Natives For Damp Soil

Choose plants that thrive in wet and waterlogged sites, and they’ll need very little care or attention.

April 24, 2014

Beds and borders that are naturally wet are difficult for both the plants and the gardener. Many plants simply will not tolerate persistently damp conditions, and there will often be periods when it’s unwise even to step off the path to tend the plants, as compaction only makes the situation worse.

The answer is to choose plants that thrive in wet conditions. These five native plants that grow naturally in wet and waterlogged sites are ideal choices for color across the seasons. And they need very little care and attention, so you can keep your feet on the path.


Marsh Marigold

Caltha palustris
The bright buttercup flowers open before the trees leaf out in spring and sparkle against the glossy leaves. Marsh marigold will grow in shallow water or wet soil, in sun or shade, making tight perennial clumps and spreading by seed. Look out, too, for the gorgeous rare double form, ‘Multiplex’, whose flowers last longer.
Height: 12 inches; hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 3


Ilex verticillata
Brightening the yard for many months in fall and winter, brilliant red (or sometimes gold) berries line the branches of this very manageable shrub for sun or partial shade. Named varieties, including ‘Winter Red’ (left) or ‘Berry Heavy’ (see below), are especially prolific, but you’ll need a guaranteed male plant nearby to be sure of a good crop of fruits.
Height: 8 feet; Zone 5

Virginia Bluebells

Mertensia virginica
Blooming elegantly for 3 to 4 weeks in spring, then dying away entirely by midsummer, this most distinctive perennial appreciates a little shade. Purplish green leaves emerge first, soon followed by pink buds that uncoil into a graceful arch of sky blue flowers. There are also rare forms with pink or white flowers. Because it goes dormant soon after blooming, it will take drought in summer.
Height: 18 inches; Zone 3

Cinnamon Fern

Osmunda cinnamomea
Growing from Newfoundland to Florida, this imposing clump-forming fern features bold, upright fronds without foliage but packed with rusty cinnamon-colored spores (left); they make a colorful impact surrounded by dramatic twice-divided leafy fronds that develop golden tones in fall (see below). Plants may reach an impressive 6 feet in height when very happy in shade but are usually more compact in sun.
Height: 3 feet; Zone 4

Swamp Azalea

Rhododendron viscosum
The sweet, musky honeysuckle fragrance from the plant by our lakeside wafts through the trees over a huge distance in early summer. The white, or occasionally pink, flowers are not large, but open after the deciduous leaves and so stand out well against the foliage in early summer. Plants are bushy, never too large, and happy in sun or some shade.
Height: 8 feet; Zone 3


‘Berry Heavy’ winterberry

Cinnamon fern (fall)


Photos: ©