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Enhancing a Wet Spot

News Feature for Newsletters, Newspapers and Magazines   United States Department of Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service
P.O. Box 2890
Washington, DC 20013

A common complaint from homeowners is wet spots in the yard! These soggy places may stay wet for extended periods after it rains, making mowing difficult or gardening a challenge. While these spots eventually dry out, many plant species do not thrive in these locations during extended periods of moisture. However, if you are lucky enough to have one of these spots, you have the unique opportunity to grow many beautiful plants that are tolerant of wet conditions and are enjoyed by a wide variety of wildlife as well as people.

Rather than trying to make a wet spot dry, accept the fact that it will be wet much of the growing season. You may want to enhance the spot to increase the amount of moisture that stays there. Small depressional areas can be scooped out to make them slightly deeper or, on the other hand, a small berm--which is a narrow ledge or small mound of soil--can be built around the edges of the area to retain more water in the low-lying spot. The use of small berms, only a foot or two high, also will add interest in the landscape by providing variations in elevation and will support the growth of plants requiring better drainage. Drainage ditches, often difficult to mow, also can be turned into sites of beautiful wetland plantings with the proper choice of plants.

Some things to consider when enhancing a wet area: Is the site away from your home's foundation or other areas that may be damaged by excessive moisture? How will the site be integrated into the rest of your landscaping? If the area is a wetland, check with your local conservation district before making any changes. Unless you completely own a ditch, check with local authorities before altering the area. Thoroughly evaluate the impacts of any changes, particularly if you put in a berm--you wouldn't want to flood your neighbor's property.

Depending on the size of your wet area, you may want to grow a mixture of shrubs and flowering plants. Many native species are tolerant of wet conditions. The following plants do well in sunny locations and are attractive to many species of butterflies or hummingbirds.

Red osier dogwood--This plant has bright red twigs that add interest to your yard in the winter. The berries provide food for birds and the twigs are a source of food for other wildlife, including rabbits.

Winterberry and native holly plant--The red berries last into the winter and offer food for birds. Hollies have male and female plants. Berries are only produced on female plants, but a male plant is required for pollination and the development of the berries.

Pussy willow--This plant is one of the first to blossom in early spring, producing fuzzy gray catkins, or flowers, that are often used in flower arrangements.

Cardinal flower--This bright red plant is attractive to hummingbirds and grows well in moist to wet soils.

The next time you look at that wet spot in your yard--don't change it, enjoy it!

For more information on 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.


Backyard Conservation is a cooperative project of
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Wildlife Habitat Council
National Association of Conservation Districts

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