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Dozens of Thirsty Plants That Absorb Lots of Water | Shrubs, Trees, and Ferns!

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Here are the best plants that absorb lots of water. And they’re vital for all gardeners – because even the finest lawns can develop issues with excessive moisture. Heavy rain, inadequate drainage, and soil repacking after construction projects can all contribute.

Pooled water can cause mud pits in your yard or allow water to soak down into the earth around your home’s foundation. Over time, the unchecked mess causes wet conditions, leading to structural damage and the need for expensive remediation.

Nobody likes that!

That’s why it’s good to grow plants that soak up water on your property, where needed, to minimize water pooling. Thirsty plants can help transform oversaturated areas in your landscape into beautiful spaces you can use and enjoy.

Many different types of plants require a lot of water, including some trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, tall grasses, and more. Continue reading our thirsty plant guide to learn about dozens of them. And how to select the best to drink up all that excess water on your property based on your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.

Get ready to turn your soggy, mosquito-infested landscape into an ecologically stable, beautiful yard.

Let’s begin!

Choosing Plants That Absorb Lots of Water for Your Soggy Landscape

Robust, thirsty wetland plants aren’t always available at local nurseries. Consider contacting your community college arboretum or local horticultural society if that’s your case. The botanists there should be able to advise you about which types of plants are best for your region.

(If you want to get less fancy, ask your local plant nursery.)

Either way – consider the following thirsty plant types.

Herbaceous (Non-Woody) Plants

bright yellow cinnamon fern growing and basking in the sun
Have a damp or watery yard? Try growing ferns! Our favorites for moist parts of your garden are Royal Fern, Holly Fern, Ostrich Fern, and Cinnamon Fern. Cinnamon ferns are one of our favorite thirsty plants that absorb lots of water. They frequently grow alongside streams and riverbanks – making them an excellent rainforest or wet garden addition. They handle moist and boggy soils without fuss. And the cinnamon ferns are also attractive. It has thick, leafy foliage in the summer, which turns a striking yellow in the fall.

Herbaceous plants are not woody, meaning they don’t develop bark like trees and shrubs. There are MANY herbaceous plants, as the category includes almost all biennials and annuals. As well as a large percentage of perennials. Some examples include:

  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)
  • Indiangrass (Sorghastrum elliottii)
  • Giant Phlox (Phlox carolina)
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

Need more? Here’s a helpful database with thousands of low-maintenance native wetland plants, many of which can get used to promote biodiversity. And soak up a lot of water to provide natural protection against excessive moisture accumulation around your home and property.

Rain Gardens

lovely black eyed susan flowers blooming on a rainy day
Rain gardens are perfect opportunities to add an army of thirsty plants that absorb lots of water. Here you see some beautiful Black-eyed Susans withstanding the pouring rain. But Black-eyed Susans aren’t the only crops for your rain garden. Smooth Alder, Spiked Lobelia, St. Johnswort, Maidenhair Fern, Red Chokeberry, Flame Willow, Golden Ragwort, and Sneezeweed are excellent rain garden plants. If you want a lawn for your rain garden, consider growing Switch Grass or Pennsylvania Sedge. (But remember to choose native plants when possible – and account for the plant’s unique sunlight, temperature, and nutrient requirements.)

According to the US EPA, rain gardens are sunk areas in a landscape accumulating rainwater that runs off rooftops, driveways, and roadways. Rain gardens allow the water to soak down into the earth. A rain garden also has loads of thirsty plants that help to purify the runoff water while providing shelter, food, and clean water for songbirds, butterflies, and numerous other wildlife species.

Shrubs & Trees

beautiful and healthy mulberry tree growing in a grassy field
Want to put your water table in check with elegant and hefty plants that absorb lots of water? Then don’t forget about shrubs and trees! Mulberries are one of our favorite options. Mulberries are famous for growing nearly anywhere – and they adore moist soils. That said, Mulberry trees don’t like standing water. And if you decide to grow Mulberry trees, remember that they need lots of sunlight. (They want as much sunlight as you can offer them.)

