Maryland and Virginia Native Plants: Ten Easy Plants for Moist Areas

Plants that like to get their feet wet.

I used to think soggy ground was a gardening liability but now I realize it's a treasure. There are some phenomenal natives that thrive in moister areas. These ten are super easy to grow and all but the fringe tree are widely available should you be lucky enough to have some wetter ground.


Ground cover:

Green and Gold Ground Cover

Green and gold creates a carpet of nearly evergreen plants only a couple of inches high. Green and gold is easy to grow and spreads. It blooms with yellow flowers in spring and then sporadically for the rest of the growing season. It's a stand out ground cover.


Perennials:

Cutleaf Coneflower in August

Cut leaf coneflower (Rudbeckia lacianata) is a tall rudbeckia, 5′ to 6,′ with yellow flowers around a lime green center that bloom in August. They grow best in moist soils and full sun. Since these are tall, doing the "Chelsea chop," cutting them back by at least a third in late June really helps to limit their height. After the petals fall, the seed heads last for more than a month or so.

Blue Lobelia in August

Blue lobelia flowers thrive in sunny moist spots but can do well in moist spots in dappled shade as well. A stand of these can be quite the garden highlight in August when they bloom. They are short lived plants but reseed where happy, which is in moist spots. If you have the right conditions for this, I am sure you will be glad you planted it.

Blue Flag in Spring at Mt. Cuba Center

Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) is the native iris and, like most irises, does best in moist areas, They grow in full sun or dappled sun. These bloom in late spring and sword like foliage adds texture and contrast for much longer.


Shrubs:

Dwarf Fothergilla in Spring

Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) is a small shrub thrives in moist areas. Its flowers are pops of spring cheer. Fothergilla blooms mid-spring and has fiery orange and red colors in fall. It grows to about 4 feet high and wide. It can grow in sun to part shade and naturally grows in moist areas. Large fothergilla has the same attributes if you are looking for a larger shrub.

Winterberry in Fall

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) gives you berry laden branches and classic scenes of red berries in snow meaning a shrub with really strong fall and winter interest. Winterberries do well in partial shade or sun — the sunnier the spot, the more berries. Winterberries can also be pruned into lovely vase shapes or trees. They can also be left alone and will be fine.


Winterberry are suckering plants. Suckering occurs much more readily in moist areas. If you are looking to grow a hedge that will attract birds galore and feed them well into winter, a suckering winterberry stand may be just for you. If you have a smaller garden as I do, it's quite easy to cut any suckers back and grow them as single plants.

Summer Sweet in July

Summer sweet (Clethra alnifolia), a July blooming shrub also grows really well in moister areas. The bloom period for these candle like sweet smelling flowers is several weeks. In fall, the foliage is a fantastic yellow. Summer sweet grows strongly in sun or part shade in moist soils. Summer sweet grows to about 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. There are also dwarf summer sweet as well as cultivars with pink flowers.


Trees:

River Birch in Spring

River Birch (Betula nigra), an easy to grow tree, thrives in moist or regular soil in full sun or part shade. It typically grows as a multi stemmed tree. That fabulous bark provides year round garden interest. This is a tall tree growing up to 60' in the right conditions. There are smaller cultivars such as 'Little King.' Another cultivar commonly sold in nurseries in the mid-Atlantic is "dura-heat" which is more drought tolerant and slightly smaller maxing out at 40 feet. This Morton Arboretum fact sheet lists the cultivars commonly available. If you want the straight species, it may be easier to order by mail or shop at one of our local native plant nurseries.


Sweet Bay Magnolia in Late Spring

Sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia Virginiana) is a fantastic addition to the garden and one that will have friends asking “what is that?” This tree grows best in moist sunny or partly shaded areas. It may reach up to 35 feet when fully mature. Sweet bay blooms in late spring and early summer. with white, lemony scented flowers. The blooms are smaller than the iconic white flowers of the much larger grandiflora magnolias The trees are semi-evergreen. For the past 7 years, our sweet bay magnolia has held its leaves through winter. The silvery, sometimes shimmering, leaves add texture and color. The seed pods are also gorgeous. This tree subtly stuns!


Fringe Tree in Spring

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a superb choice if you need a small tree for a moist area. The unusual white blooms appear in April or May, shortly after dogwoods have finished blooming. In addition to the lacey blooms, fringe tree adds yellow fall color. This tree requires little to no maintenance and grows in full sun or part shade. Native fringe tree is typically not sold at garden centers so native plant nurseries will be your best bet.


Our garden does not have any truly naturally moist areas. Directing a down spout or two to a planting bed (at an appropriate distance from the house) has created a moist enough area for plants like these to flourish. It's a chance to get your feet wet with these natives, so to speak!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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