Plants That Like To Be In Water: Types Of Plants That Tolerate Wet Areas

Most plants don’t do well in soggy soil, and excessive moisture results in rot and other deadly diseases. Although very few plants grow in wet areas, you can learn which plants like wet feet. Some moisture loving plants thrive in standing water and others tolerate soggy, poorly drained areas of your garden. Read on to learn more about these plants.

Plants That Tolerate Wet Areas

Here are just some plants that can take moist conditions.

Water tolerant perennials and bulbs include:

  • Lily of the valley
  • Bugbane
  • Crinum
  • Sweet woodruff
  • Daylily
  • Rose mallow
  • Blue vervain
  • Monkey flower
  • Iris

Certain grasses add beauty and texture to damp areas. For example, the following grasses perform well in moist soil:

  • Northern sea oats
  • Indian grass
  • Little bluestem
  • Cordgrass

If you’re looking for a vine or a ground cover for a damp area, keep in mind that most vines and ground covers require some drainage and don’t perform well in areas that are flooded or consistently wet. That being said, these plants are worth a try:

  • Ajuga
  • Trumpet creeper
  • Carolina jessamine
  • Liriope

Plants That Like to Be in Water

There are a number of plants that can withstand long periods with wet feet. These make good additions to garden ponds, bogs, rain gardens or just those difficult areas of the landscape that stay too wet for planting anything else.

Perennial plants that tolerate standing water and flooded areas include:

  • Water hyssop
  • Pickerelweed
  • Cattail
  • Iris
  • Canna
  • Elephant’s ear
  • Swamp sunflower
  • Scarlet swamp hibiscus

Many ferns tolerate wet areas and thrive at the edge of ponds, including:

  • Cinnamon fern
  • Royal fern
  • Sensitive fern
  • Painted fern
  • Marsh fern
  • Holly fern

However, don’t assume that all ferns like wet feet. Some types, such as Christmas fern and wood fern, prefer dry, shady areas.

In addition to the ornamental grasses that tolerate moist conditions previously listed, muhly grass enjoys damp soil and pond edges. Most types of sedge do well in wet, sandy soil. Sedge is available in a variety of sizes, forms and colors.

Keep in mind that soil moisture is only one thing to consider when choosing plants for wet areas. Other important factors include light, soil type and temperature hardiness. A local greenhouse or nursery can provide information about specific water tolerant plants for your area.

Perennials Tolerant of Moist to Wet Soil

Many plants will not grow well in soils that are constantly moist or wet. However, there are a number of plants that are tolerant of and have adapted to perform well under these conditions. Moist generally means soils that are constantly damp and wet refers to soils that are saturated with occasional exposure to standing water (1 day duration).

Hardy Hibiscus – Hibiscus sp.

Height: 2-4 feet.

Width: 2-5 feet.

Bloom: red, white, pink, Bicolor, July-Sept.

Cultivars: ‘Fireball’, ‘Copper King’, ‘Luna’ series, ‘Lady Baltimore’.

Notes: Large impressive blooms. Slow to emerge in the spring. Performs best in moist soil in a sun to part shade location.

Queen of the Prairie – Filipendula rubra

Height: 18 inches – 6 feet.

Width: 3-4 feet.

Bloom: Pink, white, June-July.

Cultivars: ‘Flore Plano’, ‘Aurea’, ‘Kahome’.

Notes: Clusters of frothy blooms. Good for rain gardens. Best in full sun to part shade.

Black Snakeroot – Cimicifuga racemosa

Height: 2-5 feet.

Width: 3-4 feet.

Bloom: White, Pink, Aug-Sept.

Cultivars: ‘Pink Spike’, ‘White Pearl’, ‘Brunette’.

Notes: Large, dramatic plant. Late season flower display. Best in part to full shade.

Rocket Ligularia – Ligularia dentate

Height: 3-4 feet.

Width: 2-3 feet.

Bloom: Yellow, July- Aug.

Cultivars: ‘Othello’, ‘The Rocket’, ‘Osiris Café Noir’.

Notes: Dramatic foliage, daisy-like flowers, late season flower display. Best in sun to part shade.

Cardinal Flower – Lobelia cardinalis

Height: 2-3 feet.

Width: 18-24 inches.

