Rock soap - Saponaria ocymoides

Rock soap - Saponaria ocymoides

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The Saponaria ocymoides or rock is one perennial plant native to Europe that forms small creeping cushions, which tend to spread not very quickly. Its growth is slow and the stems are very branched, prostrate, 10-30 cm long.
The leaves of this plant are oval or lanceolate, of dark green color, in spring they are almost hidden by the numerous flowers, which bloom in bunches, of an intense pink color; despite the spring bloom is intense and explosive, then the plant continues to bloom until the first cold, producing sporadic bunches of small flowers that tend to blend into the thick leaves of this plant.
Widely used for rock gardens, soapstone can easily be found also in nature, in medium-altitude pastures; it is also used to cover dry walls, given the ease of development, even in non-ideal conditions. To maintain a more compact development and to favor further flowering, it is advisable to prune the stems with faded flowers. There saponaria ocymoides it is used in herbal medicine, the name derives from the high content of vegetable saponins present in the roots of this plant.
Saponins are detergents known since very ancient times. Because of these properties, the soapstone of rock was cultivated in abundance, in order to be able to wash the laundry and in particular the wool. In addition to this aspect, the soap-baths were also much cultivated in the past for their particular therapeutic properties. This plant was in fact considered a medicinal and medicinal plant capable of combating various diseases.


To grow to the best and avoid the onset of rot it is good to place it in an extremely bright and warm position. We choose a point where the sun comes early in the morning and remains for at least six hours. They are ideal plants for the rock garden and for the crevices between the walls. They are ideal for covering and compacting a well exposed slope. The highest species can instead be used foreground in the borders.
Let us remember to plant the plants in full sun or in partial shade, especially in places with very hot summers. These plants do not fear the cold, even if intense frost can often cause the complete drying of the aerial part.
In case of desiccation of the plants, an intense pruning is indispensable to give new vigor and allow a quick regrowth of the Saponaria ocymoides.

Description and classification

Saponaria, also called savonella or carnation in mazzetti, is a genus of about 30 different species of perennial or annual herbaceous plants originating from the prairies and mountainous areas of Europe and south-east Asia. They are part of the Caryophyllaceae family, which also includes the similar Gypsophila, Silene, Dianthus and Lychnis.
The most widespread in cultivation is undoubtedly the Saponaria officinalis: it comes from the mountains of central Asia, but arrived in Europe in ancient times and is now widespread almost everywhere even in the spontaneous state. It is a lively with an erect habit that expands with extreme speed thanks to the rhizomatous root system.
Its leaves are deciduous, but have been produced since the beginning of spring. Even the flowering, minute but very abundant, is extremely durable: in the right conditions it begins in April and ends in September. The corollas are pink, light or dark depending on the cultivar and are grouped in bunches.

Cultivation of soapstone

Saponaria is a plant known since ancient times and widespread in gardens and vegetable gardens not only for its ornamental qualities, but also for various practical uses and for its numerous medicinal virtues. For all these reasons it is worth re-evaluating it by inserting in our green spaces both the most popular and the particular varieties: they will give us great satisfaction requiring very little effort.
The cultivation of soapstone is not difficult and can be carried out both in open ground and in pots (very beautiful, for example, as a descaler in hanging baskets). It only needs some attention regarding the positioning, the type of substrate and the irrigations.


Common name

Savonella, Saponaria
Family and Latin name Caryophyllaceae, Saponaria, more than 30 species
Origins Europe and Asia, rocky and arid areas
Type of plant Herbaceous, perennial or annual
Foliage Persistent or transient depending on the species
Flower color Pink, dark pink, red, white. Rare yellow (saponaria lutea)
Height From 5 to 60 cm depending on the species
Cultivation Easy and undemanding
irrigations To read
Growth Fast
Exposure Sun
Ground Well drained (soil + sand + gravel)
Rusticitа From semirustico to very rustic
soil pH Neutral to sub-alkaline
Composting light
Pests and diseases Few snails in the spring
Propagation Division, cutting, sowing (very self-disseminating)
Use Rocky, border, flower beds, vases


The plants placed at home recently need to be watered regularly, those already at home for a long time are satisfied with the rains; in case of very prolonged periods of drought it is advisable to sporadically water the plant.
At the beginning of spring, spread granular fertilizer around the soap for flowering plants or proceed with a couple of liquid fertilizers diluted in the water of the watering. Liquid fertilizers should be administered a couple of times a month for the first vegetative period of the plant.
The irrigations are necessary only during the first vintage, especially during the summer period. Stamped plants usually do not need interventions except in case of long drought and heat, especially in southern regions.
In the pot, the administrations must be a little more frequent: in this case, to get the best results, it is good to test the humidity present in the soil, inserting a finger in depth.
However, we keep in mind that high varieties need a little more moisture than creeping ones.