Shrubs and trees grow deep-penetrating rooting systems that search for, find, and soak up tons of water! Incorporating these woody plants into your landscaping plans will help to dry out overly saturated areas, making them less attractive to pesky insects like mosquitoes and able to be used productively.

Just be sure not to plant them too close to your home because their roots can cause damage to your foundation and sewer system. Also, stretching branches allow insects and animals to travel readily to your roofing system, which is never desirable.

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USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

Before we dive into specific plants that soak up a lot of water, it’s good to understand a bit about USDA plant hardiness zones. There are 13 separate zones throughout the United States, each with two sub-categories. Zone 1 is the coldest, and Zone 13 is the warmest.

Take a minute to familiarize yourself with these zones with this interactive GIS-based map. That way, you’ll better understand the details of the plants below.

Alright, here we go!

Plants that Absorb Lots of Water – Our Official List

Thousands of plants grow throughout the United States and soak up tons of water. Let’s review several of the best options and give you some good ideas about where to begin when planning your landscape to decrease water accumulation.

These crazy plants love to drink!

Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

lovely aronia berry shrub growing in the garden
We’re starting our list of plants that absorb lots of water with one of the best-thirsty plants. Aronia berries – or black chokeberries! Black chokeberry is a lovely deciduous shrub with edible fruit. They’re surprisingly easy to grow and tolerate various growing conditions – including moist, wet, and boggy soil. We also wrote an epic guide explaining the difference between chokecherries and chokeberries. We invite you to check it out if you consider growing these hidden garden gems for their fruit or foliage.

The Black Chokeberry plant is a deciduous scrub bush that typically grows between 3 and 6 feet in both height and diameter of spread. It shows off enticing white blooms in springtime and turns a reddish-purple hue by autumn when it produces black berries that deer like to dine on.

Aronia melanocarpa:

  • Thrives in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8
  • Likes partial to full sunlight
  • It needs evenly moist soil

This plant grows naturally in damp thickets, bogs, and swamps. If you plant this invasive bush to absorb water, you should remove the sucker roots to stop its spreading.

This plant, however, is not safe for animals such as dogs and chickens.

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

southern blue flag growing in the middle of a pond with colorful flowers
Southern Blue Flag Iris is one of the best perennial plants that absorb lots of water. They’re ideal for growing alongside your duck pond, backyard stream, or water feature. They’re famous for thriving in ludicrously wet conditions and flourish freely in the US and Canada alongside riverbanks, bogs, and marshes. (If you decide to grow Southern Blue Flag Iris, whatever you do, don’t let it get dry!)

Blue Flag Iris exists all over North America, especially nearby marshes, bogs, moist meadows, and freshwater shorelines. It typically grows between 2 and 3 feet tall and about the same in spread. During late springtime, this pretty plant shows off blue and violet blossoms.

Iris versicolor:

  • Grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 9
  • Likes either full sun or partial shade
  • Is susceptible to insect damage

Deer and most other animals do not tend to eat Blue Flag Iris, a plant that requires a lot of moisture to thrive. It even grows well in standing water with poor drainage.

Managing the Wet Garden: Plants That Flourish in Problem Places | John Simmons
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Here's an excellent all-in-one guide for any gardener grappling with a soggy landscape. It's Managing the Wet Garden - Plants that Flourish in Problem Places by John Simmons. It's an excellent resource for any homesteader who wants a lush, colorful garden - even if your backyard is wetter than you'd like. The book also contains a handy list of conifers, shrubs, ferns, climbers, bulbs, and herbaceous plants that can thrive in wetlands.

