There are some plants that need a lot of water to survive and thrive, and this can be an interesting challenge for some gardeners. Unlike a lot of moisture-sensitive species, they can tolerate a large range of growing conditions and planting zones. Landscapers and horticultural specialists value these plants for their ease of growth and how they can transform marsh-like landscapes into ecologically stable woodlands.
If you live in an area that gets a lot of flooding, like in a sunken spot at the bottom of a hill, you’ll have to be very selective and strategic when you pick out plants that need a lot of water. You don’t want your yard to turn into a bog. You can create a rain garden that has plants that need a lot of water to help reduce runoff while reinforcing your substrate. You have to make a point to evaluate your space and see how poor the drainage is to create your rain garden.
Plants that need a lot of water may require a drainage pipe or slope if they are right at the water table. You should also supplement the soil with organic material and tiled to create small channels for the water to get out. Even though there are several plants that need a lot of water, they may also wilt or die with prolonged exposure to soil that is waterlogged. You should have a recovery period between flooding.
Trees are usually great with water absorption, but there are ornamental herbs, shrubs, and some flowers that can take a lot of water too. The 20 species we’re going to touch on below act like water filters and may be able to keep your water supply clean, attract wildlife, and provide shade.
1. Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides)
Atlantic White Cedars are wetland trees that like to be in moist soil throughout every growth period. It’s extremely adaptable to conditions where the water has gotten rid of all of the air pockets in the soil. This cedar tree has developed a special characteristic to stop the base from being submerged all year-round. This tree grows in hummocks or mounds, and these things elevate the trunk. Water will build up in the depressed pools around the mound.
This plant that needs a lot of water can live for centuries, and it can withstand large fluctuations in moisture levels. It tends to dominate bogs or swamps where it grows. This species works as an essential water purifier, and it regulates nutrient distribution in palustrine and riverine systems. This tree tends to have a surprisingly shallow root system with very strong lateral roots in permanently waterlogged soils. If the tree is in highly aerated soil, the roots go deeper into the ground.
2. Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
Large leaves, color tufts, and excellent height, these combined phrases sum of the hydrangea nicely. One of the most interesting points about this plant that needs a lot of water is that it has the capacity to develop color-changing flowers, depending on the soil’s acidity or alkalinity. When the pH range is high, the flowers turn a pink hue. The acidic pH levels will change the flower colors, and it will cause them to turn a soft shade of blue.
The lacecap hydrangea and the mophead hydrangea are two popular cultivars. One has sterile blooms and large flower heads, and the other produces very fertile blooms with flowers that fade very quickly. Both cultivars will do find planted in moist soil conditions, but you have to make sure that you put them in a spot that gets bright, full sun. If your soil moisture levels start to fall, you can put this plant in partial shade. This species works very nicely, used as an accent plant or as a hedge. As a bonus, you can harvest the flowers every year and bring them inside for a pop of color.
3. Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
This plant that needs a lot of water is a deciduous bush that gets between three and six feet high and wide at full maturity. During the spring months, it produces stunning white flowers that give way to smaller black berries that draw birds in. The foliage turns to a purplish-red in the fall, and you can find this plant growing in bogs, swamps, and damp thickets. This plant can adapt to different types of soil, as long as you make a point to keep it moist. You also want to remove root suckers quickly to prevent it from spreading.
Black Chokeberry grows best when you plant it in zones three to eight. The flowers are usually white, but they can come in different shades. It needs full sun to partial shade and a medium-moisture, well-draining soil to thrive. It’s not resistant to deer either.
4. Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
Also called the sour gum or black tupelo tree, this is a very slow-growing deciduous species that can get between 30 and 50 feet high at full maturity. This attractive tree has a reputation for producing brilliant foliage, and many people choose to grow it as an ornamental. The best shades come out when you plant it in slightly acidic, moist soil that drains well. This plant that needs a lot of water is well planted in lowland areas of your yard or garden.
Black Gum trees do well when you grow them on their own, but having a cluster of them can give you a stunning view in your yard. The glossy leaves on the tree are dark green in summer and spring, but they slowly turn a range of yellows, reds, orange, and purple undertones when the temperatures fall. The foliage color will vary depending on the species. This plant that needs a lot of water is invaluable to wetland wildlife. The flowers are a great source of food for bees, and it provides deer and birds with nutrients with the berries.
5. Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)
This plant that needs a lot of water is native to marshes, meadows, swamps, and shorelines throughout North America. It gets between 24 and 30 inches tall and wide, and it has eye-catching violet-blue flowers in the late spring months. Your plant will need adequate moisture, and this iris can survive in standing water. It thrives when you plant it in zones three to nine in partial shade to full sun. The soil should be very moist and humusy, and it’s resistant to deer. You will want to monitor it as it’s prone to having issues with several pests.
6. Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Cardinal flowers grow best in very rich soil, and it prefers consistent moisture. In the wild, Cardinal Flowers usually grow alongside streams and swamps around lower woodland areas. They’re a great plant that needs a lot of water to plant around your pond. They get between two and four feet tall and one to two feet wide. Give your plants shade in the afternoon hours during the hottest part of the day. Add a layer of mulch to keep the soil moist.
This plant grows best planted in zones three to nine, and they bloom in white, red, or rose hues. This plant does best planted in full sun or partial shade in a medium to wet, rich soil. As a bonus, this plant is also resistant to deer.
7. Common Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
As a deciduous holly that has a great tolerance for poor draining soil, the common winterberry is a very low-maintenance shrub that does well in moist soil. This plant that needs a lot of water can successfully grow in rain gardens, around fountains, in ponds, and in swampy areas in acidic soil. It’s decently resistant to diseases and pests, and it can grow in partial or full sun exposure. As a wetland shrub, this plant can tolerate higher humidity levels. You should avoid planting it in sandy or dry areas as irrigation or frequent rainfall are needed to keep the roots moist.
When this plant that needs a lot of water is mature, it can get up to eight feet high and spread roughly the same. It gives you very glossy green leaves with serrated margins. The leaves usually won’t turn pretty colors in the fall months, but they can turn maroon. In late spring, it’ll grow white flowers along the leaf axils, but they are very small. The bright red berries this plant produces go well into the cold months. These berries make a great food source for birds, but they can cause issues if pets or people eat them. The berries stand out nicely during the holiday for decor like wreaths.
8. French Rose (Rosa gallica)
This is a very attractive shrub that has won the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. This plant is the parent species of a lot of tea rose hybrids, and they produce nice scents. This shrub maxes out at five feet tall, and it can spread up to four feet wide. Each summer, the foliage will get masked by a huge amount of deep pink, vivid blooms. These will develop into rose hips, and they attract birds.
French rose shrubs can tolerate being in poor soil, and they’re very low maintenance outside of regular pruning and intersecting. This plant that needs a lot of water is nice for rich rain gardens as it thrives in moist soil. It does require a decent amount of proper drainage to thrive, so you have to ensure that the roots won’t sit in standing water for days at a time. It’s also very tolerant of shady conditions, but you do want to give it full sun if possible.
9. Giant Elephant Ears (Colocasia spp.)
Southern gardeners may want to try this plant that needs a lot of water if they want to get a tropical look and feel for their space. These plants have huge arrow and heart-shaped leaves and are decently hardy in zone eight and south. However, elephant ears will die back when the temperature gets below 45-degrees Fahrenheit. They like to be in consistently moist soil, and you should make a point to feed them regularly. It produces whitish-yellow flowers that the huge leaves hide.
To get this plant that needs a lot of water to thrive, plant it outside in zones 8 to 11. It loves being in partial shade to full sun in soil that is acidic and moist. It can get between three and eight feet tall and wide at full maturity, but it’s not resistant to deer.
10. Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)
Horsetail plants are very hardy, and they can tolerate a huge range of growing conditions, including areas where the soil is soaked. In the wild, it makes a nice bog plant to put alongside a body of water or in wet woodlands. They grow up to four feet tall and spread up to six feet wide. Under the best growing conditions, this plant can be a very aggressive spreader, so you want to completely and quickly remove any rhizomes you see to keep the plant in one spot.
