General gardening topics

Plants for wet soil – 10 plants that thrive in damp conditions

Last updated on March 7th, 2022

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Sometimes soil stays very wet, simply because of a high water table or a compact nature. Unless you take measures to install proper drainage this will be something you will need to work with regularly and part of that includes finding plants that are suitable for damp conditions.

Plants that like wet soil are easy to find if you know where to look. Just because you have a specific type of soil doesn’t mean you won’t be able to have beautiful flowers all year round.

First, you need to figure out if you have wet soil or just poor drainage

working out if you have wet soil caused by a high water table or just wet badly draining soil
Wet soil that needs improving with organic matter and grit to improve drainage

It’s important for you to verify whether or not you have wet soil or poor drainage. There are a couple of options you have, one of which includes excavating a pit and leaving it overnight to see if water collects from the bottom. When you do this you want to excavate a straight-sided pit that is approximately 60cm deep. Don’t forget to cover your pit so that no rainfall can interfere with your results, or do this when no rain is forecasted. If you noticed that water collects in that pit 24 hours later you have a high water table.

If you find that there is no water, fill the pit with water and leave it for a second 24-hour period. If after the second 24-hour mark the water is still in the pit and hasn’t filtered into the ground, you have poor drainage. This is the best outcome because it means you can do something about it and improve the drainage to widen the variety of plants you can choose.

Bog garden - cottage garden
Bog cottage garden

You can also dig a pit and examine the roots of plants nearby to see how wet they are. If you find that the plant roots stay within the top 50cm of your soil it is indicative of an inability to penetrate deeply because of a hard layer, in which case you may or may not be able to dig it up and help improve the drainage.


Gardening in Wet Soils

There are quite a few options for gardening in wet soils. If your soil simply has bad drainage (something you concluded by digging the pit) and it doesn’t have a high water table, you can try to amend the soil by adding lots of organic matter to break up the soil and improve the drainage. You want to add plenty of grit because they help improve drainage. It is typically not effective enough just to add sand or grit, and you can add organic matter to break up the clay that is often the cause of poor drainage. To do this effectively you will need organic matters like compost and grit if you are going to make the necessary impact in your soil structure and dig it in well.

If you have a high water table you can choose to simply plant a bog garden and there are plenty of plants
A raised bed can be built above the water table that causes wet soil

No matter the efforts you take to eradicate problems with your soil, it is still in your best interest to choose plants that are tolerant of damp conditions. Building and planting in raised beds will also help to protect against waterlogging in areas that have ineffective drainage.

If you have a high water table you can choose to simply plant a bog garden, and there are plenty of plants that will grow well in these conditions, such as Astilbes, or you can try to amend the soil by installing an artificial drainage system to help you keep your plants happy. Again building raised beds can help resolve this issue but the costs can be high.


The Top 10 Plants for Wet Soils

1. Astilbe – False Goats Beard

Astilbe - great for shade and wet soils
Astilbe grows well in damp soil in shady areas of the garden

A beautiful perennial that has fern-like foliage and glossy flowers that definitely draw the eye. You can enjoy plants that reach a maximum height of 1.5m with flower clusters that can reach up to 30cm or more. These particular plants thrive in shady areas and they are a wonderful way to add texture to your garden if you have wet soil that prohibits the growth of other plants.

Astilbes will actually burn in full sun, so having a moderately shaded area is perfect. They prefer soils that have higher levels of moisture but you still want to make sure the roots don’t get waterlogged during long periods of rain by using the amendments to your soil (mentioned above).

When you are planting these in the ground make sure they are approximately 0.5 to 1 metre apart so that they don’t compete with one another. When you plant them, you want to make sure the roots are slightly fanned outwards and downwards. They will spread quickly and form clumps that you can divide to increase the number of plants you have over time.

Astilbe
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2. Hosta

Hosta grow well in wet soils
Hostas grow well in wet soils

Hostas are perennials that are easy to grow and live for such a long duration that they may even outlive the gardener. They produce beautiful flowers in the summer that offer rich fragrances and attract bees. They prefer moist soil and will do splendidly if grown in a wet soil environment or damp conditions. The different varieties available offer a range of green shades for the leaves and the flower clusters that are produced thereafter.

With Hostas, you need to be aware of deer and rabbits who will eat them. The leaves on younger plants are in fact edible for humans as well. They can be eaten raw or boiled with a flavour very similar to asparagus or lettuce and the Japanese have been doing this for years and it’s known as Auri.

If you have a smaller area, you won’t have to split them or prune them because they will simply grow at a slower pace. If you have a larger area, by comparison, they will grow at a faster rate.

Hosta
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3. Caltha palustris – Marsh Marigold

Caltha palustris - grows in very wet waterlogged soils
Caltha palustris – grows in very wet waterlogged soils

This type of plant is referred to commonly as the ‘Marsh Marigold’ because it produces beautiful yellow flowers and prefers a wet environment, making it ideal for damp gardens or bog gardens.

It will thrive best in partial shade or full sun in shallow water and this is why it is typically found in water gardens or at the perimeter of a pond. It flowers most profusely when planted in full sun, but that doesn’t mean a shaded area won’t serve it just as well. You will simply have fewer flowers with less vibrancy if the area you plant them in has limited sunlight.

It will typically grow upwards of 30-40cm with hollow branching stems, on top of which are bright yellow flowers that span 6-9cm in diameter. When the flowers have finished flowering they produce seed pods which naturally split open and help to disperse additional seeds and produce more Marigolds.

Much like the Hosta, the younger leaves are edible so you can boil them, however, do not eat them raw and use them as cooked greens in your meals. These will grow in the wettest, waterlogged soils.


