Shade Plants For Wet Sites: Choosing Wet Tolerant Shade Plants

Green Fern Plant Infront Of Large Rock
moist shade
(Image credit: scarletsails)

As a general rule, plants need sun and water to thrive, but what if you have an excess of wet soil and are lacking in the sun department? The good news is there are plenty of shade plants that like wet conditions. Read on to learn about shade plants for poor drainage.

About Shade Plants for Wet Sites

You may think finding wet-tolerant shade plants is a challenge. Often, when looking up shade plants, you will get a list of shade plants for dry areas, not shade plants for poor drainage or wet sites. But there are many, and shade plants for wet sites aren’t limiting either. There are interesting, moisture-loving plants for the shade that bloom or have unique foliage shapes and colors.

A wet site might be an area with poor drainage or a natural or manmade water feature in a shaded area. In either case, the best place to start is by investigating natural areas in your USDA zone that mimic these conditions. Indigenous plants are more likely to thrive. Look for areas such as swamps, riverbanks, lakesides, or other naturally damp areas.

Shade Plants for Poor Drainage

Finding shade plants for areas of poor drainage can be difficult. These areas lack oxygenated soil. Combine this fact with shade and most plants will rot and die.

Just because finding shade plants for poor drainage areas might be difficult doesn’t mean there aren’t any. For instance, many grasses make suitable wet-tolerant shade plants. Bowles’ golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) and gold fountain sedge (Carex dolichostachya ‘Kaga Nishiki’) are two examples of moisture-loving grass plants for shade and poor drainage.

Groundcovers are another consideration for shade plants that like it wet, plus they are low maintenance. Blushing Bride spiderwort and Concord Grape spiderwort are two such shade plants for wet sites.

Perennials provide summer color and height but die back in many areas in the winter. Bridal Veil astilbe, with its shock of white blooms, looks terrific on a backdrop of darker green leaves, and astilbe is also available in other shades, from fire engine red to blushing pink.

Rodgersia will add some height coming in at 3-5 feet (1-1.5 m.) with tall, pink flower spikes.

Other Wet Tolerant Shade Plants

Most ferns are also suited to wet sites, although many of them need well-draining soil. They bring that lush look to a site along with their varying heights and hues.

  • Cinnamon fern produces 4-foot (1 m.) long, blue/green fronds interspersed with cinnamon fronds.
  • Wood ferns grow up to 3.5 feet (1 m.) in height with a classic, vase shape and semi-evergreen fronds.
  • Tokyo ferns grow 18-36 inches (45.5-91.5 cm.) tall and work well as filler plants amongst taller perennials and shorter ground cover.

Of the shrubs, shade plants that like wet conditions include:

Groundcover wet tolerant shade plants include:

Perennial shade plants for wet sites include:

There are even trees that tolerate somewhat damp, shady sites such as:

To fill in any empty spaces, tuck in some shade and damp-loving annuals such as amethyst flower, forget-me-not, or nemesia.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.