By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis) also known as soapwort and wild sweet William, is well adapted to Texas. It is tough and will tolerate a variety of growing conditions, is drought tolerant, makes a dense ground cover and the flowers are showy. Deer will not eat it.
The name (because I know you were wondering) originated in England where barmaids, who were sometimes referred to as “Bets”, cleaned bottles by putting a sprig of this plant and filling them with water. They then shook them to get them clean. Thus the term “Bouncing Bets”.
Bouncing Bet contains saponin in the leaves and the roots. Saponin can be poisonous in large quantities when ingested, causing vomiting and diarrhea. Adding water to saponin creates a lather. The early settlers boiled the roots and leaves producing a soap.
It grows to a height of 28” and has pink (sometimes white) sweetly scented flowers. The five petals form a 1” flower which are arranged in dense clusters. The fragrant smell attracts moths, butterflies and birds. The smell is said to resemble the scent of clover and bouquets.
This perennial can be direct sown on the surface in fall or spring. Spacing of seeds depends on the variety and the mature height of the plant. Check your seed packet for directions on that. The plants can be thinned as soon as the first true leaves appear. Removing spent blooms stimulates reblooming, keeps the plant from getting leggy and makes for a more compact pretty plant. The plant can be mowed to the ground in the fall.
Bouncing Bet is resistant to insects and diseases and will grow in either wet or dry conditions.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.