Ground cover from seeds

Growing Groundcovers

Growing Groundcovers

This spring, begin growing a blanket of low, spreading color that will weave its way across your garden — through those patches of dry shade beneath trees, across that boggy spot where nothing grows, down that difficult-to-plant slope. No matter what your soil type or the condition of your garden, you can find a ground cover that will not only thrive, but flourish beautifully for years without mowing, reseeding, aerating, or any of those time-consuming exercises we all perform to keep our lawns looking their best.
Ground cover is more than just a pretty space. It prevents soil erosion, keeps the ground from drying out in hot spells or pooling in prolonged rain, and chokes out weeds. Even the humblest low-growing plant looks far better than pine bark or cedar chips for those bare patches that every garden endures as it grows and changes. And ground cover can become an anchor in a mixed border or bed, offering a color or texture that unifies the whole planting.
This page celebrates all our glorious ground covers, from the lush green carpeting varieties, to spreading or clumping groundcover grasses, to the bright dots of color so brilliant that even a small planting creates a big impact on the landscape . . . at prices that will let you carpet the yard for what you might have expected to spend on a single border!
So as you plant your exciting new perennials, shrubs, and trees this spring, remember to cover those “in-between spaces.” Not only will ground covers minimize your weeding and mulching, but they’ll also bring out the best in your other fine plants!

Growing a Carpet of Green

Japanese Spurge
Pachysandra terminalis. This fast-growing groundcover is ideal for shade in a southern landscape or sun in a northern setting. The evergreen, veined leaves are lightly toothed for interesting texture. Great in combination with Hostas. Space 4 to 10 inches apart. Z 4-9. 6-8″h, spreading.

Variegated Wintercreeper
Euonymus fortunei ‘Gracillimus.’ A smaller version of Purple Wintercreeper, its leaves are just half the size, and the plant fills in more slowly. These colorful white, green, and purple leaves are great for smaller areas in the garden. Space 3 to 6 inches apart. Z 5-9. 12″h, spreading.

English Ivy
Hedera helix ‘English.’ A workhorse for large areas, particularly slopes and borders, this English Ivy forms a no-maintenance, weed-choking groundcover you will love for many years to come. Dark evergreen leaves reach 2 to 3 inches wide. Space 4 to 8 inches apart. Z 5-10. 8-12″h, spreading.

Juniper Blue Pacific
Juniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacific.’ A very low-growing groundcover, this evergreen is useful in almost any landscape. The handsome blue-green foliage spreads to completely blanket the landscape, choking out weeds. Resistant to salt and tolerant of heat and drought, this is a fast grower that makes the landscape attractive in no time. Space 6 to 12 inches apart. Z 5-9. 6″h, spreading.

Beautiful Groundcover Grasses (This is Not Lawn Turf!)

Variegated Border Grass
Liriope muscari ‘Variegata.’ A popular variation on the standard Big Blue Liriope, this dependable border grass offers white-striped green foliage and lavender flower spikes. Use it as a groundcover or to edge a border or bed. Space 6 to 10 inches apart. Z 5-10. 10″h, clumping.

Big Blue Border Grass
Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue.’ The classic for border grass, this green-leafed Liriope is absolutely reliable and maintenance-free. The narrow, cascading blades of grass with a central cluster of lavender flower spikes are great planted in mass or as a border. Space 6 to 10 inches apart. Z 5-10. 12″h, clumping.

Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon japonica. A fast-growing, dark green groundcover that spreads rapidly via underground runners. White blooms give way to showy blue berries in fall. Space 3 to 10 inches apart. Z 6-10. 6″h, spreading.

Dwarf Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon japonica ‘Nana.’ Shorter than Mondo Grass and with a more formal, tighter look, this groundcover is superb for Japanese gardens and even for bonsai. Ideal for containers and small-space settings of all kinds. Space 3 to 10 inches apart. Z 6-10. 2″h, spreading.

Liriope Spicata
Liriope spicata. Spreading far more rapidly than other Liriope, this variety is perfect for banks and large beds. Pale flower spikes appear in summer, but its best attribute is the dense foliage cover. Space 6 to 10 inches apart. Z 4-10. 10″h, clumping.

