What Plants Will Grow in a Swampy Area?

Choices for Seasonally Wet Soils

Image of fall foliage of swamp tupelo tree.
Swamp tupelo trees have reddish-orange fall foliage and perform well in swampy areas. David Beaulieu

Reader, Christine, who resides in Maryland (United States), wrote in to ask, What plants will grow in a swampy area? In her case, the area in question is a swamp only on a seasonal basis. Such an in-between situation eliminates the possibility of growing truly aquatic plants, which need to be in water constantly. Here is how Christine worded her question, exactly:

"Thirty-five feet from our deck, at the rear of the property, is swamp, in the spring and/or early summer, and it has no trees, etc.

"What would you suggest planting back there that would survive? If we dig a hole, 3 feet from the deck, it also fills with water. I planted crape myrtle trees and they appear to be fine, next to the rear of the house."

The solution to this landscaping problem included some of the following points, designed to help Christine and those faced with a similar challenge with their plant selection. She may not be able to grow all of the most popular landscape plants on this part of her property (although the fact that she has been able to grow crape myrtle there is promising). But this does not mean that she does not still have plenty of choices. She may simply have to expand her plant palate a bit.

A great idea to solve this sort of problem is to visit nearby swampy areas in the wild. See what is growing naturally in such areas. If you see something that you can live with, check for its availability at a local establishment that specializes in native plants.

Below are listed several plants known to grow near swampy areas. Listed first are trees, then shrubs, then perennials. This way, you will have a whole range of plant sizes from which to choose. Do note, however, that the perennial, Joe-Pye weed is actually taller than many shrubs.

Plant Choices for Swampy Areas: Trees

  1. Pin oak tree (Quercus palustris)
  1. Red maple tree (Acer rubrum)
  2. Swamp tupelo tree (Nyssa sylvatica)
  3. River birch tree (Betula nigra)

The swamp tupelo is the best choice here if what you are looking for is something different, a plant that probably no one else in the neighborhood will have. As its name suggests, this is one plant known to grow in swampy areas. It will tolerate some flooding, even though it does not want to be in water year-round. This tree is native to the eastern U.S. Besides its tolerance for swampy ground, its shiny, red autumn leaves may be its best feature. In fact, it is one of the most colorful trees in fall. Plant this tree in a spot with full sun to partial shade. This is one of those plants that want an acidic soil.


  1. Pussy willows (Salix discolor)
  2. Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
  3. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
  4. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
  5. Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata)
  6. Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
  7. Red-twig dogwood (Cornus alba)
  8. Yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)

You cannot go wrong with either pussy willows or winterberry if you enjoy crafts. Who doesn't like to pick pussy willows in late winter or early spring, bring them indoors, and display them in a vase to dispel cabin fever?

If your craft interests are more serious, sprigs of winterberry are excellent for decorating a kissing ball for the holidays.


  1. Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
  2. Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)
  3. Corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus)
  4. Northern blue flag (Iris versicolor)
  5. Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)
  6. Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Northern blue flag may be the prettiest of the bunch. It is, after all, a type of iris, and the irises are among the world's most beautiful flowers. Mentioning "flag" to a gardening friend may provoke the reaction that this may be an invasive plant, but do not be scared off: It is the yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) that is invasive in North America, not the blue kind.

More Ideas

Also try to contact the folks at your local wildflower society for ideas. They can sometimes steer you to native plants that offer solutions to problem areas in a landscape.

Perhaps they could recommend further trees, shrubs, or perennials native to your area that grow in swampy areas and yet do not need to be in water all of the time.