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Soggier Than Thou: Plants That Tolerate Wet Soil

20170726A ????, WC
Japanese primoses (Primula japonica) naturalized in a boggy site near a stream. Photo: ????, Wikimedia Commons

Ideally, good garden soil would be both moist and well drained. Any surplus moisture would then drain away rapidly, allowing oxygen to flow into the spaces left empty between the soil particles (plant roots need oxygen for healthy growth), yet the soil would also retain enough moisture so plants growing there would have all the water they need for their growth. This would be the ideal situation for probably 95% of all plants.

If there is an area in your garden where a soil is constantly soaking wet, the best thing to do is therefore to correct the situation by installing drains or adding a raised bed. This will allow maximum use of the area for lawns, flower beds, vegetable gardens, etc.

20170726B Lilies Water Gardens.jpg
Soggy soil near a pond calls for the use of bog plants, as shown here. Photo: Lilies Water Gardens

But that’s not always possible. Some soils are always wet because they are in a depression, at the foot of a slope, border a stream or lake or are in some other location where improving the drainage would be complicated, impossible or undesirable. But if your garden’s soil is always soggy or usually so, don’t moan about your bad luck. As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, just make lemonade! When your soil is poorly drained, the most laidback thing to do is grow plants that tolerate or even prefer wet soils: problem solved!

The plants that follow have the ability to live in environments that are always wet and notably where the constant presence of moisture means oxygen levels are low. Some of them are semi-aquatic or marginal plants and, in nature, their roots constantly soak in water. Most, though, are adapted to a more terrestrial environment, very moist, yet not totally waterlogged. Many of the plants listed here naturally grow on the edge of lakes or rivers or in marshes, swamps or bogs. All will do well in moist to garden wet soil.

Annuals and Tender Bulbs

20170726C Biswarup Ganguly, WC
Cannas are usually grown in ordinary, well-drained garden soil, but will also thrive with their roots in water. Photo: Biswarup Ganguly, Wikimedia Commons
  1. Calla lily (Zantedeschia spp.)
  2. Canna (Canna spp.)
  3. Cleome or spiderflower (Cleoma hasslerana)
  4. Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)
  5. Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
  6. Monkey flower (Mimulus x hybrida)
  7. Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana)
  8. Snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata)
  9. Taro or elephant’s ear (Colocasia esculenta)
  10. Wax begonia (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum)
  11. Wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri)


Small Blue Flowers Flower Myosotis Pet
Forget-me-nots (Myosotis) aren’t the slightest bit bothered by soggy soil. Photo: Max Pixel.
  1. Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) zone 3
  2. Forget-me-not (Myosotis spp.) zone 3
  3. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) zone 3b


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Astilbes thrive in moist soils and will even grow in full sun if their roots always remain moist. Photo:  Kor!An, Wikimedia Commons
  1. Andrew’s gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) zone 2
  2. Astilbe (Astilbe spp.) zone 3
  3. Astilboides (Astilboides tabularis) zone 3
  4. Beebalm (Monarda spp.) zone 3
  5. Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria) zone 3
  6. Black snakeroot (Cimicifuga racemosa, syn. Actaea racemosa) zone 3
  7. Blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) zone 3
  8. Blue marsh violet (Viola cucullata) zone 4
  9. Bog Iris (Iris spp.) zone 2 to 7, according to species
  10. Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla) zone 3
  11. Butterbur (Petasites japonicas) zone 3
  12. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) zone 3
  13. Cattail or bulrush (Typha spp.) zone 2
  14. Common bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana) zone 3

    20170726M VV Lavenderturm HC.JPG
    Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginanium). Photo:
  15. Culver’s root (Veronicastrum spp.) zone 3
  16. Eastern Skunk cabbage (Sympocarpus foetidus) zone 3
  17. Ferns (most species) zone 1 to 10, according to species
  18. Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium, syn. Epilobium angustifolium) zone 2
  19. Flag irises (Iris versicolor and others) zone 3
  20. Globeflower (Trollius spp.) zone 3
  21. Goatsbeard (Aruncus spp.) zone 3
  22. Golden star (Chrysogonum virginianum) zone 4
  23. Hosta (Hosta spp.) zone 3
  24. Houttuynia (Houttuynia cordata) zone 4
  25. Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) zone 3

    20170726G Tak1701d, WC
    Japanese iris (Iris ensata) is only one of many iris species adapted to wet soils. Photo: Tak1701d, Wikimedia Commons
  26. Japanese iris (Iris ensata) zone 4 ou 5
  27. Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium spp.) zone 3
  28. Leopard’s bane (Doronicum spp.) zone 3
  29. Ligularia (Ligularia spp.) zone 3
  30. Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) zone 1
  31. Loosestrife (Lysimachia spp.) zone 3
  32. Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) zone 3

    DCF 1.0
    Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) grows naturally in boggy soils throughout the northern hemisphere and can be used in gardens as well. Photo: BerndH, Wikimedia Commons
  33. Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) zone 3
  34. Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia) zone 3
  35. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, syn. Aster novae-angliae) zone 3
  36. New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) zone 3
  37. Perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) zone 5
  38. Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) zone 3
  39. Pitcher plant (Sarracenia spp.) zone 3 to 8, according to species
  40. Primrose (Primula spp.) zone 2 to 7, according to species
  41. Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) zone 3
  42. Quamash (Camassia leitchlinii) zone 5
  43. Queen-of-the-prairie or meadowsweet (Filipendula spp.) zone 3
  44. Rodgersia (Rodgersia spp.) zone 4
  45. Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) zone 3
  46. Skunk cabbage (Lysichiton spp.) zone 5
  47. Snakeweed (Polygonum bistorta) zone 3
  48. Sneezeweed (Helenium spp.) zone 3
  49. Spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) zone 2