Bloom: Red, blue July-Sept.

Cultivars: ‘Angel Song’, ‘Ruby Slippers’, ‘Arabella’s Vision’.

Notes: Good accent plant. Needs moisture for best performance. Best in sun to part shade.

Meadow Rue – Thalictrum aquilegifolium

Height: 3-5 feet.

Width: 18-24 inches.

Bloom: Lavender, July-Aug.

Cultivars: ‘Black Stocking’, ‘Hewitt’s Double’, ‘Evening Star’.

Notes: Distinctive, lacy columbine-like foliage. Best in sun to part shade.

Spiderwort – Tradescantia x andersoniana

Height: 12-18 inches.

Width: 18-24 inches.

Bloom: White, blue, purple, June-July.

Cultivars: ‘Snowcap’, ‘Sweet Kate’, ‘Concord Grape’.

Notes: Can be cut back to refresh plant appearance in midseason. Can spread.

Royal Fern – Osmunda regalis

Height: 4-6 feet.

Width: 3-4 feet.

Bloom: none.

Notes: Very large graceful fern. Good along shaded water features. Best in part to full shade.

Finger-leaf Rodger’s Flower – Rodgersia aesculifolia

Height: 3-5 feet.

Width: 4-5 feet.

Bloom: White, July.

Notes: Very large leaf bold plant. Good along water feature. Best in part shade.

Leopard’s Bane – Doronicum orientale

Height: 18-24 inches.

Width: 18-24 inches.

Bloom: Yellow, April-May.

Notes: Early flowering, daisy-like flowers. May go dormant during the summer. Best in sun to part shade.

Siberian Iris – Iris siberica

Height: 2-3 feet.

Width: 2-3 feet.

Bloom: Lavender, June.

Cultivars: ‘Caesar’s Brother’ ‘Little White’.

Notes: Very wet tolerant, fine grass-like foliage. Best in sun to part shade.

  • Annuals for Part to Full Shade
  • Annuals for Sunny, Dry Sites
  • Perennials for Dry Shade
  • Perennials for Shade
  • Perennials for Sunny, Dry Sites
  • Perennials Tolerant of Moist to Wet Soil
  • Shade Tolerant Ornamental Grasses and Grass-Like Plants

Cool Plants For Wet Soil

Hardy hibiscus at the edge of a Virginia pond. Photo: Steve Bender

You see it in the description of almost every plant you want to use — “needs well-drained soil.” So what if your soil isn’t well-drained? What if it’s soggier than the home of “Swamp People?” Will anything grow there besides duckweed? Of course. Let Grumpy enlighten you.

For example, many species of hibiscus like wet soil. They include hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos), shown above, Texas star (Hibiscus coccineus), and Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis). They also thrive in well-drained soil. Unfortunately, Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), the most popular and showiest species, requires well-drained soil. But at least, you now have options. Plant in sun.

Image zoom emElephant’s-ears. Photo: FD Richards/em

It’s hard to find a perennial with bigger, bolder impact than elephant’s-ear (Colocasia esculenta). You’ll often see it in perennial beds and containers, but it also grows with its roots in standing water. I’ve seen drainage ditches in Louisiana filled with elephant’s-ear. I’ve seen them filled with lots of other stuff, too, but let’s not talk about that.

Image zoom emYellow-flag iris. Photo: Steve Bender/em

Most of you are probably familiar with bearded iris, those beautiful perennials that bloom in a rainbow of colors in spring. They need well-drained soil. Not all irises do. For example, yellow-flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) prefers wet soil. At Southern Living, years ago we planted a single clump on the edge of our big pond. Those first plants started dropping seed into the water that floated across to settle in the shallow water around the edges. Now yellow-flag rings the entire pond. As its name implies, its showy spring blooms are butter yellow. Other irises for wet soil include Japanese iris (Iris ensata), blue-flag (Iris versicolor), and hybrid Louisiana iris. Plant in sun.

Image zoom emVirginia sweetspire. Photo: Steve Bender/em

If you don’t know about Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), you need to. Native to the eastern U.S., this shrub combines white, sweetly fragrant spring or early summer flowers with red and burgundy fall foliage. Although it grows just fine in well-drained soil, it loves wet soil, where it will quickly spread to form colonies. ‘Henry’s Garnet’ grows 3 to 4 feet tall. ‘Little Henry’ reaches just 2 feet tall. Plant in full to partial sun.

