Plants for Tough Sites: Wet

One of the toughest places to garden is wet soil.  Soils that hold too much water can be hard to prepare in the spring; there is low oxygen in the soil so slow root growth; increase in humidity which plays into the hands of plant disease.

Causes and solutions: Can you correct the problem?

If your soil is wet because of a hardpan (a compacted layer under the surface) sometimes breaking that layer up will allow water to percolate through the soil normally. Using a broad fork to break up the area or double-digging a bed will disturb the compacted layer enough, but it’s a lot of work.

If your soil has a high clay content, then adding compost (not peat moss or sand) will “fluff” the soil by adding air pockets and little sponges (the compost). The best way is to amend the entire bed or area instead of individual planting holes. Otherwise, you get a “bath tub effect” where the holes fill with water until there is no air and then drains into the surrounding soil.

If your site was a natural wetland, enjoy the challenge! Building raised beds or filling in low spots may be an option.

Plant choices are crucial to gardening in a wet site.  Think about what grows near a pond or stream.  There are plants that grow in the water, the true water plants, which we will not discuss here.  The water-adjacent plants can dip their roots in the water and like to grow on the bank.  The third group, moisture lovers, likes to have a low but constant supply of moisture throughout the season.


Joe-pye-weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
Hairy Sunflower (Helianthus hirsutus)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Narrow-leaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)
Scarlet Beebalm (Monarda didyma)
Smooth White Beardtongue (Penestemon digidtalis)

Moisture Lovers
Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata) plant with caution!
Jacob’s Ladder (Polemoniun reptans)

Remember to look at the light requirements as well as the moisture needs for the plants.

Submitted by Amy Aldenderfer, Agent for Horticulture, Hardin Co. Cooperative Extension Service