    20170726E Asclepias incarnata
    Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) grows naturally in soggy soils… and is a major host plant of the monarch butterfly. Photo:
  50. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) zone 3
  51. Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) zone 5
  52. Sweet woodruff or bedstraw (Galium odoratum) zone 3
  53. Turtlehead (Chelone spp.) zone 3

    20170726F Wouter Hagens, WC
    Umbrella plant (Darmera peltata). Photo: Wouter Hagens, Wikimedia Commons
  54. Umbrella plant (Darmera peltata) zone 2
  55. Virginia bluebells (Mertensia pulmonarioides) zone 2
  56. Water-arum (Calla palustris) zone 2
  57. Wild ginger (Asarum spp.) zone 3 to 7, according to species
  58. Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon) zone 2
  59. Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) zone 2

Ornamental Grasses

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Corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus ‘Spiralis’): a most unusual grasslike plant that will grow in water or on land.
  1. Bowles’ golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) zone 5
  2. Broadleaf sedge (Carex siderosticha) zone 4
  3. Common reed (Phragmites australis) zone 3
  4. Corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus ‘Spiralis’) zone 4
  5. Gardener’s garters (Phalaris arundinacea picta) zone 3
  6. Giant maiden grass (Miscanthus x giganteus, syn. Miscanthus floridulus) zone 5
  7. Grass-leaf sweet flag (Acorus gramineus) zone 4
  8. Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) zone 4, 5 ou 6, according to cultivar
  9. Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) zone 5
  10. Palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis) zone 2
  11. Prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) zone 4
  12. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) zone 4
  13. Variegated reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima ‘Variegata’) zone 4

    Variegated sweet flag (Acorus calamus ‘Variegatus’) likes its roots in the mud and its leaves in the sun. Photo:
  14. Variegated sweet flag (Acorus calamus ‘Variegatus’) zone 4
  15. Zebra rush (Schoenoplectus lacustris tabernaemontani ‘Zebrinus’) zone 5


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The weeping willow is probably the tree most associated with wet soil. Photo: Przykuta, Wikimedia Commons
  1. Alder (Alnus spp.) variable, zone 2-7
  2. American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) zone 3
  3. Arborvitae or northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) zone 3
  4. Bald cypress (Taxodium spp.) zone 5
  5. Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) zone 2
  6. Black gum or tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) zone 5
  7. Black spruce (Picea mariana) zone 1
  8. Catalpa (Catalpa spp.) zone 5
  9. Common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) zone 3
  10. Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) zone 5
  11. Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) zone 4
  12. Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) zone 3
  13. Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata) zone 6
  14. Lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) zone 6
  15. Larch (Larix spp.) zone 2
  16. Pin oak (Quercus palustris) zone 4
  17. Poplar (Populus spp.) zone 2 to 7, according to species
  18. Red maple (Acer rubrum) zone 3

    20170726N HC.jpg
    Heritage River birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’), a popular cultivar, will grow both in very moist soils and well-drained ones. Photo:
  19. River birch (Betula nigra) zone 3
  20. Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) zone 3
  21. Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) zone 4
  22. Sweet gum (Liquidamabar styraciflua) zone 6
  23. Sycamore or plane tree (Platanus spp.) zone 5
  24. Western redcedar (Thuja plicata) zone 5
  25. Willow (Salix spp.) zone 3 to 9, according to species


20170726K Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz WC
Button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a shrub for damp soils that has attractive and unusual flowers. Photo: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, Wikimedia Commons
  1. American cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum) zone 2
  2. American elder (Sambucus canadensis) zone 4
  3. Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) zone 3
  4. Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) zone 4b
  5. Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) zone 3 to 6, according to species
  6. Bog myrtle (Myrica gale) zone 2
  7. Bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) zone 2
  8. Button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) zone 4
  9. Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) zone 5
  10. Chokeberry (Aronia spp.) zone 3
  11. Common ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) zone 3
  12. Common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) zone 3
  13. Cranberry (Vaccinium spp.) zone 3
  14. Cranberrybush (Viburnum opulus) zone 3
  15. Dense hypericum (Hypericum densiflorum) zone 6
  16. Dogwood (shrubby species) (Cornus alba, C. sericea, etc.) zone 2 to 5, according to species
  17. Drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana) zone 6
  18. Inkberry (Ilex glabra) zone 5
  19. Laurel (Kalmia spp.) variable, zone 2 to 6
  20. Narrowleaf meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) zone 3
  21. Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) zone 3
  22. Swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum) zone 5
  23. Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) zone 4

    Salix integra 'Hakaru Nishiki' in June
    Dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakruo Nishiki’) thrives in wet to regular garden soils.
  24. Willow (Salix spp.) zone 1 à 7, according to species
  25. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) zone 3
  26. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) zone 6

Good gardening!20170726A ????, WC

5 comments on “Soggier Than Thou: Plants That Tolerate Wet Soil

  1. We’ve moved to a new area two years ago and I’ve been so discouraged because I didn’t think I would EVER find a detailed listing of plants, shrubs and trees that would thrive in the wet areas of this yard. I can wait to start searching and planting for some of your recommended plants. This made my day! Thank you!

  2. Larry,

    You know your stuff! Fantastic list of wet tolerant plants, best resource I have yet found. Thank you!

    Marion Chester, Pittsburgh, PA

  3. Pingback: The Right Plant in the Right Place – Laidback Gardener

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