Image zoom emCommon ginger lily. Photo: Steve Bender/em

Common ginger lily (Hedychium coronanarium), aka “butterfly ginger,” is a classic Southern passalong prized for the powerful sweet scent of its white, late summer blooms. It likes constantly moist soil and spreads to form colonies. Flowers appear atop spires of handsome foliage that stand 3 to 7 feet tall. It’s easy to divide and share, which is why it’s a great passalong. Plant in sun or light shade.

Image zoom emWinterberry in late summer. Photo: Steve Bender/em

Most hollies can’t stand wet soil, but winterberry (Ilex verticillata) loves it. It grows fine in regular soil too. It’s the showiest of all hollies in winter, because it drops its leaves to reveal branches studded with hundreds of bright red berries that glow like sparks. Winterberry has both male and female plants; only females produce berries. One male will pollinate about six females (tough job). ‘Winter Red’ is the finest female selection; pollinate it with the male ‘Southern Gentleman.’ Expect these shrubs to grow 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. Plant in full to partial sun.

The amount of soil moisture a plant requires for optimal health varies from plant to plant. Similar to light and the forest canopy concept, various plant types have evolved and adapted to different environmental conditions based on moisture availability.

Indoor plants that require less soil moisture have developed modified plant parts and structures to help them cope with drier conditions—similar to the way camels have evolved and adapted to dry conditions. For example, many plants native to dry (arid) regions have developed thick waxy leaves with fewer stomata, effective at storing water and reducing water loss. Sansevieria, Zamioculcas Zamiifolia (ZZ plant), Jade plant and Aloe are examples of these. Many of these plants are considered ‘succulents’—a large group of low-moisture, ornamental plants. Plants native to extremely dry areas, including cactus such as Cereus, don’t have any leaves at all. Instead they have a modified stem(s) that hold abundant moisture and carry out photosynthesis.

Some plants native to dry areas also store water in thick, fleshy modified underground roots. ZZ and Sansevieria both have these. Due to these plant modifications, these plants are adapted to drier soil conditions. Excessively wet conditions are detrimental to these ‘low-moisture’ plants as they have no adaptations for this. Although these plants prefer a drier soil, they still require watering as appropriate.

Conversely, other plant types have grown and adapted in environments with more abundant and consistent moisture. Ficus, Black Olive, Spathiphyllum, many Chamaedorea, Areca and Rhapis palms, Dieffenbachia and ferns are examples of plants that prefer conditions that are moist and rarely if ever get dry.

Some ‘high-moisture’ plants react quickly to inadequate soil moisture—Ficus drop leaves and Spathiphyllum wilt. Characteristics of many of these plants include abundant leaves with a thick, fibrous root system and are relatively fast growers. However, even these high-moisture plants that prefer abundant soil moisture can be over-watered.

Saturated versus Moist

‘High moisture’ plants prefer a moist soil—not a ‘wet’ soil. A ‘wet soil’ or ‘fully saturated soil’ is a soil that has all pore spaces filled with water devoid of air. For example, a sponge that is completely full of water and no air would be considered fully saturated. Roots need air—even high moisture plants. When no air is available, root failure occurs and rotting potential is high. For this reason, the goal is to keep the soil of high moisture plants moist (but not fully saturated) and not allow it to get dry.

Many plants fall somewhere in the middle of the soil moisture spectrum. Plants that are not considered high or low moisture plants typically prefer a thorough watering with the soil surface getting slightly dry before the next watering.

Environmental conditions must also be considered when watering plants—factors such as light, temperature, humidity, plant health, soil type, etc. will impact how much and how often a particular plant needs to be watered. In general, plants in higher temperatures and higher light will require more frequent watering than plants in lower light and lower temperatures. All of these factors need to be considered when watering plants—making watering interior plants a science. Hands-on practice is also a key to watering plants successfully.

Green Side Up,

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Plants That Will Tolerate Boggy Clay Soil

Some gardeners improve wet, clay soils by adding copious amounts of sand and by building ingenious irrigation and raised bed systems. But others prefer to simply choose the plants best suited to soggy, boggy conditions. If clay soil and marshy situations dominate your region, your local state extension office can recommend ground covers, flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees which thrive not just in wet, clay soil, but in your specific climate as well.

