20 Perennial Crops for Wet Soil

From Tenth Acre Farm, by Amy

20 Perennial Crops for Wet Soil: Wet soil can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardeners. If you're dealing with damp soil, here are some tips for improving the condition, and 20 perennials crops that might grow well there.

Photo by maximusina via Flickr

Wet soil can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardeners. If you’re dealing with damp soil, here are some tips for improving the condition, and 20 perennial crops that might grow well there.

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Growing in Wet Soil

Wet soil can be a challenge for most crops because it can drown plant roots that require oxygen to breathe. This can cause roots to rot, fungal diseases to develop, and ultimately, death.

Note: Wet soil should drain within 24-48 hours after a rain in the potential garden area.

Most crops that are tolerant of wet feet will not be able to live in soil that is permanently wet with surface water, such as in a bog or wetland. The following suggestions are for areas that become boggy directly after a rain, but that drain within 24-48 hours afterward, and dry out between rains.

If your growing area meets this qualification, take heart! By managing the growing area properly and planting the right crops, this challenging site can become a cherished and productive garden area.

How to Prepare a Wet Area for Successful Growing

The first thing you’ll want to do is set up your garden area for success. Raised planting areas will allow your wet-tolerant crops to access the water, but will also allow them to access oxygen for healthy roots and proper uptake of nutrients.

Raised planting areas can come in the form of boxed raised beds or raised planting berms. Which you use is simply a personal preference based on what materials you have available to you, what you want your garden to look like, what type of work you like to do (ex: digging vs. building with wood), and budget. Boxed raised beds in wet soil may decay faster than they would on well drained soil.

In addition to raised planting areas, improving the soil will increase your chances of success. The more organic matter that is in the soil, the quicker the water will evaporate and/or be wicked up. Some examples of organic matter include compost soil, worm compost, shredded leaves, organic hay/straw, or wood chips.

Keep in mind that shredded leaves, hay/straw, and wood chips are better used as a mulch/soil topper rather than mixed into the existing soil.When it’s time to plant, you’ll push them away to plant in the soil. Alternatively, they can be composted with livestock manure prior to applying as a soil amendment. [Get my free 19-page Guide to Organic Soil Amendments.]

Continuing to add organic matter will improve the growing site over time. For best results, be consistent with, and persistent about, regularly scheduled soil improvements.

20 Perennial Crops for Wet Soil: Wet soil can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardeners. If you're dealing with damp soil, here are some tips for improving the condition, and 20 perennials crops that might grow well there.

contour gardening with raised planting berms

Photo by Michael Judd of Ecologia Design

Managing the Water

Managing the water that drains into your wet garden area will improve its plantability (new word?). Often, wet soil is a result of being a low spot where draining water collects. If you can intercept that water before it reaches the low spot, it will give you more planting options.

Some ideas for intercepting the water include contour beds, rain gardens, swales, and terraces. For more reading about each of these options, explore the following articles:

20 Crops for Wet Soil

Now for the fun part: Planting your wet-soil garden and reaping a harvest!

#1: Aronia Berry (Aronia Melanocarpa, common name: black chokeberry)

Aronia berry has recently been dubbed a superfood for its high antioxidant content, even more than blueberries or elderberries. Because they are a tart berry, they are most often frozen for use in smoothies, or made into preserves, liquors, or any other way you enjoy using tart berries. Aronia enjoys acidic soil.

Variety: n/a
Pollination: Self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
Size: 3-6 feet tall
Wildlife: Birds enjoy the berries, but is deer resistant (protect when young).
Harvest window: Late summer through early fall.

20 Perennial Crops for Wet Soil: Wet soil can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardeners. If you're dealing with damp soil, here are some tips for improving the condition, and 20 perennials crops that might grow well there.

Aronia berries

Photo by Wendy Cutler via Flickr

#2: Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

A common garden crop, few people know that asparagus can tolerate temporary wet feet. Wild asparagus is often found growing in ditches.