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05/09/2024 08:56 am GMT

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

blooming cardinal flower with a ruby throated hummingbird visitor
Cardinal Flowers are herbaceous bellflowers and arguably some of the most striking plants that absorb lots of water. They’re perfect for rain gardens, water gardens, or any moist corner in your yard. Cardinal Flowers also attract legions of hummingbirds and butterflies – making them an excellent addition to any bee lawn, pollinator garden, or aquatic feature requiring more friendly pollinators.

Found easily along woodland ponds, streams, and swamps, Cardinal Flower loves rich, moist-to-wet, organic soil. When mature, it stands up to 4 feet high and gets to be about 2 feet in diameter.

Lobelia cardinalis:

  • Tolerates temperatures in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9
  • Produces rose-colored and white flowers
  • Likes either some shade or full sun

Deer and other animals don’t typically like eating Cardinal Flower, and you can help it grow better by placing a layer of mulch around it to help retain heat and moisture.

Giant Elephant Ears (Colocasia spp.)

massive elephant ear plant with fluffy foliage in the middle of the woods
Elephant ears are thirsty perennial plants that grow massive, heart-shaped leaves that resemble elephant ears. They enjoy growing in moist, tropical, sunny, and warm conditions with lots of organic matter. But they also tolerate part shade. Many homesteaders also cook and eat the foliage. However, we warn you that if you cultivate Elephant Ears for food, you must cook them first! The raw plant contains calcium oxalate crystals, a skin irritant, and many consider the uncooked plant toxic.

If you live in a southern state, Giant Elephant Ears grow very well in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 11. They grow extra-large, awesome-looking arrow/heart-shaped leaves, and produce white/yellow blooms, which often hide under the leaves for protection from the burning sunshine.

Colocasia

  • Likes full sunshine or a little shade here and there
  • Begins dying when temps fall under 45 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Grows best in moist-to-wet, acidic soil

Giant Elephant Ears generally grow tall, up to 8 feet or more. Like many other plants, their spreads reach diameters similar to their heights. These tropical-looking plants need to be constantly moist, and they can also do well in standing water. Beware: deer like to eat their flowers and young leaves!

Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos)

striking hibiscus bush with massive pink reddish flowers
Hardy Hibiscus absorbs lots of water and attracts swarms of beneficial pollinators. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds flock to their showy white, burgundy, pink, orange, or red flowers. One of the main things we love about Hibiscus is that some cultivars tolerate wet soil – and even floodlike conditions. Hibiscus has thick, fluffy foliage and breathtaking flowers that usually bloom in the summer and fade in the early autumn. 

Hardy Hibiscus is well known for its love of water. It works efficiently, absorbing moisture in wet landscapes, and tolerates cold temps well, especially for a Hibiscus variety.

Hibiscus moscheutos:

  • Develops red flowers and or pink flowers with red-tinted eyes in late summer to autumn
  • Reaches heights of 3 to 4 feet and spreads between 2 and 4 feet
  • Grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9

Hardy Hibiscus is a woody-stemmed perennial that likes full sun and needs moist-to-wet soil. If you live in a colder zone, it’s good to prune these plants back to ground level during the winter.

Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)

tall and thick rough horsetail plants growing in raised garden beds
Horsetail is a herbaceous perennial famous for flourishing in the soggiest growing conditions. You might find Horsetail growing in or around wetlands, swamps, bogs, marshes, and near ponds, lakes, or streams. In the image above, you’ll notice that the Horsetail gets confined to pots. That’s because they’re famously easy to grow – and invasive. Horsetail can help absorb lots of water. But if left unchecked, their reproductive spores can be tricky to contain. They spread fast – and far.

Horsetail is a robust plant that withstands various environmental conditions, including moist or wet soil. These plants grow wild in saturated woodlands positioned by swamps, marshes, ponds, and other bodies of water. High humidity levels are welcome!

