Today’s blog is about what plants you can grow in wet soils and similar conditions

So I am sure it has become quite obvious that we are heading into our rainy season, where gardens and soils are wet and stay wet. Most of the time the water will drain but sometimes it doesn’t, for example if you have a very clay soil. Today’s blog is a short list of plants and trees which grow well under damp, waterlogged conditions as well as plants which grow along and in water courses. This list is only some of the options of plants which can be used.

Shrubs and trees

Freylinia lanceolata

This shrub occurs naturally in moist areas so it perfect for planting along banks and streams and near dams and ponds as well as damp waterlogged areas. It is not completely dependent on this moisture though so can be grown in other parts of the garden as long as it receives good watering. It is very effective as a screening plant as well. This shrub or small tree has a wonderful weeping habit and will grow about 4,5m high and wide. From late summer through to autumn honey scented bells appear attracting butterflies and other pollinators, which in turn attract insectivorous birds.

Gomphostigma virgatum

The common name of this shrub is River star and it occurs growing naturally along river and water courses throughout South Africa. It is not really appropriate for stagnant water areas. This hardy evergreen shrub, growing to about 1m high and wide has a lovely grey foliage and blooms profusely all year round with spikes of white flowers. This is a great plant for the bird garden as supposedly birds use the juvenile branches for nest building because they are flexible. This shrub needs to be pruned back after winter to encourage a suitable shape and likes a sunny position as well as likes water, so if not planted in a naturally damp area then please make sure that it receives adequate watering.

Phygelius capensis

This hardy, evergreen semi-shrub bears beautiful tubular flowers throughout summer. The type that is commonly available is the hybrid Phygelius ‘candy drops’ fuchsia pink and cream. This shrub will ultimately grow about 1m high with attractive dark green glossy foliage. The flowers attract butterflies, bees and nectar feeding birds like sunbirds as well as insect eating birds. This shrub is fast growing and hardy, and can be planted in sun as well as semi-shade and thrives in damp parts of the garden or if well watered. Phygelius should be pruned back after every flowering and be allowed to grow back again to maintain health and shape.

Some trees which can be planted in damp conditions are Searsia pendulina, Acacia xanthophloe, Ilix mitis, Syzygium guinense, Combretum kraussii & erythrophyllum, Buddleja saligna & salvifolia.

Perennials & Bulbous plants

Iris species

All of the species of this plant enjoy wet conditions but be careful as some like to grow in ponds or water bodies like Iris laevigata (Water Iris) and then others like to grow rather in damp (not waterlogged) soils. The plants come in a variety of colours dependant on type and flowers are large as well as colours being flashy and bright. My ultimate favourite is the deep blue varieties which are just so eye catching. Most of the irises bloom spring and summer. The growing conditions vary according to which Iris you will be planting.


This is classified as a summer bulb although technically it is not actually a bulb. These plants boast veined, paddle-shaped leaves in greens, bronzes and variegations and flashy blooms which stand on tall stems. Flowering is profuse and continues from late spring throughout summer and often into autumn. The flowers come in many different vibrant colours. Canna’s do extremely well in very wet soils so can be planted near water features and boggy areas. Sunny areas are best for planting but they also tolerate semi-shade. Please note though that hybrid canna’s must be chosen as one also gets alien invasive types which should not be planted.

Zantedeschia aethiopica

Arum lilies will vary in height according to which type they are but in general reach heights of about 0.6-1m high (if they are in shade can get taller). They sport large lush arrow head like leaves and the flowers appear in mainly from August through to January although they can produce the odd flower at other times of the year as well. The most common flower colour is white but you also get a variety with a creamy pink spathe and rose pink throat named ‘Marshmallow’ and a one with a green and white spathe named ‘Green goddess’ which is a large grower. There is also a variety with spotted white on the leaves. Arums are most commonly found growing wild along the coast in large colonies in marshy areas. They can actually tolerate salt laden air. The leaves of arums have water stomata, which means that they can discharge excess water which means they can deal with waterlogged areas. They prefer a sunny spot but can also grow in some shade but will not flower much in shade.

