11 Water Loving Shrubs & Bushes for Wet Soils 2023 [Updated]
Shrubs are quite versatile due to their modest height and ease of spread. Morphologically, the size and general quality of their features fall between those of low-growing herbs and taller trees. Thus, they are perfect for filling out considerably large patches of bare ground along wet areas that could use some height and texture.
Many shrubs are deciduous and evergreen perennials; they provide ecological services throughout the year. Though they are seldom as efficient as mature trees when it comes to taking up excess water, their expansive and vegetatively spreading root systems can help condition the soil. In rain gardens with small to medium-sized species, they may make better companion plants than trees, as they are less likely to block the sun.
Moreover, the root systems of manageable shrubs tend to be less destructive than those of trees. They can thus be planted next to solid structures and outdoor water features. A selection of the right species can make for an impressive display of color above problematic and often waterlogged parts of the garden. Wherever possible, opt for native or well-naturalized species that are proven to locally minimize runoff and drainage issues.
1) American cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum)
The American cranberrybush is an attractive deciduous shrub. Despite its common name, it isn’t actually a type of cranberry tree. A member of the moschatel family (Adoxaceae), it is distinguished by cranberry-like fruits, maple-like foliage, and reddish-brown branches and stems. Its white blooms are produced in corymb-type inflorescences, with the outermost flowers being larger than the innermost ones.
In the wild, this shrub favors cool and consistently moist habitats. Its mature specimens can tolerate wet conditions along the edges of thickets, ditches, swamps, streambanks, and bogs. It is frequently found in relatively pristine wetland systems, where it serves as a vital species for winged pollinators (e.g. syrphid flies, andrenid bees, halictid bees, beetles). The red fruits support the survival of many native birds through winter.
V. trilobum typically grows to about 13 feet (4 meters) tall in optimal conditions. It should be cultivated close to a consistent source of water. Its roots thrive best in substrates with a rich organic matter profile, whereas its foliage requires full to partial sun conditions to produce the necessary compounds for rapid growth.
2) Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
A fantastic shrub for year-round interest, the red osier dogwood is known best for its fiery winter appearance. Once all its warm-toned leaves fall off toward the end of fall, its vibrant red-to-yellow stems and branches are revealed. White, blue-tinged berries may persist into the cold months, during which birds rely on them for nutrients.
In spring, oppositely-arranged dogwood leaves begin to appear once more. Depending on the cultivar, these may have variegated coloration and be ovate to oblong in shape. Practically all of this plant’s features support the lives of dozens of wild animals. Its shoots and leaves are packed with nutrients for browsing mammals. Collectively, they form well-protected nesting habitats in wetland zones, particularly those with floodplains and riparian forests.
The red osier dogwood favors partial to full sun in moderately wet areas. It thrives best in well-draining to poorly-draining substrates receiving constant streams of moisture. Its affinity to moist conditions makes it the perfect shrub for the borders of streams and garden ponds.
3) Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
A highly adaptable shrub, the black chokeberry is often used as a border plant and cultivated in mass plantings. It is capable of spreading via underground suckers, allowing for the rapid expansion of its dense and hardy stands. Due to its tolerance for “wet feet,” it can be planted in areas with poor soil drainage, compact substrates, and low salinity levels.
Partially shaded parts of a rain garden or pond border can be structurally enhanced with a few specimens of black chokeberry. Distinguished by glossy green foliage in spring to summer, this shrub can easily grow as tall as 6 feet (1.8 meters). In the fall, the leaves gradually turn red and eventually drop off. Clusters of white inflorescences, with distinctly pink anthers, appear each spring. Once pollinated, they develop into well-rounded, black berries.
The flowers and berries of this species can attract bees, butterflies, ants, and birds to the pondside or rain garden. The leaves of young plants can be consumed by wild mammals. Unsurprisingly, Native Americans were able to use both the astringent berries and edible roots for a wide range of medicinal purposes.
