sweet woodruff

A public service announcement about sweet woodruff

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I am forever warning people about planting vigorous self seeders, like mint or chamomile, directly in the garden. However, there are also vigorous spreaders—and have I got a vigorous spreader story for you! About four years ago, I bought a nice little sweet woodruff plant. I had seen it in another garden and loved the little white flowers that appear in spring.

Sweet woodruff is also a very popular plant in Europe. When I was in Germany last year, I discovered that it’s used to flavour all sorts of things, from candy to cordial. Here it is in bloom.

sweet woodruff flowers

It’s very pretty, right? Well, this year, my seemingly innocuous little plant became a garden bully.

It happened slowly.

The first year my sweet woodruff overwintered, it had spread a little by spring, but I was comfortable with that because I want things to fill out in my garden. Last year, I had to tidy around the edges a bit. Fast forward to this past spring when all of a sudden, I had to pluck sweet woodruff out of my dianthus, keep it from encroaching on a miniature lilac and rescue my delosperma Fire Spinner.

Dianthus and sweet woodruff

Sweet woodruff insinuating itself into dianthus territory.

I have a lot to do in my garden, so I had to “press pause” on pulling sweet woodruff shoots and walk away at some point to tend to other things. However, once those pretty white blooms died back and my delosperma started to bloom, I realized I needed to get back to it, stat. This “sweet” woodruff had smothered part of a very drought-tolerant, hardy plant.

delosperma and sweet woodruff

And here it is encroaching on my ‘Fire Spinner’ plant!

I still like sweet woodruff, but I do caution any gardener to consider it’s placement in a garden. Do you have any similar plant warnings?

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27 Responses to A public service announcement about sweet woodruff

  1. Geryl says:

    I planted it in shade where it is very well behaved.

  2. Jolene says:

    I am having a similar issue with Centaurea montana in my Zone 3B garden. Its level of invasiveness is BEYOND nasty and spreads easily via self seeding and rhizomes. It kills me because I love the flower so much but I just can’t deal with it taking over my flower beds. Once I get the situation under control it will only be planted in containers and vigorously deadheaded.

  3. Linda says:

    I planted a spiderwort (Tradescantia) a few years ago that is spreading everywhere. Yes, it’s easy to grow and filled in a spot in the garden that needed a different leaf….but I am having to pull out babies everywhere!!

  4. suz says:

    my two biggest problems in the past: 1. physostegia (obedient plant) – more like disobedient plant. it’s very invasive (especially in the fertile, manure-laced soil on our farm – we’re on the zone 6a/b line in eastern ohio) like your pic of the woodruff bullying the fire spinner. 2. oenothera (i had the pink primrose variety) – should just be called ohno. same problem as the obedient plant and just as hard to get rid of. both plants probably wouldn’t be as bad in poorer soil. –suz in ohio

  5. S.C. says:

    My neighbor seems to like invasives. He’s not a gardener, and I think he thinks they will be easy, because they take over. Anyway, first it was bamboo, then four o’clocks. Both have to be dug out. And in the back, I have alstromeria that has taken over. I love it, but it’s a huge patch.

  6. Jan Lovelock says:

    My “bête noire” is creeping bellflower (campanula rapunculoides), which I’ve heard referred to as the plant from hell. Once in your garden, I’ve found it impossible to get rid of. It has small surface roots that connect to large, white, tuberous roots deeper down, so you have to dig down at least a foot to pull out those tubers. My front garden is so invaded, that I think I’m going to dig out the plants I want, comb through the good roots to get rid of the creeping bellflower ones, pot them up, and then hire someone to dig out the rest of the garden as deep as needed to get all the roots, then replace the earth and replant the good ones. It keeps popping up in my other gardens too, so I have to be vigilant to pull it before it spreads. And I didn’t even plant this invader in the first place — no idea where it came from!

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Jan! That sounds like the bindweed that I cannot tame! It’s all through my side garden and my neighbours’. Sounds like you have a big job ahead if you move forward with your plans!

