Plant Lists

Plants for Rain Gardens

Soil conditions in rain gardens alternate between wet and dry, making them tough places for many plants to grow. The following plants are adapted to these conditions, though some plants will tolerate more moisture than others.

Each plant is marked according to its flooding tolerance, with 3’s being tolerant of longer flooding, 2’s only tolerating brief flooding, and 1’s indicate plants that tolerant extended drought once established.

All of these plants are native to the southeastern United States in wetland habitats and most are readily available at local nurseries. Wetland plants can generally grow well in moist or well-drained soils, whereas plants adapted to dry soils rarely survive in soggy conditions. How wet a rain garden stays will vary considerably depending on the site where it is installed. Rain gardens created on sandy soils will rarely hold water for more than a few hours. On these sites it is most important to choose plants for their drought tolerance. Rain gardens created on loamy or silty soils could pond water for 1-2 days (if your site ponds water for more than 3 days, you should consider creating a wetland). On these sites, choosing plants tolerant of extended flooding is critical to success.

Remember you are not limited to planting just within the excavated area! Extending plantings around this area will help the rain garden to blend in with the overall landscape. Any plants adapted to the site conditions can be used outside of the excavated area.

Large Trees (over 30’ tall)
Red Maple (2) – Acer rubrum
River Birch (1,3) – Betula nigra
Green Ash (3) – Fraxinux pennsylvanica
Black Gum (2) – Nyssa sylvatica
Willow Oak (1,2) – Quercus phellos
Willows (3) – Salix species
Nutall Oak (1,2) – Quercus nuttalii

Southern Magnolia (1,2) – Magnolia grandiflora
Swamp Laurel Oak (3) – Quercus laurifolia

Small Trees (under 30’ tall)
Red Buckeye (2) – Aesculus pavia
Ironwood (1,3) – Carpinus caroliniana
Redbud (1,2) – Cercis canadensis
Fringe Tree (2) – Chionanthus virginicus
Washington Hawthorn (3) – Crataegus phaenopyrum
Possumhaw (1,3) – Ilex decidua
American Holly (1,2) – Ilex opaca
Red Cedar (1,2) – Juniperus virginiana

Chokeberry (1,3) – Aronia arbutifolia
Beautyberry (2) – Callicarpa americana
Sweet Shrub (2) – Calycanthus floridus
Buttonbush (3) – Cephalanthus occidentalis
Pepperbush (2) – Clethra alnifolia
Strawberry Bush (2) – Euonymous americanus
Winterberry (3) – Ilex verticillata
Virginia Willow (3) – Itea virginica
Spicebush (2) – Lindera benzion
Possumhaw (3) – Viburnum nudum

Inkberry (2) – Ilex glabra
Wax Myrtle (1,2) – Myrica cerifera

Blue Star (3) – Amsonia tabernaemontana
Lady Fern (2) – Athyrium felix-femina
Butterflyweed (1) – Asclepias tuberosa
Swamp Milkweed (3) – Asclepias incarnata
Climbing Aster (3) – Aster carolinianus
False Indigo (1,2) – Baptisia species
Boltonia (3) – Boltonia asteriodes
Turtlehead (3) – Chelone glabra
Green and Gold (2) – Chrysogonum virginianum
Mouse Ear Coreopsis (2) – Coreopsis auriculata
Tickseed (1,2) – Coreopsis lanceolata
Swamp Coreopsis (2) – Coreopsis rosea
Joe Pye Weed (3) – Eupatorium dubium
Swamp Sunflower (3) – Helianthus angustifolius
Swamp Mallow (3) – Hibiscus moscheutos
Texas Star (3) – Hibiscus coccineus
Blue Flag Iris (3) – Iris virginica
Cardinal Flower (3) – Lobelia cardinalis
Cinnamon Fern (3) – Osmunda cinnamomea
Royal Fern (3) – Osmunda regalis
Garden Phlox (2) – Phlox paniculata
Moss Pinks (1,2) – Phlox subulata
Rudbeckia (1,2) – Rudbeckia fulgida
Green Headed Coneflower (3) – Rudbeckia laciniata
Goldenrod (3) – Solidago rugosa
Ironweed (3) – Vernonia novaboracensis

Ornamental Grasses
River Oats (1,3) – Chasmanthium latifolium
Muhly Grass (1,2) – Muhlenbergia capillaris
Panic Grass (1,3) – Panicum virgatum
Indiangrass (1,2) – Sorghastrum nutans

Sedges and Rushes
Lurid Sedge (3) – Carex lurida
Fringed Sedge (3) – Carex crinita
White-topped Sedge (3) – Rhynchospora latifolia
Woolgrass (3) – Scirpus cyperinus

Non-native perennials and ornamental grasses suitable for rain gardens include:
Liriope (1,2) (Liriope muscarii and L. spicata)
Siberian Iris (2) (Iris sibirica)
Daylily (1,2) (Hemerocallis hybrids)
Rain Lilies (3) (Zephyranthes species), Crinum Lilies (3) (Crinum species)
Japanese Painted Fern (2) (Athyrium nipponicum)
Maiden Grass (1,2) (Miscanthus cultivars).

1. Plants that, once established*, can withstand considerable drought ( 3-4 weeks without rainfall)

2. Plants that grow best in moist to average soils and will only tolerate short periods (1-2 days) of flooding.

3. Plants that will tolerate longer periods of flooding (3-5 days), but will also grow in moist to average soils.

*Establishment usually takes 1-2 years for trees and shrubs and 1 year for perennials.

Charlotte Glen, Urban Horticulture Agent,
North Carolina Cooperative Extension – New Hanover County Center
For more detailed information and images of each plant, visit the Plant Fact Sheets available on NCSU’s Urban Horticulture website:

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