Liriope Silver Dragon
Liriope spicata ‘Silver Dragon.’ A spreading Liriope with attractively variegated foliage – each long, slender leaf is striped with white. Space 6 to 10 inches apart. Z 6-10. 10″h, spreading.

Flowering and Colored-Leaf Groundcovers add Surprising Spots of Color

Ajuga Chocolate Chip
Ajuga reptans ‘Chocolate Chip.’ A fast-growing, dense groundcover with vibrant chocolate-hued foliage. The tiny leaves are so packed together that they form an effective weed barrier, saving you time and labor in the garden. In late spring, 3-inch violet spikes rise above the foliage. Space 4 to 6 inches apart. Z 4-8. 1″h, spreading.

St. John’s Wort
Hypericum calycinum. Also known as Aaron’s Beard, this is an evergreen groundcover with 2-inch leaves. In spring, brilliant yellow blooms, about 3 inches across, cover the foliage. Ideal for large areas, and showy in any setting. Space 4 to 10 inches apart. Z 5-9. 10″h, spreading.

Mazus reptans
Mazus is a splendid ground cover for large areas. Dense, prostrate growth withstands heavy foot traffic, spreads rapidly in sun or shade and moist soil. Violet flowers appear in late spring; small leaves retain color into winter. Z 4-9. 2″h, spreading.

Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’. This Euonymous is the perfect solution for large problem areas such as banks and slopes, or for poor soil where few other plants will thrive. It grows quickly and is evergreen, with trailing green-veined leaves that turn deep burgundy in fall. Space 4 to 8 inches apart. Z 5-8. 18″h, spreading.

Who Says Your Groundcover Has to be Green?

Purple Wintercreeper
Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’. This is the perfect solution for large problem areas such as banks and slopes, or for poor soil where few other plants will thrive. It grows quickly and is evergreen, with trailing green-veined leaves that turn deep burgundy in fall. Space 4 to 8 inches apart. Z 5-8. 18″h, spreading.

Ajuga Chocolate Chip
Ajuga reptans ‘Chocolate Chip.’ A fast-growing, dense groundcover with vibrant chocolate-hued foliage. The tiny leaves are so packed together that they form an effective weed barrier, saving you time and labor in the garden. In late spring, 3-inch violet spikes rise above the foliage. Space 4 to 6 inches apart. Z 4-8. 1″h, spreading.

St. John’s Wort
Hypericum calycinum. Also known as Aaron’s Beard, this is an evergreen groundcover with 2-inch leaves. In spring, brilliant yellow blooms, about 3 inches across, cover the foliage. Ideal for large areas, and showy in any setting. Space 4 to 10 inches apart. Z 5-9. 10″h, spreading.

Mazus reptans
Mazus is a splendid ground cover for large areas. Dense, prostrate growth withstands heavy foot traffic, spreads rapidly in sun or shade and moist soil. Violet flowers appear in late spring; small leaves retain color into winter. Z 4-9. 2″h, spreading.

Planting Ground Cover Seeds: A Guide

Some gardeners have difficulty growing ground cover from seed, but if you maintain control of the seed’s environment and growing conditions, your ground cover will be a success.

When ground cover seeds are planted outdoors they are likely to be eaten or out-competed by weeds. For this reason, raise your ground cover plants in containers until they are old enough to survive in the ground. The following instructions will guide you through the process of successfully establishing a ground cover plant fit for survival in nature.

Sprout Seeds in Paper Towels

When you buy any type of seed from a nursery, expect about 70 percent of the seeds to sprout. To guarantee that you plant viable seeds sprout them before planting them in soil. This is easily accomplished by folding together and dampening several sheets of paper towels. Sandwich the seeds between the paper towels (the paper towels should be damp to the touch, not soaked). This will create a dark and moist environment similar to that which the seeds would experience in nature.

For the next several days, the “seed sandwich” to see if any seeds have sprouted and to make sure the paper towel remains moist. Depending on the ground cover specie’s gestation period, within ten days several of your seeds should begin sprouting a short white root. This root is your first indication of life and should be treated with the utmost care.

Transfer Seeds to Containers

Sprouted seeds should be planted into a large pot with a scoop of gravel on the bottom, covered by your favorite potting soil mix. Be sure to space the seeds as prescribed by the seed packet with the white root pointing down. It is imperative that you make sure to place the sprout facing down because it is the beginning of your plant’s root system.

