Plants are finicky beasts, aren’t they?
Too little moisture and they shrivel up and die. Too much, and they also die.
Finding the right balance can be a challenge, especially if your ground stays consistently wet. Moisture consistency is something, as a gardener, you need to pay special attention to.
There are lots of ways you can improve drainage to help wet soil dry up more effectively. I’ll tell you about those methods a bit later in the article. If you’re forced to work with the conditions you already have, there are several plants you can grow that actually like being a little bit waterlogged.
Here are some of the best plants to grow on wet soil – and tips for improving your drainage for long term success.
What is “Wet Soil?”
Balanced soil is one of the best resources you can offer your growing plants. When water, air, and organic matter are perfectly balanced, your plants will grow healthy and vigorous.
Although soil needs to be moist, you’ll struggle growing plants in soil that are overly waterlogged. A balanced soil is one that contains about 25% air and 25% water. Wet soil, by contrast, stays overly wet or waterlogged even when it’s been a while since the last rainstorm.
Wet soil is any soil with poor drainage. It could be because of the soil type -clay soils tend to drain poorly while sandy soils drain exceptionally fast. It could also be related to the layout of the land.
Plants grown in wet soil tend to struggle with issues like root rot, which is a fungal pathogen that prefers wet conditions. Wet soils also tend to lack beneficial microorganisms that help keep your plants healthy.
While there are easy ways to fix wet soil, most of these techniques take several gardening seasons (or at least a few weeks) to truly become effective. In some cases, like when you’re growing in an area that’s naturally swampy or boggy, they may not really work at all.
In either case, planting a species that likes things a bit damper can help you make the most of overly wet soil.
Vegetables That Happily Grows in Wet Soil
1. Skirret Carrot
Most root vegetables don’t do well in wet soil, but the skirret carrot is an exception. It’s not a common vegetable in the United States, but it is widely grown in Japan and China. This vegetable thrives in moist to wet soil in somewhat shaded areas. You can prepare this vegetable just like you would regular carrots – it can be roasted, stewed, or boiled.
Asparagus is a common garden crop that can tolerate soil that is temporarily wet. You won’t want to keep it totally submerged by any means, but you can get by with planting this perennial vegetable in somewhat damp soil.
In fact, you’ll often find asparagus growing wild in ditches.
A tropical plant grown for its edible roots, taro is hardy in zones 7 to 10. You can eat the leaves like spinach or eat the roots, but you’ll cook both before eating.
Rhubarb is a versatile veggie that is best known for its edible stalks. There are several benefits to growing rhubarb in a wet garden. Not only does it not mind being a little bit soggy, but it also makes a wonderful living mulch that can improve the drainage of your soil over time.
5. Tanier Spinach
Tanier spinach is a leafy green that is actually perennial. It doesn’t mind being grown in the shade and can be eaten raw, too.
Herbs That Love Wet Soil
Most herbs prefer soils that are a bit on the dry side, but that’s not the case with mint. Mint grows voraciously and will keep running until it hits a rock. This plant is considered invasive in most areas so you do need to be careful about planting it too close to other species.
However, one of the benefits of growing mint in a wet garden is that it will help provide structure to a more barren area. It can help reduce erosion and also improve the drainage ability of overly wet soil over time.
Wet Soil Fruits
7. Pear Trees
Pears are water-heavy fruits, so it should come as no surprise that pear trees also do quite well when grown in wetter soils. It may help to mulch around the base of the tree, at least while it’s first establishing its roots. This will help improve drainage and allow the tree to get off on the right foot – or should I say, root.
8. Aronia Berries
Aronia berries are not common, but have recently been dubbed superfoods since they have high amounts of antioxidants. They are tart, best used in smoothies or preserves.
These berries like growing in acidic soil too and are hardy in zones 3 to 8.
9. Highbush and Lowbush Cranberries
Both highbush and lowbush cranberries can be grown in wet soils – in fact, they’re often grown in bogs. If you’re new to growing cranberries, you might be a bit surprised by highbush cranberries, since they have a more astringent taste than the cranberries you’re used to buying at the grocery store.
Lowbush cranberries are more typical and are often grown in commercial (artificial) bogs.
10. Fox Grapes
Fox grapes are native to eastern North America and grow well here. Popular varieties of fox grapes include the Concord grape.
When you grow fox grapes in your garden, you won’t have too much trouble with soil that tends to stay a bit wet. However, you will want to grow these grapes on an arbor for the best results.
11. Red Raspberries
Often grown in swampy areas, red raspberries don’t mind wet soil. You will have the best results when growing the American red raspberry, which is a cultivar native to North America that prefers wet soil more so than other varieties.
Red raspberry canes are ever-bearing so you’ll get a crop in the midsummer as well as a bit later, in the fall.
Strawberries also grow well in soil that is occasionally wet. Though not as tolerant as some other plants – you’ll want to grow strawberries in soil that eventually drains within 24 hours or so – they’ll help you get by in the meantime.
Ornamentals for Wet Soil Conditions
There are even several ornamental plants that grow well in wet areas. These plants can handle prolonged periods of submersion and grow well in bogs or swamps as a result:
- Pussy willow
- Leopard plant
- Marsh marigolds
- Joe Pye weed
- Cardinal flower (this one does need to dry out within a few days, though)
If you’re trying to grow a garden that is functional as well as beautiful, you might want to consider a few of these options. They are low-maintenance plants that don’t mind some serious water issues.
How to Address Wet Soil if These Plants Aren’t an Option
1. Improve Drainage by Leveling Things Out
Some gardens don’t drain well simply because the terrain slopes in an undesirable fashion. If that’s the case, you may want to use a york rake or a similar piece of equipment to help improve the slope. You could also build a terraced garden (which uses steps) to help prevent all of the water from settling at the bottom of a hill.
Improving the grade of your lawn can often resolve a lot of the issues related to drainage that you might be having.
If leveling out your yard isn’t an option, you might want to build a few raised beds. French drains can also help. All of these options will help you get better control over your soil so you can work with your conditions instead of against them.
2. Add Organic Matter
If it’s not the slope but instead the structure of your soil that is causing you problems with drainage, adding organic matter can help.
In fact, this is one of the best tips for improving soil quality in general. It doesn’t matter whether your soil is too wet or too dry – adding organic matter can heal whatever ails you.
This does take some time to make a difference, though. You’ll want to begin by adding small amounts of compost each season – ideally, once in the spring before planting and once in the fall. You can also plant a cover crop that will build structure into your soil over time.
Adding organic matter will also attract beneficial microorganisms, which can heal a lot of the issues caused by poor drainage, too.
Here is more tips on how to improve clay soil.
3. Use a Broadfork
Using a broadfork can help improve aeration in small areas. If you’re trying to fix poorly draining soil in a raised bed, this is your best bet. It will provide quick, long-lasting results with just a few hours of work. You can find more tips on how to use a broadfork here.
4. Cut Trees and Remove Vegetation
Sometimes, certain areas don’t drain well simply because they don’t get enough sunlight to dry things out during the day. If you find that you have certain spots where water pools after a heavy rainstorm, evaluate whether cutting a few trees or removing overgrown vegetation could help.
This is a super simple problem that will actually cost you very little time and money to resolve.
Solving Wet Soil Problems, Or Using it Productively
Wet soil can be a challenge for any gardener, but don’t despair. You don’t have to sell your land just yet! There are plenty of ways to address wet soil, and in the meantime, you may want to consider growing these plants that don’t mind growing in wet soil. And if all else fails, build a retaining wall and grow rice!