Edible Plants

Believe it or not, you can raise food on boggy soils. Among the perennial vegetables which thrive in wet, clay conditions are several plants we normally think of as purely decorative, but in fact have nutritious parts, such as the fiddleheads of ostrich fern or the petals and buds of the daylily. Other plants in this category include arrowhead, bamboo shoots, cattails, ground nuts, wild leeks, wild rice, water celery, water mimosa and watercress. Several fruiting plants also tolerate clay or boggy conditions, including cranberry, blueberry and elderberry bushes, bog myrtle and serviceberry trees.

Groundcovers

Many ferns, hostas and grasses not only provide ornamentation in a boggy garden, but help prevent erosion and pollution through water runoff. All varieties of fern thrive in the wet, clay conditions of boggy areas: ostrich, cinnamon, maidenhair, and royal are just a few of the ferns which may be hardy in your area. Hostas often tolerate clay ditches and bogs, and multiply rapidly to cover large areas. They, like ferns, require shade to thrive. Good choices for ornamental and native grasses of varying heights include creeping bent grass, rushes, tufted hair grass, Indian grass, sweet flag, switch grass and fountain grass.

Shrubs and Trees

Along with the fruiting bushes and trees mentioned above, consider planting one or several willow trees to frame your landscape. All willow varieties, including weeping willows, grow incredibly fast and love boggy and clay conditions. River birches, honey locusts, sumac, aspens and cottonwoods also do well. Ad for shrubs, wild members of the holly family, including winterberry and inkberry, provide winter color and wildlife forage. Some gardeners have luck with cultivated hollies in their boggy area as well. Other shrub choices include laurel, rhododendron and azalea varieties.

Flowers

Among the perennial and annual flowers which respond well to wet, clay soil are asters, daylilies, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, Shasta daisies, Veronica speedwell , columbines, jack-in-the-pulpit and Joe-Pye Weed.

Herbs

Among those bog- and clay-tolerant herbs which have culinary, cosmetic or medicinal use are mint, bee balm, coltsfoot and horsetail. Like some other bog-loving plants, these herbs spread rapidly, so place them only where they won’t choke out more delicate species.

Many plants grow in a boggy soil

Q. I live in Sugar Land on a lot with clay soil. After some strategic removal of clay and the addition of better soil, I’ve gotten several species to bloom. Everything is going well except for one problem. The drainage along the east-west sides of the house is poor, and water tends to stand along the fence lines until evaporation and absorption occur. I’d love to plant along the fences and add color.

I hollowed out planter boxes in the St. Augustine, which is growing in the clay, about 2 feet by 18 inches by 12 inches deep and back-filled them with good soil. I tried mandevilla and Carolina jessamine, but these climbers don’t do well in soil that is not well-drained.

Any suggestions? I’d love to have a species that flowers throughout the growing season and tolerates periodic standing water.

— T.V.F., Sugar Land

A. While raised beds of porous, organically enriched soil are the best way to go for many plants, there is a decent list of trees, shrubs and perennials that tolerate poor drainage in gumbolike soil.

‘Drummond’ maple, river birch, bald cypress and parsley hawthorn are native trees that tolerate poorer drainage.

Easy-care shrubs that accept less-than-ideal drainage include:

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). This native can grow in water, moist sites or regular garden soil as a large shrub or small tree that will reach at least 10 feet. The highly fragrant, white blooms attract butterflies.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is a colonizing native that has arching stems with fragrant white blooms in spring.

Southern wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) is a fast-growing native that grows to an approximate 12 feet and can be used in tree or shrub form. There is also a shorter form. The dense foliage is fragrant, and birds love the berries on female plants.

Cannas, especially variegated varieties, offer months of blooms.

Other perennials that tolerate boggy conditions include:

Spider lily (Hymenocallis liriosme) is a bold native bulb with dark green, straplike foliage and fragrant late spring-July white blooms.

Obedient plant (Physotegia virginiana) is a native perennial that produces late-summer lavender blooms on plants up to 3 to 4 feet tall. A grouping of the snapdragonlike blooms can be attractive. The plants spread but can easily be pulled from unwanted areas.

