Part of the enjoyment of gardening is confronting the ever-present challenge of finding the right plant for the right place. Gardeners in the South must contend with red clay soils, while those in the Southwest and arid mountains get creative with water-wise plants. For those who garden in proximity to sunny bogs, ponds and streams, the need is for plants who like to have their toes wet. A wide variety of flowering plants, groundcovers and shrubs can create visual interest in a damp setting while providing food and cover for local wildlife.
1. Damp Growing Conditions
Whether your yard is home to a natural water seep or has a low spot that collects and holds water after a rainfall, a soggy spot can provide an opportunity to grow species that otherwise might suffer under normal gardening conditions. Make sure the plants you select match your growing conditions; some are more tolerant of extended periods of flooding than others. If the overall goal is to reduce the spot’s ability to hold water, a combination of plantings and gradual site change will eventually convert the boggy spot into a well-drained but consistently moist area of the garden. Regular and ongoing additions of materials including composted leaves, chopped pine needles, peat moss, shredded tree bark and other organic materials help the area improve its ability to absorb and disperse water.
Numerous beautiful flowering perennials were originally discovered in boggy settings, and though they prefer damp settings, many are also tolerant of occasional periods of drought. For a long bloom time, look to the pink- or white-flowered turtlehead (Chelone obliqua) or the hummingbird magnet bee balm (Monarda didyma), both hardy from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9. For a statement, try joe-pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), hardy from zones 4 to 8, or queen-of-the-prairie (Filipendula rubra), for zones 3 through 7, both of which can reach heights of 5 feet or more and feature fluffy pink flowers. For zones 3 through 9, have flowers in each season with springtime Siberian iris (Iris siberica) or bright-red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), summer stalwart black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) or the fall-flowering New England aster (Aster nova-angliae). Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos), which grows from zones 5 through 11, performs in standing water as well as in perennial garden beds, and is the star of the summer show with plate-sized pink flowers.
3. Vines and Groundcovers
For large, troublesome soggy spots, groundcovers are often the answer. Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) and cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) both grow from USDA zones 2 through 6, and are beneficial not only for their creeping, ground-hugging habit but also as edible crops. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) grows in the same zone range and features pink flowers and a fall crop of bright red berries. Gardeners in slightly warmer climates may have better success with Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens), a highly fragrant, yellow-flowered spring bloomer that is hardy from zones 6 through 10.
To maintain a presence in the landscape in the winter months, plantings of shrubs and other woody plants keep the scene from looking completely bare. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a popular spring-flowering bush with unusual spherical white blossoms that is hardy from zones 4 through 11. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), which grows well from zones 2 through 7, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, and the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), native to the bogs of the East Coast and hardy between zones 5 and 7, requires acidic soils but rewards the grower with summer crops of sweet, tart berries. Add winter interest with the redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea) or the yellowtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea “Flaviramea”), both hardy from zones 3 through 8. After the leaves fall in the autumn, the branches of these native shrub dogwoods turn bright red or yellow and make a statement against freshly fallen snow in the winter.