Wachendorfia thyrsiflora

The marsh butterfly lily is one of my favourite with its bright golden flower spikes which appear from spring through to mid-summer. This is a tall evergreen geophyte with broad sword like leaves. The flower spikes can reach up to 2m in height so a serious focal point. This plant is found naturally growing in permanent marshes, seepages and streams (Western Cape and Eastern Cape). This plant can be grown in non-marshy areas but then it must receive ample watering. It can be grown in full sun or even semi-shade. This plant can spread vigorously via new rhizomes and stolon like outgrowths so make sure to give it enough growing space.

Aristea capitata & ecklonii

Aristea’s are very common to the Cape, and have long strap-shaped evergreen leaves which stand about 1,5m tall and from October to November tall flowering spikes appear in shades of blue and sometimes pink. The flowering spikes can be left on the plan and will turn a rich brown colour which is still attractive. Plants require full sun or semi-shade and require lots of water during winter and spring which is why it is wise to plant them in areas which are naturally wet. Aristea ecklonii is a much smaller grower and prefers slightly shaded areas along forest margins etc.

Kniphofia praecox & other species

Red hot pokers are mostly herbaceous perennials although some are deciduous. They bear dense, erect spikes of small tubular flowers in either winter or spring dependant on the type. The flowers are produced in shades of red, orange, yellow and cream. Kniphofias form large clumos of arching leaves which are long, narrow and tapering. Most Kniphofia species are found growing near rivers, or in spots which become damp or are marshlands for part of the year. Red hot pokers are great for attracting nectar feeding birds such as sunbirds. These plants can either be planted in full sun or semi-shade and prefer to remain undisturbed.

Grasses, sedges and reeds (restio)

Elegia tectorum & other species

Cape thatching reed is classified as a restio and is described an upright, symmetrical, tufted reed with thin dark green stems topped with dark brown flowers in spikes appearing in autumn. The ultimate height and width is usually 1-1,5m x 2m width. This plant is found growing naturally in marshes and is great for planting alongside ponds and in general moist soils. It can be planted in other areas as well but must just receive adequate watering. These plants prefer full sun and plenty of air movement and do well when planted in beginning of rainy season. Please take note of the fact that these plants do not want to be cut back and stems will die back and not come up again properly, so make sure you plant them where they can grow to full size.

Juncus effuses & krausii

Common rush is an evergreen perennial herbaceous plant with a vertical habit, which produces multiple culms arranged in dense tufts that grow about 1m high. In summertime coppery inflorescences appear along the sides of culms. These plants tend to self-seed. This plant does well in sunny wetlands and water gardens and prefers a full sun to semi-shade position. This plant can also be grown in normal soil but must be kept watered. It does have a preference for acidic soil. Unlike Elegia, Juncus can be cut back to regrow. Birds make nesting sites out of Juncus.

Cyperus papyrus, textilis & other species

Cyperus papyrus as far as I am concerned is the most attractive and impressive of this family but there are many other types like textilis which is also tall and Cyperis papyrus nana which is a beautiful smaller growing variety. Cyperus papyrus is an aquatic plant suitable for large water features, along streams and in waterlogged soil. This plant sports bright green, smooth, rounded culms (flowering stems) which can reach a height of 3m sometimes larger. These stems will bend eventually creating an eye catching effect. During summer these stalks bear small brown spikelets/ flowers. Cyperus prefers full sun but can also grow in semi-shade. The feather duster like flowering heads are often homes to numerous species of birds. Try not to plant in very windy spots as plant can be seriously damaged.

In conclusion, if you have areas in your where you have noted that wet conditions are affecting the health of your plants rather stop fighting a losing battle and plant accordingly. Have fun with it and think of creating a natural stream, ponds etc. Remember when you do this you are creating a whole new environment, which means attracting new and more nature to your garden. Do some homework here as you can create a masterpiece which becomes a focal point in your garden.

Blog written by Jessica Ruger

Most images are sourced from Wikimedia with thanks.

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