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How to Care for a Soapwort Plant!

Lovely light pink flower clusters growing in the summer

Genus Saponaria

The saponaria soapwort plant has a really interesting traditional use, which is only part of the appeal of this interesting plant. Soapworts were commonly grown and used as a detergent or soap!

Traditionally, people would use soapwort to lather up their delicate fabrics! The leaves and roots of the soapwort plant contain saponin, which is a natural compound that produces a lather when it is mixed with water.

Nowadays, people also grow soapworts for ornamental purposes! They are great for all sorts of areas as they tend to grow in colonies. Plant them in your empty garden beds, your containers and outdoor pots, in your rock garden, or along woodland edges.

Growing soapwort will not only be great for your garden because it’s pretty, but because it attracts all sorts of beneficial insects to the area as well. Read on to learn all there is to know about our green flowering plant friends, soapworts!

What does a Saponaria Plant Look Like?

Gorgeous clusters of light pink soapwort flowers in the garden

Growth Habit

Starting underneath the earth, a saponaria plant grows from underground rhizomes. Underground rhizomes basically act as a root storage facility that contains all of the necessary nutrients and moisture a plant needs to survive harsh climates.

Along with producing a ton of light-weight seeds, soapworts spread from these rhizomes with enthusiasm. Because of this, these plants are sometimes considered as an invasive species in areas where they are not a native plant, since saponaria seeds can spread far distances.

From these rhizomes grow erect stems (usually woody) that can be anywhere from 1 foot to 3 feet tall. Along a stem will grow many leaves and at the top a cluster of small flowers.

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Leaves

Soapwort leaves are alternately arranged along the stem, and depending on the species, the leaf shape will be either ovate or lanceolate. A leaf will be larger the further down the stem it is, and smaller the further up the stem it is. Foliage is usually a matte, deep/bright green color.

Certain species also bear semi evergreen foliage, meaning that they are capable of keeping they leaf color and the leaf will persist on the plant for as long as the temperature outside isn’t too severe.

Flowers

Soapwort plants are perennials, meaning that they will continue to blossom year after year as long as their ideal growing conditions are met and maintained. When they first emerge, the buds are said to look like distinctive rose flower buds.

Soapwort flowers will usually start to bloom in the early summer or late summer and last well into autumn. Each soapwort flower is comprised of 5 petals that are either light pink or white (folks say they are very similar looking to phlox flowers!)

Folks also say that these sweet smelling flowers are similar to the scent of clove. Their sweet nectar attracts all sorts of beneficial insects and pollinators to the area like bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and hummingbirds.

What are some Notable Saponaria Species?

Growing clusters of white flowers of the soapwort plant

Rock Soapwort (Saponaria Ocymoides)

Rock soapwort is also commonly known as tumbling ted, and it is native to south western and south central Europe. Ocymoides is a latin term meaning “resembling basil” which is in reference to its leaves!

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Saponaria ocymoides soapwort is a herbaceous evergreen perennial plant that can be identified by its red, hairy, and branching woody stems that grow to be 3-15 inches tall. Rock soapwort flowers are red or pink flowers and it bears ovate leaves.

Wild Sweet William (Saponaria Officinalis)

Wild sweet william is also known as common soapwort, bouncing bet, crow soap, or soap weed. This species in native to Europe, Asia, and Siberia, and is considered as an invasive plant in North America. The wild sweet william is actually the plant that people used in antiquity for soap and detergent!

Saponaria officinalis is a herbaceous evergreen perennial plant that can be identified by its red tinged un-branched stems that bear lanceolate leaves and radially arranged stunning pink flowers or white flowers that grow in dense terminal clusters.

Where is Soapwort a Native Plant?

Huge soapwort specimen growing in the woods with white flowers

Something very important that every gardener should learn about a new plant species is where it comes from. The better you learn about the growing conditions of their natural growing range, the better you can keep them happy in your own garden.

Luckily for us, soapwort plants seem to just want to grow. Though they are native to Asia and Europe, they are considered as an invasive species in a lot of the places that they have been introduced to, especially North America.

Soapwort plants can grow happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 3 through 9, but should be brought indoors for the harsher weather months outside of those specific zones.

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions for Soapwort Plants?