Equisetum hyemale:

  • Grows up to 4 feet in height with a spread between 1 and 6 feet
  • Thrives in partial shade or full sun
  • Is not deer-resistant

Horsetail has been used, at least for centuries, as a natural medicine. Healthline says the following. “It’s believed to have multiple medicinal properties and has traditionally been used to treat wounds; to enhance skin, hair, and bone health; and as a remedy for various other health conditions.”

A non-flowering, rhizomatous plant, Horsetail grows in a large slice of the USA in Hardiness Zones 4 through 9. It’s an aggressive spreader, and if you plant it and do not want it to overtake the area, be sure and remove the underground rhizomes before they start branching out.

Inkberry Bush (Ilex glabra)

healthy inkberry plant growing in the middle of winter
Inkberry is an evergreen and tall upright shrub native to swamps, wetlands, and bogs. They’re not the most beautiful-looking plants that absorb lots of water. But they’re famous for withstanding occasional flooding – making them a hardy plant for your rain garden. We also read that they’re an underrated honey source. The honey comes from bees that love snacking on the Inkberry flowers. We think it’s a good trade!

Indigenous to the eastern USA, Inkberry Bush likes dwelling in swamps and bogs. It’s a wetland shrub that grows as tall and wide as eight feet. It produces blackberries in early autumn, but only if other inkberry plants nearby are of the opposite sex. And no worries, deer don’t generally like to eat these evergreen shrubs.

Ilex glabra:

  • Thrives in soil that’s either moderately moist or wet
  • Grows well in either partial shade or full sun
  • Does well in Hardiness Zones 4 through 9
  • Develops greenish-white blossoms

If you plant these bushes in your rain garden, they will not require a lot of pruning. However, if you want to shape them, you should do it in the early springtime before the real growth for the season starts.

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)

black and orange monarch butterfly visiting a joe pye weed flower
Are you looking for beautiful plants that absorb lots of water and help friendly pollinators? Then consider Joe Pye Weed. Here’s a plant that loves moist to wet soil and can help your garden come to life by attracting butterflies and honey bees. Pollinators can’t resist Joe Pye Weed’s pinkish or purple flowers. They’re the perfect plant for a rain garden crop with plenty of pollinators. They can also grow surprisingly tall – upwards of ten feet.

Joe Pye Weed can grow up to 7 feet tall but typically only spreads about 2 feet. It’s an ideal perennial plant for sunny rain gardens and wet flower beds. It develops pleasant-smelling, pale-purple flowers and attracts songbirds and butterflies, which is always a bonus for gardeners.

Eupatorium maculatum:

  • Grows widely throughout the US in zones 3 through 9
  • Requires full sun and rich, acidic, boggy soil
  • Not appealing to the appetites of deer

Do you live in a warm growing zone? Then your Joe Pye Weed might do better with afternoon shade. And it may require some protection during the winter if you live in a colder growing zone. You’ll want to cut this plant to the ground in late winter so it vigorously grows in the spring.

Leopard Plant (Ligularia dentata)

beautiful yellow leopard plant blooming on a beautiful summer day
Leopard Plant is a herbaceous perennial ground cover crop with striking yellow flowers and fluffy, large, tropical-looking leaves. It’s a beautiful plant that prefers moist soil and can help you absorb plenty of water. We’ve also read that Leopard Plant can wilt and fade if it sits in dry soil. And unlike many showy leaf and flower combinations, Leopard Plant can grow effortlessly in the shade – making it the perfect understory water-sucking crop. 

Leopard Plant is an excellent addition to wet gardens or water-based landscape features. Talk about plants that absorb lots of water!

With consistent moisture and no dry spells during early summer, it displays beautifully showy yellow to orange composite flowers, much like daisies, and its big, greenish, leathery leaves reside within deep purple bands.

Ligularia dentata:

  • Typically grows to about 3 feet high with somewhat smaller spreads
  • Does well in either full sunshine or partial shade in hot weather
  • Thrives in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8

Being a thirsty ornamental, the Leopard plant likes its soil to be extra-moist or wet. Considerable amounts of moisture are imperative. It requires consistent, deep watering so the surrounding dirt never gets dry. And be careful because deer will feast on this pretty plant that soaks up a lot of water.