4. Lobelia cardinalis – Cardinal Flower

Lobelia cardinalis - perfect for water logged soils

Otherwise known as the Cardinal Flower, this plants thrive in wet areas and attracts butterflies and bees by way of its scarlet red blooms that grow up beautiful stems of rich green and red.

The Lobelia will actually tolerate brief flooding and will not thrive if it is ever allowed to dry out, so any area in your garden that remains wet and never dries out is going to be perfect. If you have a colder climate where you live we recommend applying a root mulch to protect the root system in the winter and maintain moisture.

This is a clump-forming perennial that produces terminal spikes of flowers between July and September that will offer a wonderful array of colour to any swampy area you might have. Moreover, this plant does not have any issues with diseases or pests which is good news. At most the snails and slugs in your garden might try to crawl across it and damage the foliage but other than that it is a low-maintenance option.


5. Zantedeschia aethiopica – Calla Lily

Zantedeschia aethiopica -  prefer wet soil and can be planted as marginal pond plants
Can also be used as marginal pond plants and can be planted in up to 30cm of water

Referred to colloquially as the ‘Calla Lily’ this semi-evergreen perennial produces large magnificent flowers that are shaped like a trumpet and have a tinge of yellow where the flowers connect with the stems. They stand out even more thanks to the dark green glossy leaves that unfurl below. These flowers will remain on display for weeks throughout the late spring into the early summer.

Given the size, these plants are better suited to filling larger spaces in your otherwise wet garden. They can reach up to 90cm tall and 60cm wide. They can also be used as marginal pond plants and can be planted in up to 30cm of water and mud which makes them perfect for any areas that never dry out.

They are also resistant to deer and rabbits so if these are animals which you contend regularly rest assured your Calla Lilies will be just fine. They provide a spectacular effect when used as a border and the breathtaking flowers are very easy to grow and require next to no maintenance once they have been planted.


6. Gunnera manicata

Gunnera manicata - perfect for wet soils
Gunnera manicata – perfect for wet soils

If you are looking for a giant plant to fill your wet garden, this is it. This perennial is known for the leaves that can grow up to 2 metres across and the plant itself can extend up to 3 metres in height. It will produce large spikes that contain reddish green florets come spring, which adds a nice smattering of colour in an otherwise watery area.

They can survive colder areas as long as you protect them in the winter by adding mulch and otherwise prefer deeply moist and wet soil with partial shade. If possible shelter them against drying winds. The only problems you might face are snails and slugs.


7. Hydrangea macrophylla – Mophead Hydrangea

Mophead hydrangea-1
Mophead hydrangeas can come in many sizes and colours depending on your soil

Mophead hydrangeas can come in many sizes and colours, depending on your soil and the nice thing about mophead Hydrangeas is that your wet soil will not discourage their flowering, and the pH of the soil can alter the colour unless you choose white varieties specifically.

There are unique varieties that offer different shades of hot pink, mixtures of lime green with purple tinges, hot pink centres tinged with cream and much more.

They prefer shaded areas and moist soil so raised garden beds in a garden that remains moist at all times will do just fine. Moreover, they require next to no maintenance, they don’t need regular feeding or pruning unless you want to maintain their size.


8. Kerria japonica

Kerria Japonica
Perfect for creating a flowering hedge in wet soil

This deciduous shrub is the perfect shade-growing hedge creator. If you need to build a hedge this is the plant to choose for wet soil because it is very tolerant of heavy shade and heavy moisture. It requires a larger space than some of the other plants listed here because it can reach heights of up to 3 metres, as can the spread. Between April and May you will see it bloom and produce a smattering of yellow gold on top of the green stems.

The flowers appear on the wood from the previous year so pruning should only take place in the spring after flowering has finished. This plant will produce suckers immediately in order to expand its reach so it is in your best interest to remove suckers as soon as you see them, especially if you have an otherwise confined garden and any plants that are growing nearby.

Sometimes this plant is referred to as the Easter Rose because it will bloom around Easter and when it does it looks very similar to roses. The flowers it produces are double pom-pom-shaped flowers that can span up to 6cm in diameter.


9. Leycesteria formosa – Himalayan Honeysuckle

Leycesteria formosa
Himalayan honeysuckle does very well in shaded, wet areas.

Commonly referred to as the Himalayan Honeysuckle this deciduous shrub does very well in shaded, wet areas. The stems rise up and give way to beautiful flowers that hang from these stems and are white with a deep red bract around it. When allowed to reach full maturity the spread can span almost two metres wide and two metres tall, it also responds well to hard pruning.

Easy to care for, if you are planting your Leycesteria in colder regions you simply need to add some mulch to protect the root system during cold winters. Once the flowers have bloomed between June and September they are followed by beautiful, edible berries. You will get small purple berries that purportedly have a taste very similar to toffee or caramel.

While the plant does not have serious problems with insects or diseases, it is sometimes colloquially called the Pheasant Berry plant in England because pheasants will come around your property and eat the berries if able.


10. Weigela

Perfect as a border plant or specimen plant, this shrub brings with it old-fashioned flowers that appear in the spring and then again sporadically throughout the summer. It can span up to 3 metres wide and tall if allowed to grow without pruning, however, you can keep it in check with some moderate pruning.

There are dwarf varieties for smaller gardens and regardless of the variety, they will thrive in wet soil as long as you give it partial sun and don’t allow it to become too waterlogged. Once a year you can fertilise it in the winter to promote more flowers the following spring. And then sit back and relax as the stunning leaves develop in their rich green shade accompanied by an edging of cream or yellow followed closely by beautiful white and pink flowers.

Weigela
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Image credits – Shutterstock.com

Last update on 2022-03-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at john@pyracantha.co.uk

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