Your seedlings will emerge within the next 2 weeks during which time it is unnecessary to fertilize, but imperative to water. It is important to keep your seedlings moist but not saturated. The roots grow in search of water; saturated soil does not encourage the roots to grow. Seedlings require rigorous care during the first four months of their lives because it is the time they are most vulnerable to destruction. Most potting soils fertilize plants up to 6 months; therefore fertilization is unnecessary during this time.

Watering and Fertilizing

Once your seedlings have grown for 6 months, you should develop a watering and fertilizing schedule. Most species require watering only once a week, and should be fertilized every other time you water. Feel free to mist your plants in between watering because they can absorb nutrients and water through their foliage.

Your ground cover plants should be allowed to grow in its container for at least 1 year before being repotted into your garden. Growing ground cover from seed is a rewarding experience, yielding a personalized plant that will beautify your garden for years to come.

Growing Sweet Woodruff: Tips To Grow Sweet Woodruff Herb

An often forgotten herb, sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) can be a valuable addition to the garden, particularly shade gardens. Sweet woodruff herb was originally grown for the fresh smell the leaves give off and was used as a type of air freshener. It also has some medicinal uses, though as always you should check with a doctor before using any medical herb. It is also an edible plant that is said to taste somewhat of vanilla.

Today, sweet woodruff is most commonly used as a ground cover in shady areas. Sweet woodruff ground cover, with its star-shaped whorls of leaves and lacy white flowers, can add interesting texture and spark to a deeply shaded part of the garden. Sweet woodruff care is easy and taking the time to plant sweet woodruff is well worth the effort.

How to Grow Sweet Woodruff Herb

Sweet woodruff herb should be planted in a shady area. They like moist but well draining soil that is rich in organic material from things like decomposing leaves and branches, but will also grow in dry soils. It grows in USDA Zones 4-8.

Sweet woodruff spreads by runners. In moist soil, it can spread very quickly and can become invasive in the right conditions. It is often recommended that you plant sweet woodruff ground cover in an area that you would not mind seeing naturalized by sweet woodruff. You can also keep sweet woodruff under control by spade edging around the bed yearly. Spade edging is done by driving a spade into the soil on the edge of the flower bed where you are growing sweet woodruff. This will sever the runners. Remove any sweet woodruff plants growing outside the bed.

After the plants are established, growing sweet woodruff is very simple. It doesn’t need to be fertilized and should only be watered in times of drought. Sweet woodruff care is just that easy.

Sweet Woodruff Propagation

Sweet woodruff is most often propagated by division. You can dig up clumps from an established patch and transplant them.

Sweet woodruff can also be propagated by seed. Sweet woodruff seeds can be planted directly into the soil in the spring or can be started indoors up to 10 weeks before your area’s last frost date.

To direct sow sweet woodruff, in early spring simply spread the seeds over the area that you wish to grow them and lightly cover the area with sifted soil or peat moss. Then water the area.

To start sweet woodruff indoors, spread the seeds evenly in the growing container and lightly cover the top with peat moss. Water the container and then place it into your refrigerator for two weeks. After you have chilled the sweet woodruff seeds, place them in a cool, lighted area (50 F. (10 C.), such as a basement or an unheated, attached garage to germinate. Once they have germinated, you can move the sweet woodruff seedlings to a warmer location.

I love herbs that have multiple uses, especially if they can be used in the landscape in addition to any culinary or other uses. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is an ideal multi use plant. It is a low, mat forming plant that makes an excellent groundcover, especially under trees. It is one of those rare herbs that likes shade. In fact, it prefers shade. Its leaves have a pleasant fragrance that has been variously described as smelling like honey, vanilla and even new-mown hay. The scent intensifies after the foliage has been dried which can then be used in potpourri. In medieval times, people took advantage of its pleasant scent and used sweet woodruff as a strewing herb, to mask the rank odors of indoor living spaces.

Sweet woodruff is also edible. Its most well-known use is as an ingredient in May wine, traditionally drunk on the first day of May to both welcome spring and as a healthful spring tonic. It has also been used to flavor other wines, as well as brandies, fruit salads, sorbets and jellies.

