Landscaping a wet area can present significant challenges. The right shrubs can not only liven up a waterlogged area; they can also help reduce excess water content by soaking up significant amounts of water through their roots. Water-tolerant shrubs can provide attractive flowers and berries, winter color and texture interest and wildlife habitat.
Several kinds of shrubs are available that thrive in wet soils and add dramatic twig color to the bare winter landscape. The Iowa State University Extension recommends the purpleosier willow (Salix purpurea), a native willow that grows 12 feet tall and has brilliant red-purple stems and fascinating spiky catkins.
The Red Osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) and Yellowtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea "Flaviramea") grow in wet soil in sun and shade; according to the Purdue University Extension, these dogwoods spread by their roots to swiftly cover a bare meadow or stream bank, and bear bright red or yellow twigs respectively. Several holly shrubs thrive in wet soils and hold their glossy green leaves all year. The North Carolina State University Extension recommends the Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria).
Many shrubs that are well-suited to wet growing conditions bear attractive berries to add visual interest as well as winter food for songbirds. Iowa State University suggests the native red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), which grows to 8 feet tall and bears brilliant red berries in late summer; its burgundy autumn foliage is also very attractive. Most viburnums also thrive in wet soils.
The Purdue University Extension recommends the arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), which bears blue berries and red autumn leaves, and the cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum), with bright red edible berries to feed wildlife all winter. The American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) tolerates shade and bears edible dark purple berries popular for jams and jellies.
The inkberry (Ilex glabra) has dark black glossy berries and holds its green leaves late into the fall. The highbush blueberry also thrives in wet conditions, particularly in acidic soils.
The North Carolina State University Extension suggests azaleas for floral display in a wide array of colors in wet areas. Several varieties such as the swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum) and pinkshell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi) grow particularly well in wet conditions.
Iowa State suggests the less-well-known summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia); it grows from full sun to deep shade, and its late summer spiky-white flowers attract butterflies and bees. The silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) is another native flowering wetland shrub; it blooms in umbels of flat cream-white, large-petaled blossoms in early summer.