When nearly every nursery tag or seed packet states that the plant requires well-drained soils, finding appropriate plantings for an often-saturated yard can be a challenge. Yet in nature, bog and swamp soils are teeming with plant life. Look to landscape trees, shrubs and flowers with a natural affinity for wet feet to find the best plants for your wet yard.
Large trees that are found naturally on stream banks or in swamps make the best choices for growing in a wet yard. Trees will also help dry your yard soil out, due to the huge volume of water they absorb through their deep root systems.
The University of Illinois Extension Service recommends black alder, green ash, eastern cottonwood, eastern red maple, and swamp oak as water-tolerant tree species. Weeping willow, as well as the shrub willow forms, grow naturally at streamsides and love to stretch out in wet soil. The North Carolina State University Extension adds numerous other recommendations to these, including the fruit trees persimmon and serviceberry.
Like trees, shrubs help withdraw water from the ground, drying out your soil. Evergreen shrubs like arbor vitae have larger year-round water consumption needs than deciduous shrubs. Flood-tolerant yellow and red twig dogwoods provide winter landscape interest, while the Purdue University Extension Service recommends highbush blueberry, elderberry and cranberry bush for fruit that attracts birds and other wildlife.
Try to avoid unnecessarily compacting the soil when planting trees and shrubs in wet areas. Lay boards over the soil surface and walk or, if unavoidable, drive on these to help avoid soil compression.
Herbs and Flowers
Purdue University Extension recommends a number of herbs and flowers which thrive in wet soils, including the mints, bee balm, buttercups, marsh mallows, marsh marigolds, and lobelia. Violets and wild varieties of rose and iris also love to grow with their feet wet.
Ferns are another wet-soil choice, quickly filling in much soil areas with their airy, leafy fronds. The ostrich fern grows naturally on riverbanks, often heavily flooded every spring, and also provides the edible spring fiddleheads prized by natural-foods foragers.
To improve your selection of flowering herbs and perennials for planting in your wet yard, consider building raised beds which will considerably improve localized drainage.