Spring (also autumn in the South)
Flowering From June to October (depending on the species)
Division March April
repotting spring
Sowing April / October (in the South)
Cleaning Summer; autumn cut at the base
Composting Little manure in the autumn


The saponaria plants of rock develop without problems in any soil, even in the very arid and dry ones. However they prefer loose and very well drained soils while a very damp soil, which retains too much water, can cause the plant to die.
An excess of radical humidity in fact causes radical asphyxia and can quickly lead to major problems for the plant.
The choice of land is extremely important especially if we live in the North or in the mountain areas where winter is longer, dark and humid. In these cases it is good to make sure that the area is above all perfectly drained. In case of too compact soil it will be better to extract it previously and mix a good quantity of coarse sand and gravel of various granulometry. We can also add a little ripe compost even if the soapstone (especially the rocky species) does not particularly suffer from the lack of nutrients (especially nitrogen).


In spring it is possible to sow soaps, or divide the heads of the previous year; in summer it is possible to practice cuttings using portions of semi-woody stems.
The easiest and fastest way to get new seedlings is the division of the head. Generally, both in pots and in the open ground, it is necessary to proceed every 2-3 years, at the beginning of spring. The plant is extracted and divided with very sharp scissors. Insert in the ground or in the vase as the first time.
Another method for obtaining new seedlings is the cutting; it works at the end of spring by taking apical segments from 5 to 10 depending on the species. We eliminate the leaves at the base and insert in a very light compote, always kept moist in a warm but shady area. The rooting is rapid and before the autumn the new soap-making can already be put into permanent shelter.

Pests and diseases

In general, soap-baths are not attacked by pests or diseases. The saponarie are very resistant plants and the only drawbacks can derive from the presence of snails in the spring period: we use barriers or special granules.

History, uses and medicinal properties

The name Saponaria derives from the Latin sapo and refers to soap. In fact, the plant contains a specific glucoside in all its parts (but particularly in the roots), saponin, which, in addition to creating foam in contact with water, is very effective in detaching fats from tissues. Precisely for this reason it was widely used for the preparation of detergents and its cultivation in vegetable gardens was very common.
It was nonetheless used for its medicinal virtues: an antirheumatic extract was extracted from the leaves and useful decoctions were obtained to make gargles. From the maceration of the roots useful compounds were obtained to facilitate the secretion of the inflamed mucous membranes and to relieve respiratory, gastrointestinal and hepatic inflammations.
However, at high doses it is toxic and should therefore only be used under strict medical supervision; however, it still remains a plant at the center of numerous researches, above all for its ability to increase the permeability of cell membranes.

Soap plant

As with all perennials, the ideal season for the plant is without a doubt spring: it is also the period in which it is more
easy to find the plants on the market. In the Center-South and in the coastal areas it is however possible to proceed also in autumn, thus allowing the plant to free itself and have a greater vegetative growth from the arrival of the beautiful season.
It is worked by digging large holes twice as much as the earth's bread and by placing a bit of gravel on the bottom to improve drainage. We cover and compact. Let us water abundantly. The ideal density is 3-6 mine seedlings, depending on the species.

Composition of the vase

As we have said, soapstone also lives well in pots. For this use we prefer the more compact and creeping varieties. We choose a basket or a container with many holes so that the drainage of the water is facilitated. On the bottom we create a drainage layer with gravel and fill the remaining space with a compote for cacti or citrus fruits. Alternatively we can mix garden soil with sand and gravel.

Care and maintenance of soapstone

It is a very autonomous plant and requires minimal intervention. To prolong the flowering period to the maximum it is good to regularly eliminate withered inflorescences. If we want to avoid self-dissemination in the mid-autumn we eliminate all the aerial parts that, in any case, will disappear anyway in winter to make room for new jets when the warm weather arrives.

Saponaria of rock - Saponaria ocymoides: Species and Varieties

Saponaria officinalis It is an upright deciduous perennial that expands very quickly thanks to the rhizomes. It has narrow, ovate, medium green leaves. From July to September it produces stems bearing bunches of pink, red or white flowers. Long cultivated for the production of soap. Suitable for a mixed or herbaceous border, it grows up to 60 cm. Available in the cultivars 'alba plena', with double white flowers, 'dazzler' with very variegated leaves and pink flowers, 'rosea plena' and 'rubra plena' double pink or white flowers.
Saponaria ocymoides It is a widespread plant in all the mountains of western and southern Europe. It grows up to 15 cm in height and is a very appreciable ground cover. It has soft and decombant stems with lance-shaped leaves of a beautiful bright green. It blooms in full summer in bright pink or white. Ideal for the rock garden, hanging baskets, cracks in the walls. Very rustic. The varieties 'Alba' are available, with white flowers, and 'rubra compacta', only 10 cm high and with red corollas.
Saponaria x lempergii 'Max Frei'It is an evergreen ground cover plant of small size (about 30 cm). It has lance-shaped leaves and sparse pale pink flowers, produced from June to the end of the season. Suitable both as a ground cover or a decombente and in the first floor of the borders.
Saponaria x olivana
Very contained herbaceous plant (up to 5 cm), ground covering: in a short time it forms a large pillow. Pleasant for its narrow leaves and medium green lanceolate. It blooms in the middle of summer in light pink. He wants a perfectly drained soil.
Saponaria vaccaria
Up to 60 cm high, it is one of the few annuals of its kind. It has glaucous leaves and pale pink flowers, abundant in the height of summer. It is sown in early spring. Suitable for flower beds and is also beautiful and durable as a cut flower.
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