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)

pussy willow branches growing alongside a wintry riverbed
Pussy willows are attractive plants that absorb lots of water. They’re not known for their green leaves or lovely flowers. Instead, they’re famous for their breathtaking catkins! Most Pussy Willow cultivars love growing in moist soils. They prefer full sunlight – and they grow shockingly large! They can easily reach upwards of 15 feet tall or higher – but you can cut them down to size and manage their growth if you wish. 

Let’s get right to it: Pussy Willow is so named because of the fine and silky hair, called pussy fur, that it develops when its big flower blossoms burst open.

Now you know!

This narrow shrub typically grows about 15 feet. And 12 feet wide and develops multiple dark-gray trunks covered in scaly bark. You probably recognize its silvery catkins, bright-green deciduous leaves, and yellow flowers.

Salix discolor:

  • Grows good in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 8
  • Can thrive in partial shade or full sunshine
  • Likes moist-to-wet, rich soil that drains well

Pussy Willow shrubs bloom early in the spring, and their March-April catkins are a valuable food source for early pollinators. Of course, with the pollinators come loads of chickadees, goldfinches, and other lovely songbirds. Oh, and by the way, deer don’t like eating Pussy Willow.

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Plants That Are Safe For Grazing Areas and Soak Up Water

If you want to soak up water and prevent mud in your chicken yard or pastures, some of these plants may help:

  • Purple Coneflower
  • Bee Balm and Most Mint Family Plants
  • Comfrey
  • Sunflowers
  • Chicory
  • Red Clover
  • Yarrow
  • Sainfoin
  • Hairy Vetch

More Plants that Soak Up Water Very Well

All of the above plants are thirsty. And they absorb tons of water to help you dry out your soggy landscape. However, they are just grains of sand in a desert, as thousands of other plants do the same.

Here are several other plants that like plenty of water to consider that grow well throughout the United States and northern Canada:

  • Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides)
  • Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
  • Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
  • Common Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
  • French Rose (Rosa gallica)
  • Japanese Iris (Iris ensata)
  • Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)
  • Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
  • River Birch (Betula nigra)
  • Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos)
  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Again, your local plant nursery is an excellent resource for learning about the best water-holic plants where you live. Visit and ask the horticulture experts there about what’s available and the moisture levels they like best.

Final Thoughts About Thirsty Plants That Absorb Lots of Water

Whether you need to dry out a swampy patch in your yard, soak up excess water that threatens your home’s foundation, or enhance the aesthetic appeal of your landscape and make it usable, many plants can assist you.

Beware of plants that develop aggressive rooting systems if you plan to plant them near your house or other structure because the roots can penetrate deeply, possibly damaging your foundation or even your sewage lines.

Have fun exploring rain garden plants that soak up water. You’re sure to learn about some that intrigue you. So many colors, shapes, sizes, and fragrances to select from! And remember, when your roots are deep, you need not fear the storm.

Thirsty Plants That Absorb Lots of Water Resources, Guides, and Works Cited:

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3 Comments

  1. It would be nice if there were comments about planting these in a pasture where it gets really water logged and how they are for animals that might eat them: cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, etc.

    My pasture has several areas where water collects. I’d like to plant some of these, but they would be available for all of the above animals to eat. Are they harmful to livestock??

    I also have a rain fed pond: fish and ducks/geese visit there frequently as do pheasants, occasionally: would these plants harm them?

    Otherwise, great post. Once I find the answers to these questions I’ll be planting some of these for next fall/winter

    1. Hi Carol! What a fantastic idea. I added another section for plants that thrive in wet conditions and that are safe for cows, goats, sheep, horses, and chickens. I hope that helps!

      Have a lovely day, Carol! πŸ™‚

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