After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about science, travel, and gardening.
I live in an area that receives 46 inches of rain each year and 108 inches of snow, resulting in sodden clay soil. I have learned many tricks for developing a thriving garden by finding plants that love to grow in wet areas!
15 Plants and Groundcovers That Love Water
Water-loving garden plants and groundcovers for areas with below-freezing winters include chokeberry, hosta, daylilies, foamflower, Siberian iris, and creeping jenny. In a tropical garden, violets, maidenhair fern, papyrus, Asiatic jasmine, and horsetail love to have wet feet.
Hardy Plants and Groundcovers for Wet Areas
|Plant Name||Plant Type||Habit||USDA Hardiness Zones|
Large leafed perennial grown for foliage
2–4’ tall, perennial with strap-like leaves and showy flowers.
1–4’ tall, very hardy plant with showy flowers.
1–2’ tall with flowers that resemble bottlebrush
Bright green, spreading ground cover
3–6’ tall fern, prefers shade
1–2’ tall, succulent with yellow flowers
Grass-like ground cover, prefers shade.
2–3’ tall plant, thrives in shade or sun
Tropical Plants and Groundcovers for Wet Areas
|Plant Name||Plant Type||Habit||USDA Hardiness Zones|
Southern Maidenhair Fern
Arching, delicate fern. Prefers shade.
5–8’ tall with attractive plumes.
6–10’ tall with plum colored leaves. Prefers full sun.
Evergreen woody vine, ground cover
6–18” tall with small, fragrant flowers.
3’ tall with broad, showy leaves.
2–8’ tall with showy flowers.
Hostas are grown for their incredible foliage and rugged nature in a shady landscape. They are very tolerant of moisture but may have significant slug damage for varieties with thin leaves. Choose a variety like “Drinking Gourd” to deter slugs and snails from damaging the leaves.
Hostas can be found in many sizes to accommodate almost any garden spot and are an excellent choice for northern gardeners. They do not tolerate direct sun or high heat conditions.
Tips for Growing Hostas
- Hostas prefer shade to partial shade environments.
- Choose a thick-leafed variety to prevent slug damage.
- Plant in soil with a pH of 6.5–7.5.
Daylilies attract butterflies and produce a profuse quantity of flowers. Some varieties are reblooming and will produce flowers throughout the growing season. An excellent choice for wet gardens, these plants are beautiful on the banks of a pond or on the edge of a marshy area.
Tips for Growing Daylilies
- Grow in full sun to partial shade
- Space plants 12–18” apart.
- Divide daylily plants every 4–5 years to encourage vigorous blooming.
- Plant daylilies in the spring in northern climates.
3. Siberian Iris
Smaller than the better-known bearded iris, Siberian iris adores water. While its beautiful flowers are showy in the early spring, Its sword-like leaves provide interest throughout the growing season. Plant in wet garden areas or along pond edges for a beautiful water garden. These plants are pest-resistant and rarely need dividing.
Tips for Growing Siberian Iris
- Plant in full sun to partial shade.
- Space plants 18” to 24” apart.
- Plants may take 2–3 years to bloom after planting.
- Plant in a wide pond basket for growth inside an ornamental pond.
An excellent choice for a damp, shady location, foamflower is an attractive wildflower that produces flowers from spring to early summer. This plant is easiest to grow from runners or divisions gathered from existing plants, though it can be grown from seed. This native plant is an excellent choice for growing in a heavily wooded garden.
Tips for Growing Foamflower
- Foamflower prefers shade but will grow in partly sunny environments.
- Soil must be acidic (pH 5.0–6.8).
- Plant foamflower plants approximately 12” apart.
5. Creeping Jenny (Moneywort)
Also known as moneywort, this bright green ground cover is evergreen and a fantastic addition in between stones on a path or around a pond. As this ground cover grows quickly, be sure to only plant it where widespread coverage is desired.
This plant is invasive in some areas, so be sure to verify it is not an invasive plant in your gardening region.
Tips for Growing Creeping Jenny
- Space young plants 2 feet apart.
- This ground cover thrives in sunny or shady conditions.
- Pruning is only required to prevent the horizontal spread of this plant.
