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Gardens, or parts of gardens, that bake dry in summer and become waterlogged in winter pose specific challenges to gardeners when choosing plants. Few plants tolerate both extremes. Our recent work may help you make informed choices to grow in your garden.
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Silver Shadow'
Waterlogged soil in winter and dry soil in summer is a problem for plants. Wet soils begin to deprive the roots of oxygen, causing them to die. At the other extreme, drought means as moisture is lost through plants’ leaves and stems, they also wilt, desiccate and die. Winter wet when plants are dormant is less damaging than spring flooding when plants’ roots start to respire.
According to climate experts, more frequent and more sudden extremes of wet and dry are predicted for the future. During autumn-winter 2014, the RHS surveyed horticultural professionals and the wider gardening public to find out which plants they have experienced as being able to cope with wet winters and dry summers.
The list is a starting point and complements the field research and lab-based work the RHS Science teams undertake. The survey extends existing RHS Gardening Advice information, experience and desk research.
There are a few steps you can take to improve drainage on poorly drained soils including:
This list is the result of asking gardeners their experiences of which plants have proven tolerant of sitting in water for at least a week in winter and then drying out in summer. It is worth bearing in mind that a number of other conditions may exist, such as shade, frost pockets and whether the water is oxygenated (flowing).
The list includes the plants that are most reported as being tolerant. Others may be as tolerant, but less widely grown. Download the full list of plants (pdf).
Cultivars have been chosen for their RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) status where possible. Otherwise, good cultivars that are widely available have been selected.
Amelanchier 'Robin Hill’Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Silver Shadow' AGMCratageus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet' AGMMagnolia grandifloraMalus (crab apple)
Buddleja davidii ‘Nanho Purple’ AGMCornus alba ‘Sibirica AGMFuchsia magellanica ‘Riccartonii’ AGM Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ AGMPhysocarpus ‘Diablo’ PBR AGMRosa rugosa ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’ AGMViburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ AGM
Alchemilla mollis AGMAstrantia ‘Ruby Wedding’Geranium Rozanne = 'Gerwat' AGMGeum ‘Mrs J. Bradshaw’ AGMHemerocallis ‘Burning Daylight’ AGMHosta (Tardiana Group) ‘Halcyon’ AGM Iris sibirica ‘Tropic Night’ AGMIris unguicularisLythrum salicaria ‘Robert’Persicaria affinis ‘Darjeeling Red’ AGMPhlox paniculata ‘White Admiral’Stachys byzantinaVerbena bonariensis AGM
Calamagrostis brachytricha AGMMiscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Fontäine’ AGM
Aquilegia vulgarisBorago officinalis Digitalis purpureaKnautia macedonicaVerbena bonariensis AGM
Clay soilsClay soils: plants forDrainage: installingDrought-resistant gardeningDrought-resistant plantsGardening on wet soilsRaised bedsSandy soils: plants forTrees for a changing climateWaterlogging and floodingWaterlogged lawnsWet soils: plants for
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