Wet, marshy sites demand the right plants. There are a few shrubs that thrive in this kind of environment:


The round, pincushion-like flowers of buttonbush bloom in late spring.

Photo Credit: Mark Fishbein

Red twig dogwood

The glowing stems of red-osier dogwood are a welcome winter sight.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer


The softly fragrant flowers of sweetspire cascade over the plant in spring.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Pussy willow

The soft gray catkins of pussy willow say hello to spring.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis; hardy in zones 5-11). A little-known plant, buttonbush is native to the US and usually found beside a pond or lake, often growing in water. It has glossy leaves and fragrant, white flowers that are borne in a ball and resemble round pincushions. (These eventually become the fruit for which the plant is named.) The fruit is dull yellow and remains on the plant all winter. Depending on the climate, this shrub can grow from 3-10 feet tall. It’s a little rangy, so don’t put it in a formal area. Instead, place it in a natural setting, on the edge of a pond perhaps, or in a water garden with lots of other natives. Plant in sun or partial shade.

Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea, also known as Cornus stolonifera; hardy in zones 2-6). One of the shrubby dogwoods, red-osier has blood-red stems in winter, which can be seen after the plant drops its leaves in fall. It bears creamy-white flower clusters in late spring, then produces white fruit in autumn. Give it full sun and it’ll grow 6-8 feet tall. The shrub looks best when planted in groups. For a little variety, there’s also a yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’), with golden-yellow twigs instead of red.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica; hardy in zones 5-9). Sweetspire bears honey-scented, white, bottlebrush-like flowers in spring. When in bloom, the branches and flowers create a cascading effect. The shrub has great fall color, too, turning reddish-purple and lasting a long time. Native to the eastern US, it grows 3-5 feet tall in full sun or shade. It’s easy to find a place for sweetspire, whether it’s in a mixed border or beside the entrance to your garden shed – use it anywhere you can enjoy its fragrance. You might also try ‘Henry’s Garnet’ sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’) for large flowers and great fall color. It’s an all-around great plant and widely available.

Willows (Salix; hardy in zones 4-8). Willows are an old-fashioned plant, reminiscent of our grandmothers’ gardens. The soft catkins of pussy willows (the “pussies,” which are actually male flower buds) and early spring bloom make them easy shrubs to love. There are lots of kinds to choose from, including French pussy willow (Salix caprea; hardy in zones 4-8), with gray catkins; Japanese pussy willow (Salix chaenomeloides; hardy in zones 6-8), with huge white or pink-tinged catkins; and black pussy willow (Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’; hardy in zones 5-7), which has red stems and black catkins. Pussy willows grow best in full sun. For smaller gardens, choose black pussy willow, which grows 6-10 feet tall, or the 12-foot-tall Japanese pussy willow. French pussy willow grows the largest, reaching 15-25 feet tall and about 10-12 feet wide.

Plant some of these shrubs in your marshy landscape and you won’t get stuck in a wet spot!