Variety: Look for ‘Jersey Giant’
Pollination: n/a
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Size: 3-5 feet tall
Wildlife: Much like humans, deer will enjoy those tasty spring shoots, but they will not bother the mature asparagus fronds. Asparagus flowers are popular with pollinators for pollen and nectar.
Harvest window: February through July.

#3: Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

The common blueberry is native to eastern North America. Requires acidic soil.

Variety: Look for ‘Berkeley’
Pollination: Although self-fertile, more than one variety will improve pollination and fruit set.
USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-8
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Size: 4-8 feet tall
Wildlife: The berries are beloved by all 🙁
Harvest window: July through August for most cultivars

#4: Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum Trilobum)

Native to northern North America, highbush cranberry is not related to the more common cranberry sold in grocery stores (Vaccinium macrocarpon), although it resembles it in both appearance and flavor. With an astringent taste, these berries will soften when frozen then thawed, and are best enjoyed prepared in preserves. Substitute them for regular cranberry sauce!

Variety: n/a
Pollination: Self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-7
Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
Size: 6-12 feet tall; can be pruned
Wildlife: Not particularly favored by wildlife, but if they are left on the bush, will be eaten by birds and deer later in the winter after they have softened through several freeze-thaw cycles.
Harvest window: Late summer to early fall.

20 Perennial Crops for Wet Soil: Wet soil can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardeners. If you're dealing with damp soil, here are some tips for improving the condition, and 20 perennials crops that might grow well there.

Highbush cranberry

Photo by InAweofGod’sCreation via Flickr

#5: Lowbush Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon, cranberry)

This is the typical cranberry found in grocery stores, and is commercially grown in artificial bogs. Requires acidic soil.

Variety: n/a
Pollination: Self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-7
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Size: 4-10 inches tall
Wildlife: Birds and other rodents who seek shelter in this low growing plant enjoy the berries. Pollinators appreciate the flowers.
Harvest window: Mid to late fall.

#6: American Red Currant (Ribes triste)

Although many of the popular red currant varieties (like ‘Red Lake’) hail from Europe, the American red currant is native to eastern North America and is the most adaptable to wet conditions. The tart berries can be used like any other tart berry, which I’ve discussed in this article and this one. It is hard to find commercially, and the cultivars may substitute just fine. Try it and see!

Variety: n/a
Pollination: Self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-8
Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
Size: 2-3 feet tall
Wildlife: Since this plant is not widely cultivated for garden use, there is little documentation about wildlife. Some documentation suggests that birds and deer eat the berries, but probably not as a preferred food source.
Harvest window: May to July.

#7: Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis, elderberry)

The flowers and berries are a popular forage crop, native to eastern North America. The purple-black berries are high in antioxidants and are often used for making medicines to promote a strong immune system. They cannot be eaten raw. Rather, they are cooked before consuming.

Variety: n/a
Pollination: Self-fertile, but better yields with cross pollination with other varieties
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-10
Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
Size: 6-12 feet tall
Wildlife: All manner of birds, rodents, and other small mammals cherish the fruit. Deer on the other hand will browse the foliage, but in general, are not interested in the plant. Protect while young. Provides shelter for wildlife; flowers provide nectar for pollinators and hummingbirds.
Harvest window: July through September.

[You’ll find lots more perennial planting ideas in my article about hedgerows.]

#8: Fox Grape (Vitis labrusca)

The fox grape is native to eastern North America and is well known for its popular red ‘Concord’ grape and the white ‘Niagara’ grape used for table grapes, juices, and jellies.

Variety: ‘Concord’
Pollination: Self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-8
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Size: Left to their own volition, grapevines will go on indefinitely. Grapes cultivated in the garden are usually grown on an arbor or trellis.
Wildlife: Many birds and mammals enjoy the berries. Deer on the other hand will browse the foliage, but in general, are not interested in the plant. Protect while young. Pollinators enjoy flowers.
Harvest window: Late summer to early fall.

20 Perennial Crops for Wet Soil: Wet soil can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardeners. If you're dealing with damp soil, here are some tips for improving the condition, and 20 perennials crops that might grow well there.