To keep your horsetail happy, plant it in zones four to nine in partial shade to full sun. This plant won’t flower, but it is a nice foliage plant to add height to your space. The soil should be average to medium, and the plant isn’t resistant to deer.
11. Japanese Iris (Iris ensata)
The Japanese Iris is commonly used to add color and dimension to your ornamental pond because it’s a water-loving, elegant perennial with very eye-catching features. It grows very vigorously and produces dense clumps of green leaves with a sword shape that come from underground rhizomes. During summer, this plant’s beauty unveils to show a bright vibrant blue color. The petals are colorful, delicate, and irresistible to a lot of pollinators, including bees.
This species has high moisture demands all year round. You should only plant it in an area that gets adequate rainfall or along water feature borders to ensure it thrives. However, even though thi is a plant that needs a lot of water, exposing it to standing water can be detrimental to the plant’s survival because the roots need oxygen. This plant is hardy in zones four to nine, and it prefers moderate ambient temperatures and humidity.
Japanese iris is very easy to propagate to cover a large portion of your rain garden. It’s best planted using rhizome division that you collect in the fall months. You should bury these in the soil once the temperatures start to go up in the spring and set them a few feet apart to give them plenty of room to spread. In a few months, you’ll get a stunning display of irises that will bloom all summer long.
12. Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
If you want a tall plant to put in a sunny spot in your rain garden, consider this option. Joe Pye Weed is a perennial that tops out at four to five feet tall with a two-foot spread, but it’s possible for them to reach seven feet high. It produces pretty mauve flowers during the summer that attracts butterflies in droves. Although this plant loves to be in full sun, it may require afternoon shade during the hotter days. To promote fresh growth, you want to cut your plant close to the ground during the late winter months.
To get the pretty mauve flowers and a thriving plant, make sure you live in zones three to nine. The soil is also important, and it should be medium to wet but very rich. So, this plant requires a little more watering and maintenance to keep it healthy. As a bonus, this plant is also resistant to deer.
13. Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
If you’ve ever gone on a hike through the woods during the spring, you may have spotted marsh marigolds in boggy areas with their cheerful yellow flowers. These plants thrive when you put them around water features in your garden, especially around the edges of ponds or streams. They can even thrive in a small amount of standing water. They top out at 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. Generally speaking, these plants are more low-maintenance, but you do want to give them some shade during the hottest months.
Marsh marigolds grow best planted in zones three to seven. Every variety is a shade of yellow, with some being darker and some brighter with darker to medium-green foliage. They grow well in partial to full sun, and the soil needs to be very boggy and wet. They’re also resistant to deer and attract pollinators.
14. Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)
The red elderberry is a pretty tree-like shrub that does well in woodlands, riparian forests, ravines, and cliffs. It’s a popular member of the Honeysuckle family, and this is a very fast-growing perennial that gets up to 12 feet tall. It’s a very popular addition to your landscaped gardens, not only because it’s tall but it also has very showy features. During the springtime, mature plants produce very soft pink flowers that will slowly up to reveal cream-colored or white petals.
The fruits on this plant that needs a lot of water are small at just ¼ inch in diameter, and they attract a range of birds. The shrub is very valuable to wildlife for the buds, foliage, and bark as they are nutritious. The elderberry bush grows best when you plant it in moist soil, and it’s an attractive addition to your garden or yard. If you want a cultivar that produces eye-catching foliage, choose Sutherland Gold. Wet conditions are great for this plant to thrive.
15. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Red maple is a plant that needs a lot of water that grows very quickly, and it’s a deciduous tree. It’s best known for displaying beautiful red foliage during the fall months. The tiny red flowers the red maple produces are showy as well, but they only start to appear when the tree is eight years old or older. Red maples are stunning trees that average between 90 and 120 feet tall at full maturity, and the mature trunks stay relatively branch free. This gives the tree a very distinct crown that creates a large amount of shade underneath it.
They’re tolerant of a broad range of soil conditions, and red maples can require prolific amounts of water in several different habitats. It grows best in slightly acidic, moist soil, but it loves mineral-rich substrate that is vital to germinate the seeds. A mature, single red maple can absorb up to five gallons of water per week. It won’t require additional watering sessions as long as it gets an inch of rainfall each week. Mature trees can tolerate floods without a significant amount of damage.
