Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2011
Regional Report

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My huge rain garden site, two days after a rain.

Planting a Wet Site

It's fun and easy to plan a landscape for the perfect site -- one that is well-drained yet has plenty of moisture, is fairly level, has some sun and some shade. Best of all, this type of site lets you go wild with plant choices.

But how many times have you seen the "ugly landscape" in which plants are languishing or are simply tired and unhealthy because they are not in the right spot? You certainly don't have to know a lot about design to recognize an unappealing landscape. Many sites don't an offer ideal situation, so choosing plants for an adverse situation may require special research.

Planting a Low Spot
I have a spot in my front yard that is low and wet for a good portion of the spring and early summer and then dries out for the rest of the growing season. It actually has standing water for about two months. So, in order to plant it to look good, I had to look at plants that will withstand these conditions.

Look to a Plant's Native Habitat
I looked at native habitats to get an idea of what I could plant that would not just survive but thrive. For this spot, I looked to areas that flood in spring such as river banks and overflow areas. With the popularity of rain gardens these days, there is plenty of information available. This is actually a naturally occurring rain garden, but on a pretty large scale.

My New Rain Garden
The point of a rain garden is to capture the rain and plant the area to allow the rain to soak in. This is exactly what I want to do with my area, especially since during heavy rains, the runoff flows over my neighbor's septic system. So, specific to my low spot are standing water, anaerobic soil since all the soil pores are filled with water instead of oxygen, and reduced air circulation because it is a depression.

Trees and Shrubs for Wet Areas
Some of the trees I'm trying are river birch and black alders. They are both native to river bottoms, so should do quite well because they are adapted to soils with little oxygen. I also have some of the newer, brightly colored willows for focal points, dogwoods, chokeberry, and elderberry, which I was surprised to find is a river bottom shrub.

Herbaceous Plants for Wet Areas
This year I will fill in the beds with a herbaceous layer consisting of astilbe, turtlehead, ligularia and sedges. A little more research should give me plenty of great plants to try, as long as I make certain to let my site dictate the plant selection.

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