Concord grape

Photo by D. Calvin Andrus via Flickr

#9: Mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis)

Native to the southeastern U.S., the mayhaw is a species of hawthorn. The berries are popularly harvested for mayhaw jelly.

Variety: n/a
Pollination: Self-fertile, but cross pollination will increase yield
USDA Hardiness Zones: 6-9
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Size: Tree growing to 40 feet.
Wildlife: Many birds and small mammals enjoy the berries and find shelter in the tree. Deer on the other hand will browse the young, but in general, are not interested in the plant. Protect while young. Hummingbirds and other pollinators enjoy the flowers.
Harvest window: April to July.

#10: Mint (mentha, spp.)

Mint family plants are especially tolerant to damp areas. Its versatile in the kitchen, too, and can be used with many dishes from savory to dessert, from fruits and ice cream, to meat-based entrees. But watch out! It will keep running like Forrest Gump and take over your garden. It will even defiantly grow through the drainage holes of a pot to root itself in the ground. That said, it will cover a barren area and reduce erosion.

Variety: any
Pollination: n/a
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-10
Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
Size: 2-3 feet
Wildlife: Because of its strong scent, mint is not enjoyed by wildlife. Pollinators and lacewings enjoy the flowers.
Harvest window: All growing season. It will typically die back in the winter. Keep flowers pruned for best mint flavor, or let the flowers bloom to attract pollinators.

#11: Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris, Fiddlehead fern)

The fiddleheads appear in spring and are a prized delicacy similar to asparagus.

Variety: n/a
Pollination: n/a
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-8
Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade
Size: 2-4 feet
Wildlife: Although small animals may use it as cover, it is not a food source for them.
Harvest window: Pick no more than half of the available fiddleheads from a given plant.

#12: Persimmon (Diospyros, spp, Kaki or Japanese persimmon, American persimmon)

Persimmon is a tree fruit. Kaki or Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is more common in the marketplace, but American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is seeing a revival by those with an interest in conserving and appreciating native species. Eat when soft and ripe.

Variety:

  • Kaki: ‘Fuyu’
  • American: ‘Nikita’s Gift’ (hybrid of kaki and American)

Pollination: self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones:

  • Kaki: 7-10
  • American: 5-9

Sun Exposure: full sun
Size:

  • Kaki: 25-40 feet
  • American: 50-75

Wildlife: The fruit is prized by all manner of animals. It is also the host plant for the caterpillar of the luna moth. Although they love the fruit, deer will not usually harm the tree once it is established (protect while young). Pollinators enjoy the flower nectar.
Harvest window: Fall-early winter. Harvest when soft and ripe. American persimmons are usually harvested after a hard frost when they ripen quickly and fall to the ground, but to avoid bruising they can be picked when fully colored yet still firm, and allowed to ripen off the tree.

20 Perennial Crops for Wet Soil: Wet soil can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardeners. If you're dealing with damp soil, here are some tips for improving the condition, and 20 perennials crops that might grow well there.

American persimmon

Photo by The Fruit Nut

#13: Ramp (Allium tricoccum)

Ramps are in the onion family and native to eastern North America. They grow wild in hardwood forests.

Variety: n/a
Pollination: self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-8
Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade
Size: 6-10 inches
Wildlife: Not a wildlife food source. Pollinators enjoy flower nectar.
Harvest window: Ramps are a spring ephemeral and are harvested in the early spring before the trees above them leaf out. Harvest sustainably by harvesting only a single leaf from each plant so that the plants can come back each year. These ramp leaves are highly prized in culinary circles and can be used as you would chives, green onions, bunching onions, or garlic scapes.

#14: American Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus var. strigosus)

This North American native is more tolerant to wet soils than other varieties of raspberries.

Variety: Look for ‘Heritage’
Pollination: Self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-8
Sun Exposure: full sun to full shade
Size: 3-6 feet
Wildlife: Many birds and small mammals enjoy the berries, while deer and other herbivores will browse the leaves, although the thorns will prevent much damage and their pruning may keep the plants in check. Raspberry thickets provide shelter for wildlife and the flowers are a favorite nectary for pollinators.
Harvest window: The canes are typically ever-bearing, producing a crop mid-summer as well as in the fall.

