9 Ornamental Shrubs for Wet Soil Conditions

Viburnum dentatum_Blue Muffin in a garden border with arborvitae shrubs and perennial plants.
My Garden Life
May 13, 2024
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Water is the elixir of life, but it’s always possible to have too much of a good thing. If your garden is a victim of excessive moisture, we’re here to recommend the best shrubs for wet soil that won’t let you down when the rains won’t let up.

Managing Soggy Soil with Wet-Tolerant Shrubs

While some gardeners pray for rain, others make mud pies. And while excessively dry conditions aren’t ideal for growing plants, too much water can be even more of a hassle.

Climate, topography, and drainage issues may all lead to chronically soggy soil. Sometimes, these challenges can be addressed by reshaping slopes, amending soil, or redirecting the flow of stormwater to improve drainage. However, even if your saturated soil is here to stay, there are plenty of beautiful plants that can fill your garden with color and life.

9 Shrubs for Wet Soil

1. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)

Summersweet, also known as coastal sweet pepperbush, is a moisture-loving shrub native to eastern North American woodlands from Canada to Florida. Summersweet presents glossy foliage and sweet-smelling bell-shaped pink or white flowers. Plant these shrubs along ponds or streams to improve bank stability, or use as a border to soak up runoff next to walkways. USDA hardiness zones 3-9.

Shrubs for wet soil include summersweet with its long clusters of white flowers held above the green foliage.

2. Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

Arborvitae aren’t as wet-hardy as some of the other shrubs in this list. However, compared to most evergreens, they’re more tolerant of moderately wet soil conditions and occasional flooding. These shrubs form dense growth that’s ideal for shaping into landscaping hedges and privacy screens. USDA hardiness zones 3-7.

Tall, globe, and medium sized arborvitae shrubs in a border mulched with gravel.

3. Bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia)

Bog rosemary is native to bog wetlands, meaning it thrives in soil that never dries out. These shrubs for wet soil produce leathery evergreen foliage and lovely berry-shaped pink flowers.

Bog rosemary is an excellent choice for shady areas with acidic soil that stays perpetually damp, such as a woodland garden. It’s also beautiful as a potted plant. USDA hardiness zones 2-6.

A mounded bog rosemary shrub covered with charming pink globular flowers growing in a mulched garden border.

4. Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)

With long white flower clusters in summer and crimson red foliage in autumn, Virginia sweetspire is a beauty. This adaptable shrub is sun-tolerant, shade-tolerant, and not picky about its soil. Sweetspire is equally suitable for muddy stream banks or fancy English gardens. USDA hardiness zones 6-10.

Close up of the long white flower clusters covering a sweetspire shrub-Itea virginica.

5. Southern wax myrtle (Morella cerifera)

Southern wax myrtle is native to the American southeast, from Texas to Florida to the Mid-Atlantic region. This shrub can be pruned to maintain a modest size, or can develop into a 15-foot (4.6 m) tree. If both male and female plants are present, attractive blue berry clusters will grow, providing food for birds.

This hearty evergreen can handle wet soil and is also drought-tolerant, making it a great option for areas with variable weather. Known for rapid growth and toughness, Southern wax myrtle is a great choice for practical purposes like erosion control, habitat restoration, or setting up a privacy screen that can quickly take shape. USDA Hardiness zones 7-10.

Shrubs for wet soil-A close up of the waxy berries lining the stem of a southern wax myrtle shrub.

6. Pussy willow (Salix discolor and Salix caprea)

Pussy willow is the name for small willows (members of the Salix genus) that grow furlike flower clusters known as catkins. Like larger willow trees, pussy willows tolerate moist soil and grow well next to streams and ponds. These unique shrubs for wet soil are easy to grow from cuttings. They also attract birds that like to use the fuzzy catkins for nest-building. USDA hardiness zones 4-9.

A close up of the fluffy yellow catkins of a pussy willow shrub in spring.

7. Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Arrowwood viburnum is one of the most adaptable shrubs for wet soil and it grows well throughout most of North America. Its lovely white flower clusters and dark berries attract both pollinators and birds. 

Ideal growing conditions include full sun to partial shade and moist but well-draining soil. However, occasional flooding is tolerated, making arrowwood viburnum a dependable option in areas that see plenty of sunshine along with some major storms. USDA hardiness zones 3-8.

8. Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

Black chokeberry is a flowering shrub that belongs to the rose family. While this North American native makes an attractive ornamental landscaping plant, it’s especially useful for erosion control and bank stabilization along streams, thanks to its suckering growth and wet soil tolerance. The dark berries are edible. They’re bitter when eaten raw, but tasty in black chokeberry jams and juices.  USDA hardiness zones 3-8.

9. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Native to American wetlands, buttonbush thrives in extremely wet soil. Buttonbush is helpful for managing soggy areas such as drainage basins and ditches. These shrubs for wet soil are also a lovely feature in natural rain gardens and can be pruned to maintain a tidy shape. Buttonbush flowers are distinctive spheres adorned with thin spikes. USDA hardiness zones 5-9.

Shrubs for wet soil- A close up of the whimsical round flowers of the native buttonbush shrub.

Learn to Be a Water-Wise Gardener

Along with selecting plants that thrive in wet conditions, there are many strategies for improving drainage so that the ground doesn’t stay perpetually waterlogged. Check out our guide on How to Improve Soil Drainage to explore ideas like soil aeration, drainage features, and How to Make a Rain Garden.

An attractive solution for water drainage-a drain pipe is surrounded by large, smooth colorful rocks, nandina shrbs and Hakone grass.

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