6. Ostrich Fern
Another plant native to the USA, the ostrich fern is a beautiful, graceful plant for shady and wet gardens. This plant is also deer-resistant, which makes it a fantastic choice for woodland gardens or pond edges. This fern may grow to 5’ in height, providing a nice backdrop to shade-loving flowers.
Tips for Growing Ostrich Fern
- Ensure plant crown is at (or just above) the soil surface level after planting.
- Plant ostrich fern in the fall.
- Ostrich fern tolerates clay soil.
- Ensure soil is acidic to neutral pH (5.0–6.5).
7. Marsh Marigold (Cowslip)
Another shade-loving plant, marsh marigold is a native plant that produces brilliant yellow flowers in the spring season. Plant leaves are succulent and heart-shaped, providing interest throughout the growing season.
These flowers will thrive along stream banks, pond edges, or other wet areas of the garden. Also known as cowslip, this perennial is toxic to people and animals and should not be ingested.
Tips for Growing Marsh Marigold
- Seedlings do not flower until three years after seed germination.
- Do not plant near livestock, as the plant is toxic.
- Plant in spring after the last frost date.
- Prefers acidic soil, with a pH range of 5.0–6.8.
8. Japanese Sedge
Variegated leaves and grasslike foliage make Japanese sedge an attractive groundcover for pond edges and other damp garden areas. Sodden areas with standing water should be avoided for this plant, but it thrives in damp soil and will grow in full sun.
This plant has become invasive in the northeastern United States and should be avoided in those geographical areas.
Tips for Japanese Sedge
- Plant prefers rich, loamy, and moist soil.
- Plant in sunny to partly shady locations.
- Protect sedge plants from areas with high winds.
- Makes an excellent groundcover under trees and shrubs in wet areas.
Producing flowers that look similar to snapdragon, turtleheads love growing in swampy areas and produce bright flowers throughout summer and early fall. This native plant grows between 2 and 3 feet tall and is a great choice for marshy wooded areas or along pond edges.
Tips for Growing Turtlehead
- Turtlehead prefers neutral soil pH (6.5–7.5).
- Plant in full sun to part shade.
- Plant along garden edges to deter deer from the garden.
10. Southern Maidenhair Fern
The lacey foliage of the maidenhair fern makes it an attractive option for small, wet garden areas. Tucked into foliage around a pond or under trees, this shade-loving fern is a bright addition to any yard. It is deer resistant and can also function as a ground cover in wet, shady border areas.
Tips for Growing Maidenhair Fern
- Tolerates clay, but prefers loamy soil.
- Plant in full to part shade.
- The fern will go dormant if it gets too dry or if it receives too much sunlight.
- Hardy to USDA zone 7, or 25°F (-4°C).
Famed for its ability to form paper among the ancient Egyptians, papyrus is a fantastic water-loving plant for warm areas. This plant can be grown in shallow water, which is fantastic for those looking for plants to grow in shallow pond areas. It is sometimes called the umbrella plant for its showy sprays at the top of its stems. It is hardy to USDA zone 8 and grows from rhizomes.
Tips for Growing Papyrus
- Papyrus is difficult to grow from seed, so it is best to purchase plants from a nursery.
- Plant in standing, shallow water or an area that is consistently moist.
- Mulch the rhizomes if planting in USDA zone 8. If planting in a pond in zone 8, there is the risk the rhizomes could freeze and the plant may not survive.
- Plant in full sun.
Bronze foliage is the star for this tropical plant, which grows quickly to form a 3- to 5-foot-tall clump. The plants are resistant to salt and an excellent choice for seaside gardens in warm climates. Copperleaf requires consistent moisture and should never be allowed to dry out. Snails and slugs love to eat the leaves of this plant, so slug control will be necessary near plantings.
Tips for Growing Copperleaf
- Space plants 3’ apart to allow proper growth.
- Copperleaf may be grown in a container.
- The plant requires humidity and will not tolerate arid climates.
- Plant in full sun.
13. Asiatic Jasmine
This ground cover is not related to true jasmine but does produce flowers in its native range. In the United States, it rarely blooms with yellow, pinwheel-shaped flowers. The plant forms a woody, vine-like growth that creates an excellent ground cover for shady or sunny areas and will suppress weed growth. It is extremely durable and will withstand excess moisture and drought.
