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I live in the north of England (where it's fairly wet) and have a section of lawn near a fence that is quite mossy and boggy.

I cannot put any drainage pipe in, because the only place to run the water would be into the next door neighbour's driveway ... the run-off water already heads that way but to put in deliberate pipes would not be a good idea.

It has been suggested that I plant a line of shrubs or bushes along the fence line to help dry out the soil.

I have talked to the local gardening stores (who were not very informative) and searched on Google (but I don't know the right search terms).

What I am looking for is a plant that grows no more than 6ft high, preferably 3-4ft and likes water. The current suggestion is a large number of different colored heather (which so far is looking possible).

Update: The site is along a fence line. Width is anything up to 18in or so. It gets the sun from early morning till late afternoon. Not sure about the soil acidity at the moment. It can be built up if needed. I would classify the soil as very soft and damp for most of the year.

Update #2: Width could be wider if I can get a better looking border. The reason the lawn is wet is that any rain (and we tend to get a reasonable amount) falls on the patch of grass outside my fence (public land) which then flows down onto my lawn and then off to the neighbour's. My lawn is flatter and hence the water pools there. The sewers and fresh water supply pipes are far enough away from the wet patches and should be fine, I have recently had the plans from the council detailing where they are. The area does begin to dry out if we have several hot days in a row, so I think that if we actually get a summer it might dry out completely.

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Odd suggestion, Heathers - both Calluna and Erica like open, sunny situations, in well drained soil, but which isn't drought prone. That's not the same thing as a permanently wet and boggy situation, so I wouldn't recommend either family of heathers for this situation.

I don't know whether you can make a border along there, and if you can, how deep it could be from front to back, but as you've got this nice, wet, boggy area, I'd suggest you use plants which love that and create a mixed border with them.

Suggestions include: Gaultheria and Andromeda (both shrubs) but the latter can only be used if the soil is lime free, or acidic in nature. Perennials which would do well in such a situation are: Ligularia; Astilbe; Darmera; Gunnera (gets really large); Hosta; Persicaria; Rodgersia; Trollius; Zantedeschia aethiopica 'Crowborough' (this one's hardy outside, unlike other varieties of this plant); Filipendula; Cimicifuga; Lythrum; Primula; Lysimachia; Caltha. Some of the sedge type grasses will work there too, have a look at Carex and Cyperus varieties. Also 3 ferns will like that situation: Matteuccia; Onoclea; Osmunda.

Some of these will require more sun or shade than others, so bear that in mind when considering choices. There are some smaller Salix (willow) varieties that will grow well there, but most of them tend to spread rapidly below ground, so it may not be a good idea to use any of them if the border isn't large.

UPDATE: I see your comment says 18 inches depth to the area - that makes an attractive, varied height mixed border difficult to achieve because all the plants will be in a row, so would be useful if you could widen the border along there. Salix (willows) soak up a lot of water - but all would need much more space than that because of their rapidly increasing roots.

I'm wondering why that area is so wet - if it's lower than the rest of the garden, then maybe that's why, but is it possible you've got a leak from a supply pipe, or from the sewer system, or it's sitting over a spring of some kind. If you've not done so already, might be worth investigating why that area is so troublesome, if it's the only spot where this happens.

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  • Andromeda grows quite well in an alkaline bog/wet area where I am. And, surprisingly the Clethra flowering shrubs do very well in wet/boggy. Trollius as well, the key seems to be roots with access to water but not waterlogged so plant high. – kevinsky Aug 28 '12 at 16:55
  • Hmm ... thanks for the list of suggestions. Seems I have a lot of reading to do. I have updated my question with additional information about the location and size limits. – Andrew Norman Aug 29 '12 at 8:03
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The key to what you plant in this area is the condition of the soil (other than "wet feet.") In addition to soil pH, is it sandy, clay, loamy soil? Would there be a way to berm up the soil giving you additional height along the fence line and more options for varying textures and seasonal displays? 18" width, depending upon the length of the space, is plenty for accent, or anchoring shrubs with mixed perennials in between. I like to make my beds bird and pollinator friendly which usually means a focal point of some kind for the birds to bathe and the bees to drink. The differences in height and texture of the plants selected will mitigate "long views" into the neighbor's driveway, contain the space, solve the boggy issue by building up the soil slightly and create a new feature in your yard good for aesthetic and environmental appeal. Once you have determined the baseline for your soil, select plants that don't mind "wet feet" and plenty of sunlight. Give the plants plenty of room, be patient, and edit your list. Simple for such a small area is better. Good luck! It sounds like solving this "problem" could be a lot of fun.

