Damp soil is killing my plants..... - Knowledgebase Question

Redding, Ca
Avatar for raahraah
Question by raahraah
August 3, 2008
I have an area on the east side of my house where the soil, especially along the fence, is always wet and does not drain well. The excess moisture appears to be coming from my neighbor's drip lines, I think the water drains to my side and settles. The area is outside a side window in my living room, is about 8 feet wide and would look wonderful with large flowering bushes or small trees but I am having difficulty keeping plants alive. Last year I planted 3 beautiful Ray Hartman Wild Lilac bushes and they all died. Do you have any suggestions on what I could plant? The summers here are very hot so the plants would have to be able to thrive on wet damp soil even when the air temperature is in the 90's and 100's??

Thank You

Answer from NGA
August 3, 2008
There are some shrubs which tolerate wet soils. Or, you might consider constructing a raised bed. Something that's 18-24" tall should keep the roots of your shrubs high and dry, regardless of the amount of water leaching along the fenceline. Here are some suggestions for shrubs that will tolerate wet soils:

Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is an upright, suckering, multi-stemmed shrub that grows 6 to 8 feet tall. Red chokeberry is noted for its red fruit in late summer and fall. Leaves turn a reddish purple in fall. The variety 'Brilliantissima' produces excellent fall foliage color (scarlet) and a large crop of glossy red fruit.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is typically found along stream banks, lake shores, and other wet areas. The shrub has glossy green foliage and produces creamy- white flowers in globular heads in August. Its mature height is about 6 feet, though it can grow up to 12 to 15 feet in southern areas of the United States.

Although not widely planted, summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is an excellent shrub for the home landscape. It is native to wet areas and will grow in full sun or heavy shade. Summersweet clethra produces small, white, fragrant flowers on spike-like structures. The flowers appear in mid-summer and remain attractive for 3 to 4 weeks. Bees and butterflies find the flowers irresistible. The foliage of summersweet clethra is a lustrous, dark green. In the fall, the leaves turn to a pale yellow or golden brown. Plant size is variable and determined by soil and moisture conditions. Summersweet clethra can grow to 3 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. The cultivar 'Rosea' produces pink flowers which fade to pinkish white. 'Pink Spires' produces rose- pink flower buds which open to soft pink.

Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) is a shrub commonly found along streambanks, wet prairies, and at the edges of bottomland woods. Silky dogwood produces flat- topped clusters of yellowish white flowers. Fruit is bluish with white blotches. Silky dogwood is a rounded shrub which grows approximately 6 to 10 feet tall with a similar spread.

Another dogwood suggestion is the redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea). It grows about 6 to 8 feet tall. The redosier dogwood is noted for its red-colored twigs in winter. Several varieties are available. 'Cardinal' is an introduction from the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Its twigs are bright red in winter. 'Isanti' and 'Kelseyi' are compact, red-stemmed shrubs. 'Flaviramea' has yellow stems.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous holly. The deep green leaves drop off in the fall revealing bright red fruit. The shrub attains a height of 6 to 10 feet. Hollies are dioecious. Male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. The cultivars 'Sparkleberry,' 'Winter Red,' and 'Christmas Cheer' produce abundant bright red berries. A male cultivar, such as 'Southern Gentleman' or 'Jim Dandy,' is required for pollination. Winterberries do require acid soils.

Purpleosier willow (Salix purpurea) is an 8 to 10 foot shrub. 'Nana' is a compact form which grows about 4 feet tall. 'Streamco' is a Soil Conservation Service, USDA introduction which was developed to prevent soil erosion along stream banks. The purpleosier willow is one of many willows that grow well in wet soils.

American elder (Sambucus canadensis) is a native suckering shrub that produces large clusters of purple-black fruit in late summer. The ripened fruit are good for jellies, preserves, and wines. The fruit are also attractive to birds. Its mature height is 6 to 10 feet. 'Aurea' and 'Laciniata' are two cultivars which have greater landscape potential than the species. 'Aurea' has golden-yellow foliage and red fruit, while 'Laciniata' has cutleaf foliage.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) and common sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) are two additional shrubs that do well in moist to wet soils.

Hope these suggestions are helpful.

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