16. River Birch (Betula nigra)
The graceful, pretty river birch is a very bushy tee that is known for producing peeling bark as the tree starts to mature. Younger trees start out with salmon-colored bark that is very smooth, and this will eventually flake off to give the tree a very textured appearance that shines during winter. When it blooms, this monoecious species produces tiny catkins that grow in clusters on the twig tips.
This plant that needs a lot of water has an average lifespan of 50 to 70 years, and it’s a very fast-growing tree that tops out at 80 feet tall. In the wild, this tree grows in humid areas, like in floodplains and swamps. It is also called the water birch because the root system can grow in semi-aquatic placement or on stream banks. If your garden has very poor drainage, you’ll find that this tree relishes persistent moisture. In zones five to nine, it’s very common to use this tree along the edges of your pond.
17. Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos)
The common names for this plant that needs a lot of water are swamp hibiscus and rose mallow. The common names are more fitting as they describe the flowers on the plant and where it prefers to grow. Large pink flowers look extremely delicate and soft, and they bloom during the summer. The features on this plant that needs a lot of water are very similar to their cousins. Each bloom has five petals and a center with a deeper coloring, and they produce a long yellow stamen. Bombus and Ptilothrix bees are a few of the common pollinators.
This wetland species is quite hardy as it can tolerate warmer or colder temperatures. It produces an extensive and deep-growing root system that favors soil that is consistently moist. The moisture, coupled with good air circulation from the sprawling roots, helps the plant survive intense summer heat in the southeastern portion of the United States. It’s hardy in zones five to nine, and it’s perfect to use in rain gardens that get exposed to moderate temperature fluctuations.
18. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Swamp milkweed is a great plant that is perfect for rain gardens. This is a flowering perennial that can absorb huge amounts of water. The root systems are able to thrive in moderately moist and wet substrates. It favors slightly acidic soil and it can tolerate seasonal flooding, poor drainage, and packed clay. Also, the roots on this plant that needs a lot of water adapt well to low oxygen conditions. In the wild, you find it growing along the edges of ponds and lakes, in ditches, and in low-lying areas.
The blooms this plant produces attract monarch butterflies, and they lay their eggs in the foliage. Once they hatch, the larvae will then feed on the plant’s leaves. It’s safe for the caterpillars to eat, but the entire plant is toxic in the raw form, and eating it can lead to digestive upset. If you’d like to ward deer away from your rain garden, consider adding this plant that needs a lot of water. You will have to deal with the occasional appearance of aphids because they love the plant’s milky sap.
19. Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
Sweet pepperbush is also called summersweet, and it grows well in wet marshes and woodlands, as well as along seashores and streams. It gets between three and eight feet tall with a four to six foot spread. During the summer months, this plant that needs a lot of water will produce fragrant, long flower spikes that attract bees and butterflies. Keep the soil around this pretty shrub consistently moist through rainfall and routine watering. In late winter, you want to prune it to keep it tidy.
This plant that needs a lot of water thrives when you have it in zones three to nine, and the flowers are a showy white. It loves partial shade to full sun, and it can get up to six feet wide. So, you want to give it room to spread out. It’s not resistant to deer.
20. Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
The final plant that needs a lot of water is also known as yellow adder’s tongue, and it grows in wet woodlands and alongside streams throughout North America. It thrives in shade gardens, and it loves being around ponds. It features stunning yellow flowers in the springtime before it goes dormant for the season. You can grow it from seed, but it takes roughly five years before it flowers, so most gardeners choose to get mature plant offshoots to speed up flowering.
To grow this plant successfully, plant it in zones three to eight in partial shade to full shade. The bright yellow flowers will stand out in the shaded conditions, and the soil should be moist, acidic, and humusy to keep it happy. It’ll grow between three and six inches tall, and it’s not resistant to deer.
We’ve outlined 20 pretty plants that need a lot of water, and you can mix and match them to fill in wet areas in your yard or garden to get a lush, full look. Some are pickier than others with their growing conditions, so make sure you choose plants with similar growing conditions to get a thriving yard all season long.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.