Starting a new bog garden

wichywmn(z7 VA)August 10, 2004

I am starting a new carniverous bog garden in the central VA area (Richmond) and would love input on what types of plants can be used. I found an article on a web site telling how to put one in with a liner (same as used for ponds) and was planning to use left over liner from a new water garden/pond I am also adding.

Thanks for any/all help...


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You are a bog gardener after my own heart! Here is the method I've used to create a bog for carnivorous plants as well as native orchids, cranberries, and a bunch of other great plants. It's actually the hand out I give out on the occasions when I've spoken on this sort of garden.

Creating an artificial bog garden

Strange as it may sound the first step to building a bog garden, dig a hole! The area can be whatever shape you like about 18 24 inches deep and slightly raised from the surrounding bed area to keep runoff from entering the bog (this is explained shortly). Locate the bog garden where it will get full sun at least half the day, preferably afternoon sun.
The worst part is done! Now line the hole with rubber pond liner. DonÂt worry if there are sharp roots etc. that could puncture the liner. A few leaks do not matter.
Begin filling the bog with the following combination: add 1 bale (4cuft) of sphagnum peat, mix in 100lbs of silica sand and a big mess of conifer needles (white pine is my favorite). Add rain, distilled, or dehumidifier water till saturated. This is the second hardest job because peat is extremely hydrophobic. Repeat above until the bog is full and fully saturated. Sculpt the "dirt" such that it is low in the center and higher around the edges. Because it is saturated and all the air is worked out, it will not settle.
If you wish to plant a Fen type garden (ph neutral and slightly more nutrient rich) add 50 Â 100 lbs of calcium rich lime in place of the conifer needles. Most species of Cypripedium will prefer this to the bog garden. I made the mistake of using crushed oyster shell, it added too much saltÂso donÂt use this for calcium!
Time to plant! Place plants that like more water near the center of the bog where it is low and plants that like less water around the edges. This works well because the edges dry out far faster than the center. Be patient! A bog garden takes at least 2 years to become well established as a mini ecosystem. DonÂt pull any weeds that you are not sure are weeds! Some really good stuff can come to your garden from peat bales. But keep seed heads of sedges and other more aggressive plants trimmed so more tender plants will have a better chance of survival.
Plants suitable for bog gardens and sources

There are a number of plants that are suitable for bog gardens, many are readily available others far too scarce. Listed here are some of the plants I have had success with and enjoy in my garden. Remember when looking for plants, be sure to buy from sources that propagate their stock or (in the case of orchids) are from documented salvage operations. These are plants that were removed from habitats just before the bulldozers come in to build the next strip mall. This list is NOT exhaustive and you may have luck with plants I have failed with or think IÂm crazy for planting "that".

Sundews, Drosera filiformis, D. rotudifolia, and D. intermedia
Sarracenia Species especially purpurea and those that produce best pitchers in spring.
Venus Fly Trap Dionea muscipula. IÂve found it reasonably hardy here (my plants have survived -5F)
Bog rosemary Andromeda and Heather/Heath Caluna species.
Sedges and rushes especially corkscrew rush and cotton grass (sedge).Be careful some of these can get out of hand!
Gentians, great fall flowers. Patience is required to get them established.
Blue and yellow eyed grasses and smaller members of the Iris (Iridaceae) family.
Call me crazy but no bog garden would be complete without Poison sumac (yes it is in my garden). Most wonderful fall color, but donÂt touch!
Cypripedium or ladyÂs Slippers, C. acaule (pink) for the bog garden, C. reginae (showy), and C. candidum (white) for the "Fen" and C. pubescens (Yellow) and itÂs relatives for a partly sunny spot in the Perennial bed.
Fall blooming Spiranthes or LadyÂs Tresses, Small, fragrant, and a great companion to fringed gentian. These self seed in the bog!
Platanthera species, the fringed orchids, especially P. ciliaris (yellow) and blephariglottis (white). There is also P. psycodes (purple) but it is NOT an easy plant to grow!
Calopogon tuberosa, the grass pink. Showy and easy, Epipactis gigantea, giant hellborine, great if you can find a source, Dactylorhiza spp. (European) a good garden candidate, and Bletilla spp. A great garden subject needing no special care.

See the web sites for the above at click on sources!
If you have questions feel free to contact me at:

It does take some patience to get the garden well established but once it's there it takes minimal work to keep going in the form of limited weeding and watering with only rain or distilled water. Judith, You may also be able to grow additional plants that will not survive Cleveland Ohio winters. If you'd like some sources drop me an email and I'll send them off to you, they are part of the above post but I could not figure out how to separate them (they all ran together when I copied and pasted!)

Happy Bogging!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2004 at 10:29PM
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Hi and welcome to the wonderful world of bogs! Fred got me started too! Out of everything I have going on at my home, my bogs are pure pleasure!

Fred, you should post a few photos of your bogs!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2004 at 9:47AM
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wichywmn(z7 VA)

Is there an exchange for bog garden plants?