Sweet woodruff is a perennial that is native to most of Europe, Asia and Japan. It has also become naturalized in the northern US and southern Canada after it was introduced by European colonitsts. It can be grown in zones 3 through 8. Although it is evergreen in the south it struggles in the hotter summers. The plants grow 8 to 12 inches tall and spread via underground stolens. They can become invasive so they are best grown in dry shade where they will not spread as much. The foliage is deer resistant. The small, star shaped flowers appear in late spring and also are rabbit resistant. The resulting fruit has tiny hooks on it that catch on the fur of animals who the transport them to new areas where the seeds can grow into new plants.

Sweet woodruff can be propagated by division, cuttings or seed. Cuttings should be taken in the fall and rooted in pots or flats over heat mats to be planted in the spring. You can also dig up clumps of the plants in either the spring or the fall and transplant them to the area where you wish to start new plants. Plant the divisions about 12 inches apart and keep them well-watered until they have become established.

You can direct sow seeds in our garden in the spring or late summer. Barely cover them with soil and keep them watered until they germinate. You will most likely achieve very irregular germination with direct sown seed because the seed benefits from a period of cold stratification. For best germination, start your seeds indoors 10 weeks before your last frost date. Barely cover the seeds and gently water them. Cover your pots or flats with plastic bags and place them in the refrigerator for two weeks. Then move them to a cool place. Germination should occur within 4 to 6 weeks after cold treatment. You can transplant your seedlings into your garden when they have several sets of true leaves and after all danger of frost.

For best fragrance, sweet woodruff leaves should be harvested right after the plants have bloomed. Cut the branches and tie them in bunches. Hang the bunches in a dark, cool, dry spot to dry.

Zone 4-8. Also known as Our Lady’s Lace, this low-growing perennial is versatile and grows well from seeds. Often used as a ground cover, plants have whorled leaves and small vanilla-scented white flowers in spring.
It does make an excellent ground cover plant due to its low-growing nature and spreading habit. Historically, the herb seeds were grown for an aromatic plant that was used as an air freshener and placed in linen closets.
Plants are also natural insect repellents and gardeners often grow them around ornamentals like roses to keep the pests away. As a medicinal herb, Sweet Woodruff was used to treat numerous ailments and was often used for the treatment of wounds.
Plants emit a strong odor of freshly mown hay when foliage is crushed or cut. Aromatic intensity of the foliage increases when dried, thus dried leaves are popularly used in sachets or potpourris.
Plants have also been used commercially in perfumes. Leaves are sometimes used to flavor teas and cold fruit drinks. Leaves are also used to make May wine, a punch made from white wine flavored with woodruff, orange and pineapple. Woodruff comes from Old English meaning wood that unravels, in probable reference to the creeping rootstock of the plant. Formerly known as Asperula odorata. Cannot ship to CN, MA, NY, PA, VT
Sweet Woodruff seeds germinate best after a period of cold temperatures. Some gardeners will dampen peat moss, mix the herb seeds into the peat moss and then place the peat moss/seed mixture in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 weeks before sowing. Others will sow the herb seeds in a starter tray, water, seal the tray, and place it in the refrigerator. Finally, the last method of sowing would be to directly sow the Sweet Woodruff seeds outdoors in a prepared seedbed in late winter or first of spring while frosts are still expected.

Galium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff) Herb Plant

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) Herb in 9cm Pot

Galium odoratum syn. Asperula odorata, is a flowering hardy perennial plant in the family Rubiaceae, native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. A herbaceous plant, it grows to 15-30 high with a spread of 30–50 cm. It is a woodland plant and will make a great ground-cover for a shady area including under trees and shrubs, great planted in a drift. It’s common names include woodruff, sweet woodruff, and wild baby’s breath; master of the woods would be a literal translation of the German Waldmeister. It is sometimes confused with Galium triflorum and Galium verum. Sweet Woodruff has clusters of tiny white flowers which appear in Spring set off by whorls of pointed leaves on square stems it is a pretty ground-cover plant and has a lovely delicate scent. It likes a rich-moist soil but well drained and shade, it is drought tolerant once established.

