Soapwort is a perennial herb that gets its name from it commonly being used to make soaps. Also known as Saponaria or bouncing bet, soapwort is native to parts of Europe. It was brought to North America by European settlers. The settlers would use the herb to make a mild detergent and soap for use in laundry and cleaning. It now grows wild in parts of North America and also makes a great addition to many home gardens as a ground cover and space filler. It also does well in rock and gravel gardens.
With its pretty blooms and long blooming period, soapwort is a beautiful addition to any garden. Soapwort can grow anywhere from one to three feet high. It blooms midsummer to late fall with small five-petaled flowers. The flowers of the soapwort plant are extremely fragrant and tend to attract butterflies. The most common varieties of soapwort bloom pink flowers, but there are a few other varieties that sport white or yellow flowers.
All parts of the soapwort plant can be used in making mild soaps and detergents. The flowers, leaves, stems, and roots create a lather when mixed with hot water due to their saponin content. The soap it makes is so delicate that museums utilize it to clean and help restore artwork and fragile fabrics. So not only is soapwort a pretty addition to the garden, it is a useful one.
Growing Conditions for Soapwort
The varieties of soapwort you will grow in your garden tend to thrive best in zones five to seven. Soapwort will tolerate nearly any type of soil as long as it is well draining. The plants prefer a spot with full sun to partial shade.
How to Plant Soapwort
Planting soapwort is relatively no fuss and simple. To plant soapwort, you may either start seeds indoors in late winter or sow seeds directly into the garden in the spring. Whether you are planting transplants you have already started or seeds you have sown directly into your garden, they should only be planted after the last winter frost. Make sure to space plants at least a foot apart as they will spread.
Care of Soapwort
Soapwort is a pretty hardy herb. It can stand up to a lot and still carry on, so even if you forget about it or neglect it for a bit, you can still come back to your plant and find it doing well. Though soapwort will put up with a fair amount of neglect, try to keep it watered during the especially hot and dry months of the summer. The soil should be moist—but not soaked—and drain well.
Soapwort blooms from midsummer to late fall. You can deadhead blooms once they have died out to encourage more blooms. Deadheading the blooms also helps to contain the soapwort, as it can be invasive.
Soapwort sows itself and can spread throughout your garden. If you want your soapwort plants to spread and fill in space, just leave the soapwort be, and it will. If you do not want it to invade other areas of your garden, trim back blooms to keep the soapwort from continuing to sow itself and spread.
Soapwort does well over winter months. You can cut back the plant if desired, but it is not necessary. Cover the plants with mulch to protect the roots in the colder months.
Pests & Diseases of Soapwort
Soapwort does not really have much of a problem with pests and diseases. Though its fragrant flowers attract some butterflies, soapwork doesn’t seem to attract typical garden pests. The plants are even resistant to larger pests, as their seeds are not beneficial to birds, deer, or other animals that would eat the plant. They find that the saponin in soapwort irritating to their digestion.
Harvesting and Storing Soapwort
You can harvest and use all parts of the soapwort plant. Trim the flowers, leaves, and stems, and either use them fresh or dry them. If you dry them for later use, store them in an airtight container to keep them fresh for longer. You can save the seeds each year to grow more plants the next spring. The stems, leaves, and flowers are great to use in making the mild soaps and detergents soapwort gets its name from.
You can also pull up the entire plant and harvest the roots to use as well. If you are using the plant to make soap, the roots will actually create more of a lather than the rest of the plant.
Soapwort can cause irritation to the digestive systems of humans and animals if ingested, so it should not be used in food.
Soapwort Varieties to Grow in Your Home Garden
The most common soapwort variety is Saporina officinalis. This soapwort variety is the best for making soap, as it has the highest saponin content. It grows the tallest of all the varieties. It can bloom with single or double pink flowers.
Another common variety is Saporina ocymoides, more commonly known as “creeping soapwort.” This variety trails and will cascade prettily down garden walls.
There is also a yellow-blooming variety, Saporina bellidifolia, that is not as common as others we’ve mentioned. It is less hardy than other types of soapwort and requires a bit more work to grow well. Its smaller stems require staking.
Want to learn more about growing soapwort?
Watch this video from Diary of a UK Gardener to see how to sow your soapwort seeds:
Watch this video from MiWilderness to see how the soapwort plant lathers up like soap when soaked in warm water:
Shellie Elliott is a freelance writer and new mom based in Dallas, Texas. She grew up gardening with her grandmother and has worked as a florist. She is currently obsessed with cacti and container gardening in small spaces.
Want to learn more about growing Soapwort
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