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Backyard Conservation - Working with Wet Spots

Backyard Conservation Tip Sheet

Wet spots in a yard can be frustrating. Not only can they be difficult to mow during certain periods of the year, but many commonly recommended landscape plants do not survive the extended periods of saturated soils. Vegetable gardens also may be difficult to establish early in the season due to wet conditions.

Here are some ideas for dealing with wet soils in your yard.

1. Grow plants that are tolerant of wet conditions. There are many native plants that are beautiful and beneficial to wildlife that will tolerate wet conditions at least for a portion of the growing season. Check with a local nursery for plants best adapted to your area.

The following are examples of plants found in many parts of the United States that do well in wet locations and are attractive to wildlife.

Shrubs and vines

  • Red osier dogwood has bright red twigs that add interest in the winter. The berries provide food for birds and the twigs are a source of food for many mammal species including rabbits.
  • Winterberry is a native holly. The red berries remain into the winter and offer food for birds.
  • Elderberry grows to 12 feet and both flowers and berries are showy. The edible purple-black berries are produced in late summer and are attractive to over 100 bird species as well as mammals. Some people make jelly, syrup, and wine from elderberry.
  • Buttonbush can be used for naturalizing a wet location.
  • Trumpetvine is a vigorous vine with red-orange flowers that are very attractive to hummingbirds.

Perennial flowers

  • Cardinal flower is a bright red plant that is attractive to hummingbirds.
  • Goldenrod blooms in the late summer and is attractive to butterflies. However, many people are allergic to this plant.
  • Swamp milkweed, which grows 4 to 5 feet tall, has pink blossoms that are attractive to butterflies.
  • Joe-pye weed grows to 6 feet and blooms in late summer.

2. The use of raised beds may be the best alternative for dealing with wet soils if you want to grow vegetables. Raised beds can be built from rot-resistant wood, brick, stone, or plastic materials. Beds that are 6 to 8 inches high and filled with well-drained topsoil work well for vegetables and flowers. Paths between the raised beds can be covered with wood chips or other mulch to allow mud-free access, even in wet weather.

3. Another alternative for growing vegetables and annuals is to grow them in containers. While the amount that can be grown is limited, container gardening works well for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, salad greens, and many flowering annuals. Chose vegetable varieties that have been specifically bred for container growing. Container gardening also brings birds and butterflies right to your doorstep. Hanging baskets of fuchsia or pots of snapdragons frequently are visited by hummingbirds, allowing for up-close observation.

For more information on wildlife habitat and other Backyard Conservation practices, contact your local conservation district or the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Or call 1-888-LANDCARE (toll free) for a free colorful Backyard Conservation booklet and tip sheets.

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