Herb Usage

Sweet Woodruff was traditionally used when dry to scatter on the floor of musty rooms, as it drys it’s sweet smell intensifies , it is similar to newly mown hay, and is often used in pot-pourri.

Buy Sweet Woodruff Online

Our potted Sweet Woodruff herb plants are generally available to buy online between March and September.

Also, Known As:

  • Master of the Woods
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Waldmeister
  • Woodruff
  • Woodward

Sweet woodruff (botanical name Asperula odorata) is a perennially growing plant that spreads into clumps reaching a maximum height of 8 inches to 15 inches (20 cm to 38 cm). The flowers produced by sweet woodruff have a sweet hay aroma, which enhances as they dry out. Sweet woodruff is a much loved small plant that is found growing on its own in the forests and also on hedge banks in shaded areas. It is easy to recognize this plant by its little white flowers that bloom on soft stalks during the period between May and June. Sweet woodruff produces slender, vivid green leaves, which grow in whorls resembling stars in succession something similar to cleavers or goose-grass just beneath the flowers. Each whorl of sweet woodruff comprises approximately 8 leaves. However, dissimilar to goose-grass, the stems of sweet woodruff are straight and smooth.

As mentioned, sweet woodruff is a perennial plant having a slender, crawling rootstock. Since sweet woodruff has a preference for forest lands and shady locales, when sweet woodruff is grown in partial shade, it develops best dark green foliage. Partial shade here denotes to places where it is difficult for sunlight to enter. If the branches of the plant that provide it shadow are cut away and complete sunlight are allowed to fall on the herb, it will lose its original color and become very pale rapidly. The tiny ball-shaped seeds of sweet woodruff are covered with bristles and they appear when the flowers have withered away. This herb is extremely distinguishing and can be identified or found without any difficulty.

Sweet woodruff is considered to be an extremely valuable plant in Germany, where people consider spring to be incomplete without this plant, whose twigs are necessary for preparing May wine. In effect, Germans drink this wine in the form of a spring tonic as well as to greet the new season. Blended with fodder, sweet woodruff is given to cows as it provides their milk a delectable scent. However, it needs to be borne in mind that as in the case of sweet clover, when sweet woodruff becomes wet, it is likely to decompose and turn into molds, which produces an anticoagulant agent that may result in hemorrhages in the cattle.

While the aroma of a majority of the herbs disappears when they dry out, the sweet hay scent of sweet woodruff actually becomes stronger when the plant is dried and it also lasts for several years. According to findings by researchers, this quality of sweet woodruff is attributed to coumarin, a chemical substance enclosed by the plant. Often this chemical substance is employed in the form of a fixative while manufacturing perfumes. Owing to the herb’s pleasing aroma, there was a time when sweet woodruff was employed in the form of an aromatic herb to perfume homes and churches. In addition, sweet woodruff was also used as a stuffing material for mattresses. When dried leaves are placed in closets, they impart a sweet fragrance to linen and also help to ward off moths.

In addition to its use as an aromatic herb, sweet woodruff has also been employed as a therapeutic herb of some significance. The fresh leaves of this herb are used for dressing cuts and wounds while a decoction prepared from the leaves serves as a cordial and stomach digestive. A herbal tea prepared from sweet woodruff leaves is used to treat liver ailments as well as in the form of a diuretic.

Plant Part Used:

Aerial parts.

Tonic Use:

Sweet woodruff is thought to possess tonic properties and also has noteworthy anti-inflammatory and diuretic actions. The chemical substance coumarin and flavonoids enclosed by this herb are responsible for its positive effect in treating phlebitis and varicose veins. In addition, sweet woodruff has also been employed in the form of an antispasmodic and is administered to children and adults alike to cure sleeplessness or insomnia.

It may be noted that sweet woodruff has a long reputation for being a tonic for curing liver ailments. It is also globally well known as the aromatic ingredient for making May wine and even to this day, this herb is used in punches as well as other drinks. Present day herbalists prescribe sweet woodruff in the form of a purgative as well as an anti-arthritic. Several studies have hinted that sweet woodruff is likely to be used only for easing the symptoms of arthritis. Currently, people cultivate sweet woodruff primarily for its use as a ground cover.

