Like people, plants have specific needs that when met, allow them to develop to their full potential. Selecting plants whose cultural requirements suit the conditions of your garden is the best way to assure success and cut down on time caring for them. Among the most important considerations of a site is soil drainage. Most plants will thrive in moist, well-drained soil. If your drainage is less than perfect — too slow or too fast — it can be improved somewhat by adding organic matter, but it is often the best course to start with plants suited to your existing soil.
Some soils drain slowly and tend to stay damp most of the time; for these soils, select plants that tolerate abundant moisture. Other soils may be light or sandy and tend to dry out quickly; for these soils, plants that tolerate drought will perform best. Fortunately, there are plants suited to both of these conditions.
Plants for Wet/Damp Soils
Many trees thrive in heavy or damp soils; Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), and Arborvitae (Thuja ‘Green Giant’) are just a few. Many outstanding shrubs tolerate wet soils, including Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius Little Devil™), Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea Arctic Fire™), the native Winterberries (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’ and ‘Southern Gentleman’), and American Cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum ‘Wentworth’). Many perennials are adaptable to moist soils. Some of the top choices for such conditions are: Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema), Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis), Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra), Beebalm (Monarda), Brunnera macrophylla, Hibiscus moscheutos, and Ferns.
Plants that Tolerate Drought
If your conditions dictate that drought tolerant plants are in order, your choices are equally abundant. Good trees for dry conditions include Ginkgo, Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos), Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), and Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata). Drought tolerant shrubs include: Butterfly Bush, such as Buddleia davidii ‘Purple Emperor’, Bush Clover (Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’), and Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’). Choices for perennials that thrive in droughty conditions are extensive. Some of the best include: Yarrow (Achillea), Hummingbird Mint (Agastache ‘Tutti Frutti’), Tickseed (Coreopsis ‘Sienna Sunset’ and ‘Mercury Rising’ and Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’), Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea), Blanket Flower (Gaillardia Gallo® Peach), Lavenders, and Catmint (Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’).
By realistically assessing your garden site and doing a bit of research to select plants that will adapt to your conditions, your plants will be happier – and you will be too!