4) American pussy willow (Salix discolor)
Set apart by its silvery-white, eye-catching catkins, which appear on leafless stems in early spring, the American pussy willow may be considered a shrub or a small tree. Able to tolerate humid conditions coupled with boggy substrates, it thrives best in areas with consistent irrigation. Throughout its native range, it is notable for growing along the shorelines of lakes, streams, and swamps.
The perfect deciduous species to plant in a meadow-like garden, the pussy willow produces multiple stems that can grow as tall as 15 feet (4.6 meters). Borne on a sturdy crown, these spread out to give the shrub a well-balanced appearance. Mature shrubs, which may cover a spread of 12 feet (3.7 meters), tend to produce copious amounts of leaf and twig litter. Regularly tidying up and pruning the branches should help keep the shrub in good shape.
S. discolor can easily be cultivated using healthy cuttings. Simply stick its intact branches or twigs into moist soil, making sure to anchor them with rocks. In a few months, this wetland plant’s propagated cuttings should produce new roots and stems. Keep in mind that prolonged periods of dryness will not be tolerated and may even endanger mature specimens.
5) Sweet Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
A larval host to several types of moths throughout its native range, sweet Joe Pye weed is a perennial shrub with ecological value. Its nectar-rich summer blooms, which are highly attractive to monarch butterflies and the like, make it an ideal choice for pollinator gardens. Appearing in large inflorescences at the tips of tall stems, the flowers range in color from mauve pink to lavender.
Persistent moisture (though not to a degree where the soil remains soggy) and cool substrates are key to ensuring your sweet Joe Pye weed can thrive. This species should not be exposed to prolonged periods of dryness as its healthiest roots may die back in dry soil. Very brief periods of drought may be tolerated, but this may come at the cost of reduced flowering or slowed overall growth.
E. purpureum and its varieties tend to hybridize with one another in optimal conditions. Aim to cultivate them in rain gardens or close to water features. A lack of water through summer or during dry spells of the year may cause their leaves to become scorched, especially when exposed to full sun.
6) Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
Also known as evergreen winterberry and Appalachian tea, the inkberry shrub is a member of the holly family (Aquifoliaceae). Commonly found in the moist regions of coastal plains, it favors boggy and swamp-like conditions in USDA zones 6 – 10. Under full to partial sun exposure, this shrub can grow as tall as 8 feet (2.4 meters) and can vegetatively spread via suckering roots.
A source of gallberry nectar, which honeybees use to produce light, amber-colored, highly valuable honey, the inkberry shrub produces white blooms in spring. Its common name alludes to its dark, pea-sized fruits which resemble the appearance of rounded berries. The fruits ripen in fall and may persist into winter, during which they serve as a vital food source for birds.
Inkberry should be planted in medium to wet and slightly acidic substrates. Compared to those of other hollies, its mature specimens will require even more water to produce well-established colonies. If you intend to raise a specimen plant or cultivate a small colony, be aware that this shrub’s berries have toxic properties.
7) Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Hardy to USDA zones 5 – 9, this deciduous shrub is known for its showy inflorescences, which are shaped like heavily-spiked orbs. The individual blooms, which are distinguished by a four to five-lobed and fully fused corolla, are quite small. These are each topped with a projecting style/reproductive tube, giving the whole inflorescence a pincushion-like appearance.
A buttonbush shrub typically grows to about 12 feet (3.7 meters) tall in optimal conditions. Its colonies become well-established in consistently moist to wet areas. When cultivated under full sun, the roots can tolerate being situated in shallow standing water for short periods of time. This tolerance for flooding makes this species ideal for rain gardens, pond shorelines, and low, waterlogged parts of the backyard where little else can grow.
Apart from minimizing erosion rates and improving the conditions of wet soil, buttonbush is an ecologically valuable shrub because its blooms attract many pollinators. The inflorescences eventually develop into textured fruits containing nutritious seeds. Waterfowl and shorebirds are able to consume the fruits.
8) Blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea)
Another member of the Adoxaceae (moschatel) family, this large shrub is known for producing dark berries. Each of its berries is generously covered in a fine powder, giving them a pale and bluish appearance wherever the powder is intact. Round, juicy, and a type of drupe, the fruits contain just 3 – 5 seeds each. These develop from small, pungent, cream-colored blooms.
Although the blue elderberry can naturally be found in diverse habitats, it rarely strays from areas with a consistent supply of water. It grows best in hills, valleys, and woodlands with rich riparian zones. This species can thrive in substrates along streambanks, where its roots aid in stabilizing the shoreline. Its shoots and fruits provide cover and sustenance to visiting wildlife.
Dominant in the understory of riparian forests with large gaps in their canopies, blue elderberry shrubs require sunlight to thrive. It often grows alongside water-loving shrubs like buttonbush, willow, and other native elderberry trees.
9) Big-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
This deciduous shrub is highly prized for its ornamental features. Also known as hortensia, French hydrangea, and lacecap hydrangea, it produces enormous and heavy flower clusters. The colors of its blooms are significantly affected by the soil’s pH levels. In acidic substrates, which increase the amount of aluminum that can be hyperaccumulated by the roots, the petals become bluish. At increasing pH levels, which reduce the availability of aluminum ions, the petals become pink to red.
To maximize the flowering rates of mature big-leaf hydrangeas, make sure the leaves are exposed to full sun. The roots favor consistently moist soil, so they should be generously watered on a regular schedule. However, while this species does love water enough to detest dry substrates, it is not comfortable with “wet feet.”
It is safe to situate this species close to your garden’s water features, but avoid planting it in areas with stagnant water. If possible, it should be placed along a slope along which excess water can freely flow past its roots.
10) Common ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)
With several cultivars that are recipients of the RHS Award of Garden Merit, this species is often cultivated as an ornamental, flowering shrub. Its common name alludes to the shape of its peeling strips of bark, which look like the number 9.
Common ninebark is known for being highly adaptable as it can grow quickly in both loose and compact substrates as well as acidic to alkaline soils. Though it favors consistently moist conditions, such as those along the banks of streams and thickets, it can tolerate brief periods of drought. Due to its capacity to survive in opposing conditions, it is a fantastic candidate for minimizing erosion along shorelines with rapidly changing water levels.
A member of the rose family (Rosaceae), this deciduous shrub is known for its showy and fuzzy-looking, white to pink inflorescences. They appear as though they are arranged in bouquets, ready to be snipped off the plant and gifted to that special person! An abundance of blooms occurs at the tips of stems in mid to late spring. Once they are pollinated, they give way to drooping clusters of papery fruits.
11) Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
A deciduous shrub, the sweet pepperbush produces dense sets of branches that raise its modest height to about 8 – 9 feet (2.4 – 2.7 meters). Often cultivated as a hedge, this species is perfect for conditioning the moist, sometimes compact, soils around water features and in rain gardens. In the wild, it usually grows along persistently moist to wet streambanks, marshes, and swamps.
Distinguished by bright green, ovate leaves in spring to summer, the sweet pepperbush is named for the appearance of its mature fruits. Though these resemble peppercorns, they don’t have a spicy element to them. The capsules develop from showy summer blooms, which are arranged in delicate racemes. White to pink in color, the blooms attract honeybees and butterflies.
Several cultivars of the sweet pepperbush have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit. These include ‘Hummingbird,’ which grows as a dwarf shrub, and ‘Ruby Spice.’ Tolerant of acidic conditions and partial to full shade, these cultivars can easily be managed and propagated wherever the substrate stays consistently moist.
1 thought on “11 Shrubs & Bushes That Like Wet Soil 2023 [Updated]”
Great article and information. People often just give up when they experience difficult issues in their yards, but there is always a plant solution to these problems. We just have to experiment to see what works.