Sweet woodruff possesses tranquilizing attributes and infusions prepared from this plant are ingested to treat insomnia as well as nervous irritability. In addition, sweet woodruff also puts off blood coagulation, reinforces the capillaries and is taken orally to cure thrombophlebitis (inflammation of a vein with a presence of thrombus).

Habitat of Sweet Woodruff:

Sweet woodruff is indigenous to Europe and also grows in Asia as well as the northern regions of Africa. This herb grows on its own in the forest lands and shaded locations. Sweet woodruff is harvested during the later part of spring when the plants are in full bloom.

Sweet woodruff is a perennially growing herb, which serves as an excellent ground cover and spreads very fast. It is possible to propagate this plant by means of root division or cutting during spring. Alternately, sweet woodruff may also be grown by its seeds, which need to be sown immediately when then ripen. However, when grown by its seeds, the germination process is very sluggish.

Generally, sweet woodruff is not cultivated but gathered from the forests. Nevertheless, this plant can be grown beneath orchard trees as well as propagated by its seeds soon after they ripen. The seeds need to be sown in beds prepared with good soil. It is best to sow the seeds by July end or in the early part of August. Alternately, if you intend to propagate the plant by means of root division, it should ideally be done in spring or the early part of summer, immediately after the flowering season is over. The seedling ought to be planted in damp soils, at intervals of one foot, in places that are partly shaded.

The seeds of sweet woodruff take too much time to germinate and, therefore, it is best to adopt the root division method for its propagation. It is advisable that you either divide the roots of mature plants and sow them during spring or fall or take cuttings of mature plants and plant them for rooting in a mixture of perlite and peat moss. Plant these cuttings at least at a distance of one foot from each other. It may be noted that this plant is actually self-sowing and when sweet woodruff plants are established, they may turn out to be a pesky weed. The leaves of sweet woodruff are collected during the later part of spring prior to the appearance of the flowers. After harvesting, the leaves should be hung upside down in a dark place to dry them out. Alternately, the leaves, as well as the stems of the herb, may also be frozen for use when necessary.

As soon as the plant’s seed is somewhat mature and dry, it turns into a small rough ball that is densely covered with supple, curved hairs. These seeds are white underneath, but black-tipped and may get attached to the fur and feathers of animals and birds that may rush through the undergrowth. This way the sweet woodruff seeds are normally scattered.


Sweet woodruff contains coumarins (0.6%), iridoids, anthraquinones, tannins, and flavonoids. The flavonoids are diuretic and act on the circulation.

May Wine Punch

In Germany, people use the tender sweet woodruff plants to prepare May wine during spring and is taken in the form of a spring tonic. The ingredients required to prepare May wine punch include:

  • 12 slightly crushed tips of fresh sweet woodruff
  • one bottle of champagne
  • 1.5 cups of high-quality sugar
  • one bottle of the Moselle or dry white wine
  • 12 fresh and ripe strawberries

Take a big bowl and mix sweet woodruff, sugar and one bottle of dry white wine or Moselle. Cover the bowl and permeate the ingredients for about 30 minutes. Subsequently, take the cover away, beat the mixture, take away the sweet woodruff from it and pour the wine into a punch bowl over ice. Now, add the other ingredients and stir the solution. You should serve this wine immediately when it has become absolutely chilled.

Gardening How-to Articles

Sweet Woodruff: Shade-Loving Groundcover and Aromatic Herb

By Joni Blackburn | May 7, 2018

One May morning a few years ago, I was strolling down my garden path with a visitor from Austria when she stooped over and pinched a sprig of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and held it to my nose. I detected a faint but distinct sweet hay scent from the crushed leaves.

I had planted this pretty groundcover after admiring its whorled foliage and starlike flowers in the garden of a friend, who dug up a small potful for me. Now it was beginning to spread nicely around the stepping-stones and, less nicely, into nearby astilbes and hostas.

My Austrian friend told me that it was a tradition in Europe to make May wine from the dried leaves of sweet woodruff, or waldmeister, as she called it. I had known that some species of Galium were used to freshen bed stuffing and church floors in the past, but I had no idea it was used as a culinary and medicinal herb.