Established plants may rot in soil that has long-term standing water, so this is not a good choice along a pond edge.
This should be used as a ground cover in areas turf grass won’t grow and in locations that require coverage for weed prevention. This plant is tolerant of salt in coastal areas. Each plant will grow to 3' wide by 18” tall.
Tips for Growing Asiatic Jasmine
- The vines should be mown to the ground and pruned once per year to limit growth.
- Plant in dense shade or full sun.
- Space plants 3’ apart.
Taro is native to Southeast Asia and loves to have wet feet. It is even possible to grow taro in a 5-gallon bucket! The tubers are mashed to make poi, and the plant has many uses in the garden. The plant will not die back in USDA zones 10 and above, but it will go dormant in zones 8 and 9.
Elephant ear is a variety of taro grown for ornamental purposes. This variety has humongous leaves and is grown as an annual in northern locations. In tropical locations, it will live for up to 15 years.
Tips for Growing Taro
- Plant in furrows, 6” deep and covered by 3” of soil.
- Do not plant taro next to wild waterways, as it may escape and become invasive.
- Taro requires full sun.
- The leaves of edible taro will yellow and die when the tubers are ready to harvest, about 200 days after planting.
15. Canna Lilies
Tropical foliage and beautiful flowers are showstoppers for this water-loving plant. While canna lilies are not suitable for planting inside a pond, they thrive in areas with moist soil conditions and bog-like areas. They can be grown in northern climates as annuals, but are hardy in zones 9–10.
Tips for Growing Canna Lilies
- Plant canna lilies in spring, after all danger of frost has passed.
- Space plants 2–3’ apart.
- Use a fertilizer with a high phosphate level to encourage bloom.
- Plant in rich, loamy soil.
How to Improve Drainage in Wet Gardens
There are six soil amendments that will greatly improve drainage and prevent root rot in the garden.
- Peat moss is a type of sphagnum moss. It adds organic material to the garden, improves drainage, and acidifies the soil for acid-loving plants.
- Vermiculite is a natural combination of minerals that helps moderate moisture levels in the soil. Add vermiculite to aerate plant roots and retain moisture and nutrients.
- Mulch with a natural bark mulch to absorb excess moisture. The mulch will decompose slowly into the garden, adding organic matter to the soil. Mulch will also protect plant roots from frost damage when grown in the colder zones of the plant’s range.
- Perlite is preferred over vermiculite for its superior aerating properties. This natural volcanic stone retains moisture, aerates roots, and is an excellent addition to garden soil.
- Sand will increase drainage and improve the oxygenation of plant roots. Sand is the least expensive soil amendment available.
- Compost can be obtained from your own pile or purchased commercially. Compost will lighten soil, improve drainage, and add rich organic material to improve plant health.
What Is the Best Soil for Wet Areas?
Avoid standard garden soil in boggy areas. Purchase potting soil and add compost or peat moss to the mix. This will increase drainage and add rich, organic matter to the soil. Sand may also be added to the mixture to increase drainage.
Why Is My Garden Soil So Wet?
High groundwater levels, clay soil, and high precipitation levels will all lead to a marshy garden. Plant moisture-tolerant plants or amend the soil with peat moss, compost, and sand to aid in drainage.
What Plants Soak Up the Most Water?
Daylilies, Siberian iris, taro, and ferns are the best plants to absorb water in a wet garden.
What Can I Plant in Waterlogged Soil?
Plants that will grow in shallow, standing water include taro, papyrus, Siberian iris, and turtlehead. (For trees that love water, please see my list of trees and shrubs that like wet soil.)
What Grows in Poor Drainage Areas?
Along with the plants that grow in waterlogged soil, daylilies, ferns, and marsh marigold will grow well in areas with poor drainage (but not in standing water).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Leah Lefler
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 04, 2021:
Houston definitely sees its share of rain, Peggy! We get a lot of precipitation in Western New York due to the lake effect. This summer has been particularly wet! We have many garden plants that love wet conditions and can tolerate heavy clay soil.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 04, 2021:
Some of these plants grow well in the Houston area. We typically get a good amount of rain annually.