The natural next step of your soapwort learning journey is how to keep one happy. Caring for a soapwort plant is duper duper easy and doesn’t require all that much maintenance from you. Here are some important things to remember when it comes to soapwort care:

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Focus on bright pink soapwort flowers beaming in the sun

Soil Type

Something great about soapwort plants is that they can tolerate nearly any soil type as long as it is well draining. They prefer lower nutrient soil to high nutrient soil.

Why? Growing soapwort in soil that is too nutrient rich will encourage it to grow more quickly and more tall than the plant can actually handle. This result in uncontrolled and floppy growth which is harmful to its structural integrity.

For this reason, it is better to amend the soil with half compost half sand to increase the drainage of your soil rather than just straight compost. Additionally, planting in rocky soil can also help tamper the uncontrolled growth.

Water Level

Watering a soapwort plant won’t take too much time out of your day. They can tolerate some short dry periods outside of their growing season, but they will need frequent watering in the heat of the summer.

A good rule of thumb is that the soil should be moist deeper in the soil and dry on top. Simply stick you finger in the soil to find out if it your plant needs to be watered or not and adjust accordingly.

Sun Exposure

Soapwort plants really aren’t picky when it comes to the level of sun exposure that they receive. They seem to perform great when they are planted in direct sunlight, but can tolerate some partial shade.

If you happen to live in an area that receives some seriously hot summer temperatures, it’s a good idea to plant a soapwort plant in an area that receives partial shade in the afternoon.

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Loose cluster of white soapwort flowers growing in ornamental garden

Temperature

Another great thing about soapwort plants is that they are superbly tolerant of both cold temperatures and hot temperatures. That is thanks to those underground rhizomes we spoke about earlier!

Soapworts can grow happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 3 through 9, but should be brought indoors for the months with harsher temperatures outside of those zones.

You can also dig up the bulbs of the plant and store them in a cold, dry, and dark area for the super cold winters. They will simply go dormant and will be ready to be planted come spring.

Fertilizer

It’s actually quite important not to fertilize your soapwort plant. This is because if they exist in soil that is too high in nutrients, they will grow out of control and are prone to snapping!

Pruning

Though it’s not completely necessary, pruning your soapwort plant can help your plant! Deadheading the plant after it has flowered will encourage it to bloom a second time!

If you live in an area where soapworts are considered as being an invasive species, it is very important to deadhead your plants before they are able to go to seed. If they do go to seed, they can very quickly take over an area.

How do you Propagate a Soapwort Plant?

Single soapwort flower growing in the wild

Now for the final step on your journey: how to propagate a soapwort plant of your very own. Before deciding to plant one, make sure to check out if it is okay to grow soapwort in your area. Invasive species can be dangerous to the local ecosystem! Here are some steps to get you going:

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You can start in one of two ways: either starting soapwort seeds indoors in late winter and the transplanting them outside after the first frost has passed, or just sow soapwort seeds directly into the garden in the late spring. Soapwort seeds usually take 3-5 weeks for germination.

1. Whether your transplanting seedlings or sowing seeds, pick a spot on your property that has soil amended with sand and compost and that receives full sun or partial shade.

2. Dig holes that are about 1 foot apart from one another (individual plants need a fair amount of space), and just under the soil. Soapwort seeds require sunlight for proper germination.

3. Once they are planted, water deeply and maintain soil moisture as they are getting established.

And that’s it! Growing plants is easy! You should have happy little plants sprouting up in no time. Happy planting!

Amazing soapwort plants with bright pink flowers atop long stems

FAQs

Are soapwort plants deer resistant?

Something great about plants that grow from bulbs is that they are usually completely resistant to grazing from larger pests like deer, rabbits and squirrels.

How are soapwort plants used?

Traditionally, people would use soapwort to lather up their delicate fabrics! The leaves and roots of the soapwort plant contain saponin, which is a natural compound that produces a lather when it is mixed with water.

Nowadays, people also grow soapworts for ornamental purposes! They are great for all sorts of areas as they tend to grow in colonies. Plant them in your empty garden beds, your containers and outdoor pots, in your rock garden, or along woodland edges.

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Can soapwort plants survive winter temperatures?

Another great thing about soapwort plants is that they are superbly tolerant of both cold temperatures and hot temperatures. That is thanks to those underground rhizomes we spoke about earlier!

Soapworts can grow happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 3 through 9, but should be brought indoors for the months with harsher temperatures outside of those zones.

