Plants that are ideal for wet soil and gardens
Instead of changing your garden’s wet soil, why not use it to your advantage by planting things that do well in these conditions? If your garden has wet soil, picking the right plants can save you a lot of work if you decide to install drainage instead. By choosing plants that like wet conditions, you won’t have to spend so much time trying to make the soil different (wet soil can be thick and tough to dig in, might hold too much water when it rains, and dry out when it’s hot, but it’s also good at keeping nutrients and staying moist).
If you’re in an area of the UK that suffers from heavy rainfall and naturally has poor drainage, it’s smarter to plant things that grow well in wet soil, and luckily, there are lots of great plants to choose from – here are our top 11 picks for wet soil.
- Does my garden even have wet soil?
- Organic matter and compost can help
- 11 plants that like wet ground and soil
Does my garden even have wet soil?
Wet soils that stay soggy all year are tough to manage. It’s quite common for soil to be wet in the winter and dry out in the summer, which is typical for clay soil. However, if your soil remains wet throughout all seasons, then it’s dealing with constant wetness.
To figure out if you have a high water table, you can do a simple test…
Start by digging a hole about 2 feet deep. Then, cover it up to keep the rain out and leave it overnight. If you come back to find water has collected in the hole, it means you’re dealing with a high water table. But if the hole is dry, the next step is to fill it with water, cover it again, and wait for 24 hours. If you find the water is still there, then your soil has poor drainage.
Digging this hole isn’t just for the water test, it also gives you a chance to learn more about your soil’s texture and structure by examining the hole’s sides. Plant roots mostly grow within the top 20 inches of the soil – if you notice that roots aren’t growing deep into the soil or there’s a hard layer stopping them, it means the soil needs to be loosened up by deep digging to improve drainage. However, if you see that the rich, dark topsoil is sitting on a thick layer of clay or rock that water can’t get through, deep digging might not solve your problem. In cases like this, building raised beds is a better option to help your plants thrive despite the wet soil conditions.
Organic matter and compost can help
If your soil doesn’t drain well but doesn’t have a high water table, and when you check the hole you’ve dug the soil looks like it could be good for growing things, then it’s a good idea to mix in a lot of organic material or compost.
Organic material is really helpful for clay soil because it changes the clay into smaller, crumb-like pieces. Trying to use sand, grit, or gravel usually doesn’t work too well – this is because you’d have to add so much of it to really change the clay-heavy nature of the soil, and that’s not always doable especially for those that have smaller gardens.
To truly improve how your soil feels and how well it drains, you’ll need to add a whole wheelbarrow’s worth of organic material for every square metre of your garden. This is the amount needed to really change the soil’s structure and help it drain better.
11 plants that like wet ground and soil
Not many plants can handle being in waterlogged or flooded areas for a long time, however, a good number of plants can grow well in soil that’s always a bit moist, as long as there’s some oxygen in the soil for them to use. Since clay soils can hold water like moist soils do, choosing plants that do well in clay might also work for these wet conditions.
- Iris (Iris spp.)
- Cattail (Typha spp.)
- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
- Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
- Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
- Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
- Horsetail Reed (Equisetum hyemale)
- Japanese Primrose (Primula japonica)
- Bog Arum (Calla palustris)
- Water Mint (Mentha aquatica)
- Willow (Salix spp.)
Irises flourish in wet conditions, especially Japanese and Siberian types. Their striking blooms, in shades from deep purples to vibrant yellows, make them a favourite for waterside plantings. They thrive in full to partial sun, providing spectacular colour and texture to damp garden areas.
Cattails grow tall and sturdy, with distinctive brown cylindrical flower spikes. They’re ideal for large ponds or naturalised wet areas, offering habitat for wildlife and effective water filtration.
This native perennial loves wet soils and is crucial for the development of monarch butterflies, serving as a host plant for their larvae. Its pink and mauve flowers add natural beauty to any wetland garden or moist border, attracting a range of pollinators throughout summer.
Bright, cheerful yellow flowers, the marsh marigold, thrives in very wet conditions, such as pond edges and bog gardens. Its early spring blooms are a haven for early pollinators!
A towering plant, Joe-Pye Weed flourishes in moist soils, with dusty pink flowers that attract butterflies and bees. Ideal for the back of a rain garden or alongside streams, it provides late summer to autumn interest and supports wildlife.
With its brilliant red spikes of flowers, the cardinal flower is a standout in any wet soil garden. It’s particularly loved by hummingbirds and thrives in part to full sun, making it perfect for moist borders or stream banks.
This ancient plant with a modern look is perfect for wet areas, offering a strong vertical element. It prefers full to partial sun and can be invasive, so it’s best contained. Ideal for architectural interest in water gardens or damp areas.
Showcasing clusters of colourful flowers in spring, Japanese Primrose excels in boggy, moist conditions. It brings a vibrant splash of colour to shady wet garden spots, thriving in partial to full shade alongside streams or in woodland gardens.
Known for its white flowers and lush green foliage, Bog Arum is perfectly suited for water edges and bog gardens. It thrives in full to partial shade, adding a touch of elegance to the water garden’s palette.
With its aromatic leaves and lilac flowers, Water Mint is a favourite for both eating and ornamental uses. It spreads quickly in wet soils and is ideal for pond edges or water features, attracting bees and butterflies.
Willows are synonymous with water, thriving in wet soils and beside streams or ponds. Their fast growth and graceful form, from shrubs to large trees, offer quick screening and a picturesque quality to any water-influenced landscape.