Shrub Plantings for Wet Areas

Winterberry in Snow
December 15, 2020


 As fall turns to winter and the first of many snowstorms of the season comes and melts, many homeowners are quick to discover, before the next snowstorm, there is always a spot or two in their lawn that just naturally stays a little more wet than the other areas of the lawn. The reasons behind this occurrence can be as simple as a slope issue that naturally drains to that one spot of the yard, there could be a natural low spot on the property, or there could be complex soil structures changing from a sandy-loam to a predominantly clayey soil structure with each of those scenarios being costly and laborious to fix and change. Following is a breakdown of a few shrub species that will grow well in Nebraska that are adapted to having wet feet.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) 

Buttonbush is a deciduous shrub native to much of the US and is natively found in the southeastern Nebraska and can be reliably grown in most parts of Nebraska. It can grow as a small shrub up to 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Buttonbush is adapted to wet areas with saturated soil and full sunlight and will tolerate water depths up to three feet, this shrub can be used for erosion control on wet sites. Use buttonbush in a rain or water garden, around a pond or along streams and boggy areas with poor drainage.

Buttonbush is a multi-stemmed shrub with a rounded crown that requires little to no pruning. Its leaves are glossy, bright green up to 6 inches long.  Don’t be alarmed if it doesn’t break bud around the same time as other shrubs, leaves emerge late in the spring. Flowering occurs from June through September with small, fragrant, white, tubular flowers in round clusters that give it a pincushion-like effect.  Flowering is poor in the shade or on dry soils.  After flowering, Buttonbush sets fruits that are reddish-brown, showy and persist late into winter. Buttonbush has exceptional wildlife benefits attracting many types of pollinators, waterfowl, birds and mammals.

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) 

Nannyberry is a native small tree, or a suckering shrub found along the Missouri River from Dakota County down to Sarpy County, but can be grown as far north as Maine and Manitoba allowing it to be grown throughout the state. It is commonly found in wet areas such as: low woods, swamp borders, or near stream banks but it can tolerate drier sites. Nannyberry can be grown in full sun to partial sun with optimal growth being when it receives five hours of sun each day.  Nannyberry can develop a serious Powdery Mildew problem if it receives too much shade.

Nannyberry grows to a height of 15 to 20 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide adorned with glossy dark green leaves. Spring and fall is really when this shrub shines.  In May and continuing into June, Nannyberry is adorned with small creamy white flowers in small flower clusters. Flowers give way to clusters of football-shaped berries, changing color from green to yellows and reds, and finally to black with a powder blue bloom, from early September through early December. Starting in early fall the dark glossy green leaves give way to deep burgundy red sometimes transitioning to maroon in color. 

Common Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Common Winterberry, a deciduous species of holly, is a dense multi-branched shrub, native to the eastern US and Canada. Winterberry can be grown on most sites in Nebraska. Commonly found on the edges of swamps, damp thickets, low woods, and along ponds and stream banks, an excellent choice for wet sites. Common Winterberry can be grown in full to partial sun with optimal growth being when it receives at least five hours of sun each day, it preforms best in full sun in acidic soils.

Winterberry can grow to a height of 3 to 12 feet. but more commonly grows to a height of 4-6 feet. this shrub is adorned with 1 ½ to 3 inch long leaves, that are a glossy, dark green with a lighter green underside during the summer. In spring, stalked flowers mature in clusters with small inconspicuous greenish to yellowish white flowers.  It blooms from April to July and is dioecious meaning that both male and female plants are needed for fruit to be set. Female plants produce red-orange drupes that mature in the fall, this bright red fruit of Common Winterberry persists throughout the winter and provide outstanding winter interest to the landscape and wildlife habitat.

By JordenSmith, UNL Area Forester



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