Jessica Walliser
April 24, 2014

13 Trees, Shrubs and Perennials to Turn Your Muddy Yard into a Garden You’ll Love - Photo by Jessica Walliser (
Photo by Jessica Walliser

One of the basic tenants of responsible gardening is to work with the conditions you have, rather than trying to change them. If you have a low-lying, poorly drained or waterlogged area in your yard, for example, you can create a bog garden rather than installing a drainage system or filling it in.

Thankfully, there are many plant choices available for waterlogged soils, and many of them are native and/or very low-maintenance. For the best results, design a boggy garden around these plants for a beautiful, no-mow, low-maintenance garden. Here are a few of my favorite soggy soil-loving trees and shrubs to get you started:

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Virginia or sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
A personal favorite, this tree reaches only 15 to 20 feet at maturity.  It’s a native and is fairly self-sufficient.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
This beautiful native shrub has white, golf ball-like flowers that attract butterflies.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
This is another native small tree (pictured above), though there’s a Chinese variety, too. It has gorgeous white drapes of flowers in late spring.

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
A shrub with green, chartreuse or wine-colored leaves and white or pink flower clusters, depending on the variety, elderberry produces dark berries that are great for making jam. (Read here about how the flowers can be used as an anti-viral.)

Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
A shrub with white elongated flower clusters, it’s sweetly fragranced and attractive to bees and butterflies.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
A deciduous holly that bears brilliant red berries, male and female plants are needed to produce the bird-magnet fruits.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
This medium-sized shrub bears creamy-white flowers in spring and boasts a stunning burgundy color in fall.

Once you have your trees and shrubs in place, tuck a few of these perennials in between:

  • Siberian bugloss (Brunnera)
  • Turtlehead (Chelone)
  • Japanese iris (Iris ensata)
  • Bleeding heart (Dicentra)
  • Bee Balm (Monarda)
  • Forget-me-not (Myosotis)

Happy muddy gardening!

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