#15: Rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum, garden rhubarb)

Rhubarb is a perennial herb known for its edible stalks. The large leaves—although poisonous—shade the soil and make a nice living mulch.

Variety: Look for ‘Victoria
Pollination: Self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 1-9
Sun Exposure: full to partial sun
Size: 3-5 feet
Wildlife: Not a known food source for wildlife.
Harvest window: Rhubarb is harvested in the spring when the stalks are 8-10 inches long. Leave at least two stalks per plant to keep plants growing from one year to the next. Do not harvest based on color.

#16: Shellbark Hickory (Carya laciniosa)

This large hardwood tree is typically found in bottomlands and floodplains. Although a slow-grower, it produces the largest and best-tasting hickory nut in its native North America.

Pollination: Self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-9
Sun Exposure: full sun
Size: 75-100 feet
Wildlife: Game birds and small mammals enjoy the nuts. Protect the trees while young, once established are not usually damaged by deer. The flowers are an important source of pollen.
Harvest window: Fall

20 Perennial Crops for Wet Soil: Wet soil can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardeners. If you're dealing with damp soil, here are some tips for improving the condition, and 20 perennials crops that might grow well there.

Shellbark hickory

Photo by University of Guelph

#17: Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa)

Strawberries are a common, delicious fruit. Strawberry isn’t as tolerant to wet feet as other plants listed here. The soil MUST drain within 24 hours.

Variety: Because it is such a popular and well known fruit, there are varieties to match every type of climate.
Pollination: Mostly self-fertile but attract insect pollinators for better fruit set.
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-10
Sun Exposure: full sun
Size: 6-12 inches
Wildlife: Almost all birds and mammals will enjoy strawberries as much as humans. Some wildlife species prefer the fruit while others prefer the leaves. Your best, sure-fire defense is netting/fencing. Flowers are an important nectary.
Harvest window: Strawberry harvests range from late spring to early summer for June-bearing varieties, and into fall for everbearing varieties.

20 Perennial Crops to Grow in Wet Soil: Wet soil can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardeners. If you're dealing with damp soil, here are some tips for improving the condition, and 20 perennials crops that might grow well there.

#18: Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

Spicebush is a deciduous shrub native to eastern North America. Its berries are prized as an alternative to allspice.

Variety: n/a
Pollination: Must have separate male and female plants.
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-9
Sun Exposure: full sun to full shade
Size: 6-12 feet
Wildlife: Deer resistant, but the birds enjoy the fruit and the shelter. Spicebush is an important host plant for the black spicebush swallowtail butterfly.
Harvest window: Late summer through early fall.

#19: Taro (Colocasia esculenta)

Taro is a tropical plant grown most often for its edible roots, while the leaves can be eaten like spinach. Both must be cooked well before eaten.

Variety: Seek the latin name of this plant, as the common name, ‘Elephant Ear’, can refer to a variety of houseplants that aren’t edible.
Pollination: self-fertile
USDA Hardiness Zones: 7-10
Sun Exposure: full sun to partial shade
Size: 4-5 feet
Wildlife: Said to be deer and rabbit resistant, although this doesn’t mean its deer and rabbit proof.
Harvest window: Harvest the tubers before the first frost. The leaves can be harvested as soon as they open, but leave some on the plant so it can regrow.

#20: Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Watercress is a quick-growing water plant.

Variety: n/a
Pollination: n/a
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-10
Sun Exposure: full to partial sun
Size: 6-12 inches
Wildlife: Deer will eat some watercress, but it isn’t their favorite, and the plant grows so quickly that it is rarely devastated.
Harvest window: Watercress is best harvested in the spring when leaves are new. They will add a peppery flavor to salads. You can continue to harvest throughout the growing season by cutting off flower stalks before they can fully form.

Although wet soil can present a challenge for gardeners, all hope is not lost. There are plenty of ways we can improve the soil, and plenty of crops to choose from.



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