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Boggy conditions plants will not dry out the bog. They do use some water but will not alleviate the boggy conditions. If (by miracle) the bog plants did dry out soil, they'd die and you'd get bog conditions again from the run-off. Could the council be persuaded to fix drainage on the public land because it's inundating private property?

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I can assure you from years of experience in landscaping that running to the government (local or not) is NOT the answer.

One person that I know of who did this had his property labeled as a WETLAND and then was required by law NOT to drain it!!!

Boggy condition plants will indeed help to dry out a boggy area. They are not likely to completely dry it out because there is a continuous supply of water. They can turn a wet area into a damp area. You want to be careful of deep rooting plants as they can eventually cause you root problems. Try grasses and ferns that are viable in the soils conditions you have.

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If you planted a whole bunch of trees, and gave them extra potassium, it might help (potassium helps plants to absorb water). I think sheer number of plants is going to help more than planting a small number of the perfect plants/trees (although that may still help, depending on how wet it is). The more plants you have, the more water should be used.

Lots of broad leaves on mature plants seems to increase the amount of water that plants use (especially if it's windy). So, thirsty, broad-leaved plants may help (especially if they're not designed to trap humidity in the leaves—flat leaves, as opposed to leaves with dips and pockets inside, should work best, but it really depends on the plant, too). The bigger they are (the more leaf surface area is exposed), the more water they should use. Of course, one problem with the broad leaves, is they'll probably block the ground and/or sun to help keep the ground damp.

Mulberries have extensive root systems that could probably use up a lot of water, especially considering how big the trees are and the abundant, broad leaves. They can be drought-tolerant, but it seems they like water, too (I'm not sure about swamps, though). You wouldn't want to plant these by a house or a sidewalk, though (as the roots may disturb them, and fallen berries may get on people's shoes, and stain carpets—unless they're a non-staining mulberry).

A web search seems to indicate that alfalfa might be a good choice for a swamp. Apparently, Californian's who grow alfalfa are sometimes criticized, due to how much water it takes. I'm not sure how much it'll help, but it's a thought.

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Actually, from what I understand, some plants can dry out wet areas.

There are basically 2 types of plants that can live in bog-like conditions: (1) plants that can grow in wet conditions but do NOT dry out the area (e.g. Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)) and (2) plants that can grow in wet conditions and actually do DRY OUT the area (e.g. Red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), willows (Salix), Silver Maple)

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Install a dry well. That's what I did and I never had an issue with standing water/boggy ground again. https://www.thisoldhouse.com/how-to/how-to-install-dry-well

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  • 1
    KyloP, welcome to Seasoned Advice! Your answer might raise a few eyebrows, because technically you are not answering the question, which asks for plants. As your suggestion seems to be a viable option (given long enough dry periods, which may or may not be the case here), I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt. Please take a moment to take the tour and browse our help center, especially How to Answer. – Stephie Feb 21 '18 at 20:50
  • Hi Stephie! Glad to be here. In the How to Answer section it states 'What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative. The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”.' While they talk about running pipes is not a viable option the answer I offered does not involve running pipes laterally which was their issue with running pipes. My interpretation of the question is, "I have standing water in my yard, here are my thoughts on how to fix it, but what do you suggest?" – KyloP Feb 22 '18 at 15:45
  • As I said: I'm ok with it, others might see it differently. – Stephie Feb 22 '18 at 15:49
  • Totally understand. Just wanting to clarify for those folks that might see it differently. – KyloP Feb 22 '18 at 15:55

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