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All, Summer

Gardening in Moist Areas

August 31, 2021

Gardening in Moist Areas

Gardening in Moist Areas

Soil that does not drain properly can lead to major frustration along with struggling or dying plants. Drainage can be improved by installing weeping tile, dumping quantities of sand and gravel, or building raised beds. Many plants will tolerate dampness and thrive beautifully, just choose wisely.

  • If a large specimen tree is required, consider the London planetree.
  • Native trees like hackberry, pin oak, or red maple are particularly adaptable as they are used to fending for themselves in natural areas.
  • Golden weeping willow provides great winter interest with its bare yellow branches; however, it grows to an enormous size (15m high and wide) and has roots that travel far beyond its crown. This tree will thrive in large property areas where it can be planted far away from foundation walls, swimming pools, driveways, plantings, and septic systems.
  • Bareroot hedging cedars are often referred to as ‘swamp cedars’; several upright or pyramidal forms are available growing anywhere from 3 m to 8 m tall depending on the cultivar.
  • Emerald cedar is probably the most popular with its vivid green colour and appealing texture.
  • Globe cedars fit in anywhere and can be pruned to maintain a tight, round shape.
  • The larch is a deciduous conifer that adds great character to any garden with soft foliage that turns golden-yellow in fall.
  • Dwarf bog-rosemary is a low, creeping broadleaf evergreen with blue-grey leaves. It has small, pink, urn-shaped flowers in May. It also prefers acidic soil and can be planted at the base of the evergreens described above.

There are many shrubs that can grow in damp conditions.

  • Native shrubs such as arrowwood, serviceberry, American elder, red osier dogwood, bayberry, and St. John’s wort are the most tolerant.
  • If you want a tall shrub that will provide screening consider winterberry, bottlebrush buckeye, pussy willow, European highbush cranberry, or brilliant red chokeberry.
  • If you want a shrub on a smaller scale, consider the old-fashioned bridal wreath spirea, which appears to grow just about anywhere including shade.
  • Hydrangeas provide interest with their white, pink, blue, or mauve flowers. They are versatile in sun or shade, but will droop without adequate watering.
  • Dappled willow is appealing spring through fall with narrow leaves that are green, white, and pink.

Many perennials flourish in damp gardens. Consider any of the following:

  • Cardinal flower
  • Sneezeweed
  • Spiderwort
  • Primrose
  • Beebalm
  • Aster
  • Goatsbeard
  • Bergenia
  • Bugbane
  • Daylily
  • Siberian iris
  • Joe-pyeweed
  • Virginia bluebell
  • Trillium
  • Foamflower
  • Primrose
  • Bleedingheart
  • Astilbe
  • Monkshood
  • Ferns
  • Toadlily
  • Ligularia

All of the above selections withstand moisture and low light. Certain varieties of hosta such as Frances Williams, Royal Standard, and krossa are suitable considerations as well.


These perennials can actually survive in shallow water and are often referred to as “marginals” or “bog plants.”

  • Make a statement with tall and impressive perennials such as meadowsweet and ornamental rhubarb.
  • Blue water iris, yellow water iris, and Japanese iris all flower beautifully.
  • Marsh marigold is a spring treat with yellow, buttercup-like blooms.
  • Both chameleon plant and ribbon grass spread quite quickly; therefore, you will need to plant them in a deep, bottomless container to contain their lateral growth.