Spiranthes odorata (Ladies Tress Orchid)
Characteristics: Features 9-18 inch, dainty spikes of small, white, fragrant blooms in late summer through early fall (usually until first frost).
Requirements: Full to part sun, protection from hot midday sun (east or north facing sides of house ideal in mid-summer). Keep moist or wet.
Native Status: Native to marshes and bogs from Texas, east to Florida, and north to New York. (not documented in PA). Endangered or extirpated in parts of its range including MD, KY, and TN.
Winter Care: Hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9. After a frost in late fall, remove the flowering stems and seedpods to stimulate root and daughter-plant growth. Can be kept outdoors (best with some protection) or put in an unheated garage or refrigerator-keep moist. (please see “Overwintering Your Bog Garden” section for details).
Fun Fact: Genus name comes from the Greek words speira meaning “spiral” or “twisted object” and anthos meaning a flower for the spiral inflorescence.
Sabatia kennedyana (Marsh Pinks; Plymouth Rose-Gentian)
Characteristics: A colony forming perennial, with small foliar rosettes on the tips of stolons, featuring 1-2 foot stalks of fragrant, 1-2 inch wide, pink flowers throughout the summer.
Requirements: Full sun to part shade. Keep moist or wet.
Native Status: Native to coastal marshes and floodplains from the Carolinas and Virginia, to Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as Nova Scotia (not documented in PA). It grows in areas with fluctuating water levels, which eliminate competing vegetation as it is a poor competitor with other plants. Endangered in RI; threatened in other parts of its range.
Hardiness: Not very winter hardy in our zone, but can be kept in an unheated garage or refrigerator over winter during its dormancy-keep moist. (please see “Overwintering Your Bog Garden” section for details).
Fun Fact: It is one of the few species of Sabatia that is reliably perennial among the 18 or so mostly annual or biennial species that are native to North America
Dionaea muscipula (Venus Flytrap)
Characteristics: A small, carnivorous plant of only 2-8 inches tall, with up to 7 leaves that are divided into two regions: a flat, photosynthetic “blade” and a trapping mechanism that makes this plant famous! The plant sends out a “tall” spike of white flowers in late spring or early summer depending on conditions.
Requirements: Full sun to part shade. Keep wet. Allowing it to dry will kill it fast.
Native Status: An incredibly isolated species, the flytrap is native only to bogs and wet savannahs of North and South Carolina, specifically within a 60-mile radius of Wilmington, NC. It is a species of special concern in NC. Populations have naturalized in Florida, New Jersey, and even Washington state due to escaped-cultivation (not documented in PA).
Hardiness: This species is winter hardy to USDA zones 7-9 without winter protection but can be overwintered in up to zone 5 with some winter protection (please see “Overwintering Your Bog Garden” section for details). Never allow to dry out.
Fun Fact: Within the trapping mechanism, there are a few, very small “trigger” hairs that signal the mechanism to close when an insect (or any object) brushes against it. Once a trap closes, it will usually stay closed for 24 hours if nothing has been caught; if prey has been caught (or food offered), the trap can remain closed indefinitely or until the prey is digested.
Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea (Northern Purple Pitcher Plant)
Characteristics: A subtle, carnivorous plant, with pitchers up to 15 inches tall, but average between 6 and 8 inches. Deep red and violet striations mixed with yellow-green make this plant very unusual and beautiful. The produce a tall stalk that often bares a single red and green flower, often upwards of 15-18 inches tall. Rain fills the pitchers, which act as traps for unsuspecting insects that fall in and drown, and are late digested.
Requirements: Full sun to dappled shade. Keep wet. Allowing it to dry will kill it fast.
Native Status: Native in areas that were “recently” glaciated from Northern Virginia, north to Maine, and west to Minnesota; all Canadian provinces except for Yukon and Nunavut; as well as Washington State and Alaska. PA native! Vulnerable or threatened in many parts of its range, including MD and NY.
Hardiness: Hardy from zones 3-7. They require a cold winter dormancy under 55°F.
Fun Fact: While the pitchers of most species will only last 1 year at most, the pitchers of this species can persist for over 2 years as long as winter damage is not too severe. The plant replaces withered pitchers as needed (fading ones can be pruned off).
Drosera filiformis (Threadleaf sundew)
Characteristics: An interesting carnivorous plant; a small rosette of thin, thread-like leaves covered in sticky “dew” that is used to trap its insect prey. Small, pink-purple flowers are formed on small stalks throughout the summer. Considered to be the most attractive sundew species for any garden!
