Even the best-planned landscapes can have problems with moisture accumulation, whether due to settling after construction or heavy, seasonal rains. Nearby hardscape, such as patios, walkways and driveways, can add to the problem. Turn wet areas in your landscape from a detriment to a benefit by adding plants that flourish in wet soil. Knowing which plants absorb excess water in a yard can help you design a water-tolerant landscape that complements your home and resolves drainage issues.
A wide range of water-loving trees, shrubs and perennials soak up the excess water and thrive in boggy conditions. From willows to sweet woodruff to iris, choose plants appropriate to your USDA zone and sun exposure to make a wet, boggy spot a focal point in the landscape.
Moisture-Loving Tree Species
Trees retain as much as half of the rain falling on their leaves, cutting down on moisture before it hits the ground. Then their extensive root systems, which can extend three times or more the height of the tree, absorb water from the soil. Excessively wet soils can be devoid of oxygen, but select trees have adapted to thrive in wet soils.
Willows (Salix spp.), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 9, and ash trees (Fraxinus spp.), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, grow successfully in wet soils, developing new air-filled roots to replace those damaged by flooding. Red maples (Acer rubrum), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, and river birch (Betula nigra), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, also thrive in waterlogged areas.
Water-Thirsty Native Shrubs
Native shrub species are particularly suited to wet gardens designed to absorb yard runoff. Like trees, shrubs interrupt rainfall before it hits the ground and absorb moisture from the soil through well-developed root systems. A tall flowering shrub trimmed to a multi-stemmed tree form can become the central point of a rain garden.
Native shrubs for wet areas include redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, and spice bush (Lindera benzoin), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9. Berry-bearing shrubs that can help resolve landscape drainage issues include the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, and common winterberry (Ilex verticillata), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.
Moisture-Absorbing Flowering Perennials
An abundance of flowering perennials thrive in wet soils, absorbing pooling moisture with beautiful effect. Low-growing forest species such as Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9 lily, and sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8, turn shady, wet areas into woodland gardens.
If your boggy spot is in full sun, consider planting swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which thrives in USDA zones 3 through 9. A bonus, swamp milkweed is a food source for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Rose mallow (Hibiscus laevis) provides beautiful white to pink flowers on 4- to 6-foot tall shrubs in USDA zones 4 through 9.
Sweet flag (Acorus gramineus), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, and many varieties of iris (Iris spp.), hardy from USDA zones 3 through 10, thrive and multiply in wet soils. Wet-tolerant perennials produce sweet smelling flowers along with lovely foliage to turn wet areas of your yard into beautiful gardens.
A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.