use bags of mulch until we discovered our local municipal township made their own mulch. Even though getting mulch from our municipality was free, there was still a lot of hassle in filling 5-gallon buckets of mulch and driving it back and forth to my house. It took several trips. I like the look of mulch but not that much. I got to thinking what the best ground cover would be that I could plant in a part sun to full shade area where the ground doesn’t dry out after a rain (wet soil). The star shaped leaves of Sweet Woodruff (Galium Odoratum) caught my eye and I learned this would be a perfect solution to my dilemma.

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View from my front porch so you can see the sidewalk is a barrier for it spreading into the grass.

How did Sweet Woodruff save me time?

Sweet Woodruff is a low growing plant that is perfect for shade gardens. It likes medium to wet soil and is a fast-spreading ground cover, so I didn’t need to spend a lot of money on a lot of plants. If you normally have dry soil that is in dry shade, you’ll have to water regularly. I prefer to work with Mother Nature and match plants to their ideal growing conditions. This way I don’t have to do as much to keep them happy in their environment. Growing Sweet Woodruff can be easy as long as it isn’t planted in a place where it will dry out.

I had thought about planting Lily of the Valley in that spot, but I knew the growing conditions were better for Sweet Woodruff and I have noticed that it spreads a lot faster than Lily of the Valley. Last year, I planted two plants and they have doubled in size the following season. If I wanted to fill it in faster, I could’ve planted more plants to completely fill in the space the second year which would save me time and effort on mulching the area. The star shaped leaves add a more interesting texture around the existing plants and naturalize the space. Keep in mind that Sweet Woodruff’s leaves can be ruffled if planted in an area of “foot traffic.” It should be planted off to the side so people don’t walk directly on top of it when they walk through your garden if you want it to stay upright and look good.

Sweet Woodruff grows in Zones 4-8. It spreads by runners and can become invasive. The barrier of the sidewalk and the side of the house created enough of a solid barrier to contain it. The tall shrubs already growing in this space were large enough not to be overwhelmed by it as it only grows 15 inches high. Many people plant them under trees to naturalize the space. It is low maintenance because you don’t have to fertilize it or cut it back in the fall. It goes dormant and die back in the winter.

How growing Sweet Woodruff saved me money?

If you have the patience, you can grow Sweet Woodruff from seed. They can be a little slow in germinating approximately 30-65 days. It’s recommended that the seeds grow better when the temperature is lower. I have read that some gardeners will use peat moss, sow the seeds and water it so it’s damp. After putting on the lid, they put it in the refrigerator for 2-4 weeks. If you don’t have the space or don’t like the idea of putting seed trays in your fridge, I understand. You can also direct sow them in the ground late winter or early spring. It’s okay to do it while there is a potential for multiple frosts. Keep the seeds spaced out approximately 9-12 inches.

The cheapest and fastest way to plant Sweet Woodruff is to have a generous friend or find someone who is thinning out their garden and can give it to you. It shouldn’t be too hard to find since it spreads so rapidly. You can dig up Sweet Woodruff and transplant it in clumps.

This is the second year of my Sweet Woodruff after only planting 2 small size plants the previous year.

How do I include it in my garden?

Sweet Woodruff is often used to landscape woodland gardens because it looks more natural but more importantly, the growing conditions are optimal. Remember they like shady to part sunny spaces where the soil doesn’t dry out. Some of the best companion plants for Sweet Woodruff is White Pine (Pinus Strobus), Rhododendron, Helleborus Orientalus (Lenten Rose) Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Hostas (Funkia), Coral Bells (Heuchera) and Foamy Bells (is a hybrid between coral bells (Heuchera) and foamflower (Tiarella). The white flowers have a sweet smell that attracts pollinators in April/May when it blooms. I like this because it blooms at a time where there aren’t as many flowers blooming in my area and can support pollinators when food is much more scarce.

I noticed that nurseries had notices when selling Sweet Woodruff that they don’t ship to states like Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York or Vermont. Due to its vigorous growth, it can crowd out native plants like Trillium, Jack in the Pulpit and Lady’s Slippers which are slower growing woodland plants.

My Sweet Woodruff developing flowering buds.

Did you know it’s a medicinal herb?

Sweet Woodruff has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties. Sometimes, it’s used as a topical agent to heal wounds and bruises. It can also be effective in easing arthritis symptoms. In Germany, they create a spring tonic called Maiwein to help with stomach upsets and gas. Sweet Woodruff has a sweet hay smell which can be used in a syrup that flavors beer, jelly jam and ice cream. Keep in mind they have been using Sweet Woodruff this way for a long time.

If it’s new to you as an herb, it’s important to consult a professional herbalist to understand how to use it safely because Sweet Woodruff can cause headaches, dizziness, blackouts, and even harm your liver. It also shouldn’t be consumed by people also taking the anti-coagulant Warfarin. Sweet Woodruff is used only on a short-term basis. It can be toxic to dogs and cats so keep this in mind when planting it in your garden. Mine is located in the front of our property where my Corgi doesn’t go unless supervised.

Sweet Woodruff in bloom. It smells like a fresh cut hay-field but it’s subtle.

Summary

If you are tired of mulching in an area or want to save money on buying mulch, planting a ground cover like Sweet Woodruff is a good investment of your efforts in the long term. Be mindful of where you plant it and even contain it with a hard surface barrier so that it doesn’t become too invasive and interfere with native plants. Sweet Woodruff can be a nice choice if you have a contained area that is shaded and damp. It also attracts pollinators to your garden. When choosing a location, you’ll want to be mindful of pets and children. Whether you want to grow it from seed for a cost effective way to spread over a larger area or buy a few plants for a small area; Sweet Woodruff is an easy low maintenance choice for High Vibe Gardeners to incorporate in their garden.