Southwest Regional Reports

Regional Picks: Plants for Wet Soil – California

Fine Gardening - Issue 136
plants for wet soil in california

Lots of gardeners deal with at least one area of their property that never seems to dry out. As horticulturist Joseph Henderson explains in his article Plants for Soggy Spots, lots of plants flounder in these kinds of conditions: “Without a steady supply of air, waterlogged roots begin to gasp and eventually rot, killing the foliage above.”

Thankfully, a soggy spot doesn’t require a complete garden overhaul; it just requires the right plants that thrive in consistently wet conditions. Below, you’ll find plants for wet areas in California. To find even more plants for wet soil, check out Joseph’s article: Plants for Soggy Spots.


1. ‘The Rocket’ Ligularia

The Rocket Ligularia
Photo: Susan A. Roth

Name: Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; fertile, consistently moist soil

The leaves of this plant are boldly serrated and about the size of a salad plate. In summer, tall black stalks with yellow flowers shoot up like fireworks—an exceptional display—making them my favorite flowers for shade. On hot, dry days, the leaves of ‘The Rocket’ will wilt if it is not provided with enough water, so plant it in bog areas.


2. Royal Fern

Royal Fern
Photo: Kerry Ann Moore

Name: Osmunda regalis

Zones: 2 to 10

Size: Up to 6 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; rich, moist to wet soil

The soft-textured green foliage of royal fern is balanced by the contrast of rigid, cinnamon-colored stalks that shoot up from the middle of the plant. It makes a striking focal point near (or in) water. I particularly like the gentle way it moves in the wind when grouped in woodland plantings. The soft fronds offer yellow fall color before going dormant in winter.


3. ‘Illustris’ Elephant’s Ear

Illustris Elephant’s Ear
Photo: Kerry Ann Moore

Name: Colocasia esculenta ‘Illustris’

Zones: 8 to 11

Size: 3 to 6 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial shade; fertile, moist to wet soil

I think all elephant’s ears are awesome, but ‘Illustris’ has to be my favorite. The contrast of blackish purple between bright green veins reminds me of an exotic African mask. Plant it in bogs, along the edge of streams, or near a water feature where you can enjoy the mercurylike effect of water rolling off the large leaves. ‘Illustris’ will also grow in only slightly moist soil.


4. ‘Queen Victoria’ Cardinal Flower

Queen Victoria Cardinal Flower
Photo: courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.

Name: Lobelia ‘Queen Victoria’

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; fertile, consistently moist soil

I have had success planting ‘Queen Victoria’ among low-growing plants and in bog areas, borders, and pots. The vivid red flowers pop from summer to early fall and keep blooming as the stalks grow vertically. Even without flowers, the burgundy leaves add interest to any planting. Without enough water, cardinal flower will wilt; it recovers quickly, however, once its thirst is quenched.

Erik Jones owns Garden Escapes, a landscape design and consulting firm in San Luis Obispo, California.

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