Requirements: Full sun. Keep moist or wet.
Native Status: This species is native to bogs, fens, and coastal plain ponds in Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts; historically present in CT and RI but now extirpated. It is endangered in FL.
Hardiness: Hardy from USDA hardiness zones 5-8. They require a cold winter dormancy under 55°F.
Fun Fact: Unlike the flytrap and the pitcher plant, which digest their prey “inside” a structure, the sundew digests its prey right on its exterior. One of the easiest digestions to view. The dew is an appealing lure for insects, not just by chance!
Vacciunium macrocarpon (Wild Cranberry)
Characteristics: A trailing, woody vine with glossy, dark green foliage and sporting small pink or white flowers in late spring that eventually produce edible cranberries! Cranberry plants can spread quite a bit, with vines getting long. They can be pruned to reduce competition within your bog garden or moved to another container (such as a hanging basket).
Requirements: Prefers part shade but can take full sun with adequate moisture.
Native Status: This species is native to bogs from South Carolina north to most of eastern Canada, and west to the Pacific Northwest north to Canada. It is endangered in Illinois and threatened in Tennessee.
Hardiness: Hardy from USDA hardiness zones 5-8. They require a cold winter dormancy under 55°F.
Fun Fact: An edible plant for your bog garden! Yes, your cranberry should eventually produce some berries for you—keep in mind though, critters like them too. Did you know that most cranberry bogs in New England are natural cranberry bogs that have been managed for over 150 years? Newer bogs in the mid-west tend to be man-made and the first commercial cranberry bogs were managed in New Jersey!
Additional Species: Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) and Scouring-rush Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale); both species are very adaptable and hardy to our zone, prefer moist to wet conditions. Both are native to Pennsylvania’s wetlands.
Important Notes for Your Bog Garden
Bog plants have adapted to live in wet, acidic soils with low nutrient availability (hence the occurrence of carnivorous plants, which have evolved to get nutrients from insect prey). Your bog garden will not appreciate excess nutrients, so never add fertilizer or compost of any kind.
The potting media is a specific mix of horticultural perlite, peat, and sphagnum moss. Perlite provides drainage, peat provides acidity, and along with sphagnum, absorbs and sustains moisture levels. Never allow your bog garden to dry out – that is a quick death sentence for most of the species in it, plus peat can become hydrophobic when dry, making it difficult to regain proper moisture levels.
We recommend watering your bog garden every day, especially if it is in a hot, sunny location but except for after a good rain, of course. When watering your bog garden, do not use hose or faucet water—it contains too many excess nutrients, such as salts and metals. You should use reverse-osmosis (distilled) water or collected rainwater. An occasional drink of other water is okay, but excessive watering with it will kill some of your plants over time.
If your bog garden becomes crowded over time, you can carefully divide it into other containers using a potting media as described above (an equal mix of sand, peat, and sphagnum). Be sure to choose a container with no drainage holes, as your bog garden wants “wet feet”.
Over-Wintering Your Bog Garden
To create an aesthetically interesting and diverse container, we have chosen the most interesting and expressive native bog plants possible. That said, not all the species have the same growing requirements, especially when it comes to winter hardiness because a few species are truly native either a little further south or in coastal areas where warmer microclimates tend to exist. So, we do recommend some form of protection for your bog garden in the winter, which can be achieved in a few ways:
The best method would be to bury your bog garden to the rim in your garden bed, cover with burlap or fabric, and mulch over it with pine needles, boughs, or broadleaves. The geothermal heat of the Earth will keep your pot from freezing, and it will still receive outside moisture. If you live in an area with a lot of snow, the snow is often the only insulation you will need—but we tend to see less snow in our winters now compared to a few decades ago, so we recommend the mulch.
If burying is not an option, or you do not feel safe doing that, you can bring your bog garden into an unheated garage or extension. The heat from your attached house will keep the bog from freezing, but since the garage itself is not heated, the plants can still enter their dormancy if it is below 55°F. If this space gets anywhere above 55°F, some plants will not survive because they depend on a cold winter dormancy. You must make sure not to let your bog get dry during dormancy either if it is inside.
The only place in your home that may be suitable for overwintering would be your refrigerator, but this can be challenging. Some plants may not survive this method.