Called Maiwein or Maibowle in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, sweet woodruff–flavored wine or punch is considered a refreshing and salutary spring tonic. We picked a couple of handfuls of sweet woodruff, and my friend rinsed and destemmed them and put the leaves in the salad spinner while I scrounged up a bottle of Riesling. After letting them wilt on a sunny windowsill for a few hours to increase the aromatics, we bruised the leaves a bit and added them to a carafe before pouring in the wine. After a few hours in the fridge and straining through cheesecloth, our May wine made a tasty late-afternoon cocktail that hinted of fresh-mown grass and vanilla.

Though I’d planted Galium odoratum for its beauty and utility in filling in bare spots in my shady garden, I was very happy to find a new use for it. The aromatic compound coumarin gives the leaves their fragrance and flavoring, and it also serves as a fixative in perfume making. The scent is even more pronounced and long lasting in dried leaves, making them a nice addition in potpourri and sachets. It is also thought to repel moths.

In the Middle Ages, sweet woodruff was used to treat a number of ailments, and in modern herbal medicine it is used as an anti-inflammatory and diuretic. As a culinary herb, sweet woodruff is used to flavor ice cream, tea, and, of course, May wine. In Germany, waldmeister syrup is sold as a flavoring for beverages of all kinds; in fact, one of its iconic beers, Berliner weisse, is often flavored with a shot of this bright green syrup.


Beyond its aromatic qualities, sweet woodruff makes a wonderful groundcover in the right place. First of all, it is a very pretty plant. The foliage grows as whorls of lancelike leaves on square stems 8 to 12 inches long and tends to flop over, forming a mat. In May, masses of tiny white, four-petaled flowers bloom above the foliage.

There are several native species of Galium, but G. odoratum is an Old World species, hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8. Sweet woodruff prefers moist, rich soil in partial to full shade but will tolerate dry and less-than-optimal soils. It is slow to get started but is likely to creep beyond its borders eventually, requiring mowing or hand weeding to keep it in check. Some species of Galium are downright weedy, but sweet woodruff doesn’t appear to be rampant. Nevertheless, given the chance, it will naturalize and can be found growing happily on abandoned home sites.

Though it appears dainty, sweet woodruff is tough and can take a little foot traffic if grown among pavers and along paths. In the event the herb is mown, especially if it has dried out some, the area will be filled with a lovely scent, recalling another common name for it, sweetscented bedstraw. In particularly dry or sunny conditions, it may go dormant but is likely to green up again once the weather cools.


It’s easy to propagate sweet woodruff if you know a fellow gardener who will let you dig up a small clump and replant it. With patience, it’s also possible to grow from seed. Potted plants are often available in the spring at nurseries, farmers’ markets, and plant sales, including Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Plant Sale. Plants can also be ordered online from White Flower Farm, Monrovia, and other nurseries.

Recipe: May Wine

  • 10 to 20 sprigs of sweet woodruff
  • 1 bottle of Riesling or other fruity white wine
  • Fresh strawberries for garnish (optional)

Remove the leaves from the sweet woodruff stems and wash and dry them. Allow them to wilt for a few hours and then crush them with your hands to release the aromatics. Place the leaves in a carafe and add the wine. Cover and refrigerate for several hours to several days. Strain before serving. Garnish with strawberries if desired. Some recipes call for sugar and sparkling wine or brandy to make a punch.

Joni Blackburn was the copy editor at BBG.

Sweet woodruff

Size and Method of spreading

Sweet woodruff grows about 6 to 10 inches high and is a trailing-rooting ground cover. Trailing-rooting ground covers have trailing stems that spread out from a central root system. These stems spread out horizontally over the ground and can root where they come in contact with the soil. New shoots will be formed at the point where rooting occurs.

Plant Care

Consistency in watering is necessary for this plant. If water is not available during dry times, the plant may dieback to the ground. It grows best in rich loamy soils but will tolerate sand and clay. This ground cover grows well under trees.

Disease, pests, and problems

No common serious problems.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Resistant to deer and tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Europe and Asia.

Leaf description

The small leaves are arranged in whorls or 6 to 8 and give the appearance of the spokes of a wagon wheel. Leaves smell of newly mown hay when crushed or cut.

Flower description

The tiny white flowers are held in loose clusters on upright stems. Flowering occurs in mid to late spring. The flowers are mildly fragrant.

Fruit description

Fruit are small and dry; not ornamentally important.

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