You can also dig up the bulbs of the plant and store them in a cold, dry, and dark area for the super cold winters. They will simply go dormant and will be ready to be planted come spring.

Are soapwort plants evergreen or deciduous?

Certain species of saponaria plants bear semi evergreen foliage, meaning that they are capable of keeping they leaf color and the leaf will persist on the plant for as long as the temperature outside isn’t too severe.

Can a soapwort plant be grown indoors?

A soapwort plant can grow happily indoors as long as it is placed in a south facing window and in the proper size of container.

Can a soapwort plant be grown in outdoor containers?

Growing plants that spread very quickly can be hard to maintain! A great way to control the spread and population of this type of plant is to plant them in outdoor containers rather than directly in the garden. This way you can manage their spread and easily deadhead the flower heads if need be.

Are soapwort plants perennials?

Soapworts are perennial plants, meaning that they will continue to blossom year after year as long as their ideal growing conditions are met and maintained.

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What USDA growing zone can soapwort plants grow in?

Though they are native to Asia and Europe, they are considered as an invasive species in a lot of the places that they have been introduced to, especially North America.

Soapwort plants can grow happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 3 through 9, but should be brought indoors for the harsher weather months outside of those specific zones.

How often should a soapwort plant be watered?

Watering a soapwort plant won’t take too much time out of your day. They can tolerate some short dry periods outside of their growing season, but they will need frequent watering in the heat of the summer.

A good rule of thumb is that the soil should be moist deeper in the soil and dry on top. Simply stick you finger in the soil to find out if it your plant needs to be watered or not and adjust accordingly.

Should a soapwort plant be pruned?

Though it’s not completely necessary, pruning your soapwort plant can help your plant! Deadheading the plant after it has flowered will encourage it to bloom a second time!

If you live in an area where soapworts are considered as being an invasive species, it is very important to deadhead your plants before they are able to go to seed. If they do go to seed, they can very quickly take over an area.

Do soapwort plants prefer full sun or partial shade?

Soapwort plants really aren’t picky when it comes to the level of sun exposure that they receive. They seem to perform great when they are planted in direct sunlight, but can tolerate some partial shade.

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If you happen to live in an area that receives some seriously hot summer temperatures, it’s a good idea to plant a soapwort plant in an area that receives partial shade in the afternoon.

Where can I buy soapwort plant rhizomes?

If you’re looking for an online resource to find all sorts of different seeds and bulbs, look no further than the NETPS plant finder. The NETPS plant finder tool is a one stop shop for all the supplies and information you could possibly need to keep a happy garden.

What is the ideal soil type for a soapwort plant?

Something great about soapwort plants is that they can tolerate nearly any soil type as long as it is well draining. They prefer lower nutrient soil to high nutrient soil.

Why? Growing soapwort in soil that is too nutrient rich will encourage it to grow more quickly and more tall than the plant can actually handle. This result in uncontrolled and floppy growth which is harmful to its structural integrity.

For this reason, it is better to amend the soil with half compost half sand to increase the drainage of your soil rather than just straight compost. Additionally, planting in rocky soil can also help tamper the uncontrolled growth.

Do soapwort plants spread?

Starting underneath the earth, a saponaria plant grows from underground rhizomes. Underground rhizomes basically act as a root storage facility that contains all of the necessary nutrients and moisture a plant needs to survive harsh climates.

Along with producing a ton of light-weight seeds, soapworts spread from these rhizomes with enthusiasm. Because of this, these plants are sometimes considered as an invasive species in areas where they are not a native plant, since saponaria seeds can spread far distances.

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What is the easiest way to propagate a soapwort plant?

You can start in one of two ways: either starting soapwort seeds indoors in late winter and the transplanting them outside after the first frost has passed, or just sow soapwort seeds directly into the garden in the late spring. Soapwort seeds usually take 3-5 weeks for germination.

How tall do soapwort plants get?

Soapwort plants can grow to be anywhere from 1-3 feet in height.

What time of year do soapwort flowers bloom?

Soapwort plants are perennials, meaning that they will continue to blossom year after year as long as their ideal growing conditions are met and maintained. When they first emerge, the buds are said to look like distinctive rose flower buds.

Soapwort flowers will usually start to bloom in the early summer or late summer and last well into autumn. Each soapwort flower is comprised of 5 petals that are either light pink or white (folks say they are very similar looking to phlox flowers!)