Miniature cattail (Typha minima) and variegated cattail would add a different touch. Do not plant “regular” cattails, because they would likely overtake the area.

Taro (Colocasiaspp.) is a tender perennial with tropical foliage shaped like elephant ears.

Papyrus (Cyperus spp.) produces clumps of umbrellalike swirls topped with brown flower clusters in summer.

You can see many bog-tolerant plants at a nursery that specializes in water plants.

Carolina jessamine has had the reputation of tolerating gumbolike soils. If yours won’t, you might consider coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), which produces clusters of red tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds.

If you do not completely amend and rework the soil along your fence lines, you might gradually add organic matter to those areas: a layer of pine needles, a thin blanket of compost or shredded leaves. As these break down, they will gradually improve soil conditions.

Many gardeners have discovered that attractive dry creek beds of rock and gravel help channel water in low, poorly draining areas.

Here’s a landscaping suggestion: You could add water-loving Louisiana iris for spring blooms. The swordlike foliage looks good most months, and taller types (foliage is 2 to 5 feet) can soften the fence. Then plant variegated acorus, or sweet flag, around the iris for year-round enjoyment. The clumps of slender 8-inch foliage spread. Creeping jenny covers the ground with round, chartreuse leaves and could also travel among and over the rocks.

For flower color, plant torenia in partially shaded areas. I was surprised at its resilience after the June flood. Torenia sat in water for two days or so in our garden. This warm-season annual blooms spring to frost and reseeds. There is an upright form that grows to about a foot (with white blooms rimmed in blue or pink or blue blooms rimmed in dark blue) and a spreading type (with blue blooms).

Vegetable Garden Soil: Soil Requirements For Vegetable Plants

If you are starting a vegetable garden, or even if you have an established vegetable garden, you may wonder what is the best soil for growing vegetables. Things like the right amendments and the right soil pH for vegetables can help your vegetable garden grow better. Keep reading to learn more about soil preparation for the vegetable garden.

Soil Preparation for a Vegetable Garden

Some soil requirements for vegetable plants are the same, while others differ depending on the type of vegetable. In this article we will only focus on the general soil requirements for vegetable gardens.

In general, vegetable garden soil should be well draining and loose. It should not be too heavy (i.e. clay soil) or too sandy.

General Soil Requirements for Vegetables

We recommend before preparing soil for vegetables that you have your soil tested at your local extension service to see if there is something your soil is lacking in from the lists below.

Organic material – All vegetables need a healthy amount of organic material in the soil they grow in. Organic material serves many purposes. Most importantly, it provides many of the nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive. Secondly, organic material “softens” soil and makes it so that the roots can more easily spread through the soil. Organic material also acts like small sponges in the soil and allows the soil in your vegetable to retain water.

Organic material can come from either a compost or well rotted manure, or even a combination of both.

Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium – When it comes to soil preparation for vegetable garden, these three nutrients are the basic nutrients that all plants need. They are also known together as N-P-K and are the numbers you see on a bag of fertilizer (e.g. 10-10-10). While organic material does provide these nutrients, you may have to adjust them individually depending on your individual soil. This can be done with chemical fertilizers or organically.

  • To add nitrogen, either use a chemical fertilizer with a higher first number (e.g. 10-2-2) or an organic amendment like manure or nitrogen fixing plants.
  • To add phosphorus, use either a chemical fertilizer with a high second number (e.g. 2-10-2) or an organic amendment like bone meal or rock phosphate.
  • To add potassium, use a chemical fertilizer that has a high last number (e.g. 2-2-10) or an organic amendment like potash, wood ash or greensand.

Trace nutrients – Vegetables also need a wide variety of trace minerals and nutrients to grow well. These include:

  • Boron
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Chloride
  • Manganese
  • Calcium
  • Molybdenum
  • Zinc

Soil pH for Vegetables

While exact pH requirements for vegetables vary somewhat, in general, the soil in a vegetable garden should fall somewhere be 6 and 7. If your vegetable garden soil tests significantly above that, you will need to lower the pH of the soil. If the soil in your vegetable garden tests significantly lower than 6, you will need to raise the pH of your vegetable garden soil.

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