  7. Margaret says:

    I have had the same issue with sweet woodruff this year – what’s strange is that it’s been growing in this same spot on the north side of my house since we moved here (7 years ago) and it hasn’t really spread that much. But this year, whoa, it’s taken over! I’ve been pulling but, like you, had other thing to tend to so I haven’t been as diligent as I should have been. I also have some Lily of the Valley in that area and it’s having the same containment issues – I’m wondering if our unusually warm winter had anything to do with their more aggressive behavior this year.

    • Tara Nolan says:

      I wonder that, as well, Margaret. Though to be honest, since I wrote this post in the spring, the relentless heat from this past summer appears to have decimated it. Wondering if it will come back next year…

  8. Glynis says:

    I’m always amazed that variegated goutweed (bishop’ s weed), and sometimes plain old horrific goutweed, is sold or shared. My nightmare. Add to that: Creeping Charlie; Butter-and-eggs; and Lily-of -the-Valley (that should have it’s own garden bed ’cause the scent is so worth it); and last but not least Spirea, which in NS readily self-seeds under other shrubs and then pokes out only when they’re murder to remove. Most seeds seem to revert back to the native shrub with only a few coming true – so dead-head or keep the mulch going.

    • Jackie says:

      Funny thing about the goutweed. I got some from a neighbour who was overrun with it. I put it in a shady corner by the house hoping it would spread all along the front and side. In 15 years, it has only expanded by about 1 foot in each direction. Lamium and creeping jenny, on the other hand, are fighting for total domination of my back yard, coming up miles from where either was planted.

  9. Tara Nolan says:

    Hi Jackie,
    Isn’t it funny when plants don’t behave as you expect them to and other turn out to be bullies? After the spring invasion, I’m not sure if my sweet woodruff survived the stifling summer we had!

  10. Jacalyn Rix says:

    I learn a lot from your articles and peoples’ comments!

    We are in zone 5, with some full sun, 1/2 sun, and shade. We want to replace much of the grass with groundcovers that don’t need mowing and are drought tolerant. It sounds like maybe some of these would work! I do want to avoid the “noxious” kinds. What would you recommend?

  11. Mike Davis says:

    I love the snappy taste of Sylvetta, aka wild arugula, but it’s another plant that can spread faster than one might think (Zone 5). It goes to seed quickly and will grow anywhere–loves the cracks in my sidewalk. Its roots are strong and deep, hard to pull. I have it under control now, but recovering from my initial neglect was a struggle.

  12. suz says:

    let me add two more to what i wrote last year: tradescantia, echoing what linda wrote above; and perennial ageratum, which gets out of control extremely easily, especially in a damp area, and does not play well with others. i put up with it because it provides beautiful late-season color when most everything else is gone. but i have to constantly dig it out/kill it. it goes everywhere. –suz in ohio

  13. Betty says:

    I have sweet woodruff growing under a rhododendron. Do you think it will eventually kill the rhodo? I have another rhodo that has goutweed growing under it. Do you think I can put two layers of cardboard then some mulch pine needles to kill the goutweed or will this kill the rhodo since their roots are so shallow. Thanks.

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Betty,
      I’m not sure the sweet woodruff’s roots would be enough to drown out the rhododendron. I wouldn’t try to kill the goutweed as it could harm the rhodo. I would just pull the weeds from around the base of the rhododendrons!
      Best of luck, Tara

  14. Judy Eberspaecher says:

    Yellow Bleeding Heart (Corydalis Lutea) is a lovely plant that blooms from late April to November or when the heavy frost or snow come. It will take over a garden quickly however it is quite easy to pull out.\\Also Goutweed. My neighbour planted (imagine that!!!) and it keeps creeping across the fence and it is also
    covering the creek bank. That one is worse than Corydalis.

  15. Kathryn Szempruch says:

    Bishop’s Weed, (Aegopodium podagraria) aka lyrical alias “snow on the mountain”, is my garden bad boy. It totally took over my perennial bed and was strangling my monarda, rudbeckia, phlox and penstemmon. I ultimately paid big bucks to have a landscaping crew to come in and dig everything out of the bed and reset the plants minus the dread Bishop’s Weed. Still, there are sprouts here and there. I take my approach from a Bob Marley lyric: “Kill it before it grows”.

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