    Bookmark   August 11, 2004 at 10:51AM
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No, sadly there isn't. I have had very good experiences with vendors that were provided to me by Fred. Maybe he can share his list again.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2004 at 12:07AM
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I've been attempting to send you my list of sources but I'm having trouble with my email again @#%$#.
Here is a pic of my bog as of July 15th, the Pitcher plants got blown over in a storm a in June. The second picture is of 2 Fringed orchids (Platantheras ciliaris (yellow)and integrilabia (monkey face). I'll keep trying with the source list! but here's a good source and in VA!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2004 at 9:22PM
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Ahh, Botanique was my favorite of all the suppliers. So professional and so responsive. Their plant material was tip top too and he even sent extras. Wichywmn, you will not be dispeased.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2004 at 10:25AM
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Hey Fred,I have pitcher plant question. My own S. flava does not look like the other I got from Peter(Savage Garden)and in books? I have phots to email if you like to help?

    Bookmark   August 14, 2004 at 4:23AM
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I'm also new to bog gardening, and I'd like to ask a couple follow up questions.

I don't have a source of pine needle (that I know of, at least). I'll try to find some. If I don't find a source, can anything else be substituted?

Can I use lake water if rainfall doesn't come when needed? Lake Michigan is nearby. What about sump pump water? I know I can buy distilled, but these would be easy substitions, if they are appropriate.

If I keep my lawn organic, can a bog garden be placed in an area with potential for some limited run-off in a really heavy rain. I'm on a slope and I have to be careful with grading so the water won't end up in my basement.

Thanks for the help.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2004 at 3:17PM
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wichywmn(z7 VA)

Your garden is gorgeous!!

Fred, what is the white flower and the yellowish orange flower in the second picture?

    Bookmark   August 17, 2004 at 7:58AM
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Rainwater is best, the water from the lake should be OK, as long as you're not too close to where there could be pollutants. Sump pump water is a BAD Idea, loaded with minerals you don't want. A 55 gal. rain barrel works really well for me, as does water from my dehumidifier.

Some runoff from an organic lawn would not be terrible, but there will be a few things that will probably not grow with that situation.

The white flower and the yellowish orange flower in the second picture are Monkey face orchid (the white one) Platanthera integrilabia, and the orange fringed orchid Plantanthera ciliaris. In another month I'll have loads of Spiranthes (white ladies tresses orchids) in bloom through the end of October.

Thanks for the compliment! That bog was part of an article in the Wall Street Journal last October, not to mention my pride and joy!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2004 at 5:05PM
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Thanks for the input, Fred. I'm looking forward to starting my bog.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2004 at 8:18PM
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Wow Fred, P. integrilabia is a very rare plant in the wild. You should be very happy to have such a healthy one in your garden! Your bog looks great. PF

    Bookmark   August 18, 2004 at 7:57PM
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The P. integrilabia came to me from documented salvage and was labelled as P. blephariglottis. I have several plants that have over the past few years multiplied vegetatively both of the P.i. and P. Ciliaris. I have done a bit of pollinating so perhaps I'll have seed for flasking (I dabble in that in the off season)

    Bookmark   August 18, 2004 at 9:24PM
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JasonMtnMan(Z6 Oh)

Fredsbog, thanks for posting all of the information on starting a bog garden. Beautiful photos also.

I did have a question regaurding the instructions. I saw the depth dimentions for the starter bog, but no other size dimentions. How long, and wide should a bog be to house that much sand, pine needles, and peat?

Thanks so much,

    Bookmark   August 23, 2004 at 10:22AM
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lynt73(coastal BC)

I find bog gardening fasinating! Great pics. Fred!
I have a natural damp area on one side of my house and have planted water loving, native plants there. This year we have had very little rainfall and was thinking of building a bog off the low deck I want(same place as damp area) and then having a pond close by.
My question is- will the bog create a mosquito hatchery?
If not, what is the explaination.
Thanks. Lynt

    Bookmark   August 23, 2004 at 4:09PM
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My bog is about 4'X5' but you can make it whatever size you wish. The bigger it is the more stable it will be as far as growing conditions.


My bog only has surface water after heavy rains and only for a short time. My rain barrel is another matter and I've started using mosquito dunks, which will also work in the bog if it holds water for a longer period.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2004 at 10:10PM
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JasonMtnMan(Z6 Oh)

Thank you, Fred! That helps a lot.

I was also curious as to when the best time to start a bog garden is? ( sorry if this has already been asked and I missed it.)


    Bookmark   August 30, 2004 at 9:20AM
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no such thing as a bad time to start a bog garden! Only thing I'll say is do it when there is an abundance of rainwater!

Happy bogging all

    Bookmark   August 30, 2004 at 6:44PM
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You people speak of rain and using it for your bog gardens, must be nice. I live in northern New Mexico where it seldom rains. I have 2 childrens plastic wading pools which drain one into the other and then into my pond. Water flows through them constantly from my filter. Even tho I can creat an area in each bog where the water flows and where it is just damp, I don't think that some of the neat plants that you all describe including orcids, pitcher plants, etc will live because the basic humidity is low. My water source is 90% well, 7% rain, and 3% gray water. Reeds and cattails seem to do well. I would be interested in some plants that you more experianced bog people might suggest.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2004 at 2:39PM
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wichywmn(z7 VA)

Thanks to everyone for all their suggestions and help. I have now finally dug and planted my first bog garden!! While it's not what I originally envisioned, I was faced with getting all my wonderful plants in the ground ASAP as weather and other projects were fast becoming an issue. And, thanks to 7 hurricanes and dozens of tornadoes, I have two 50 gal barrels of rainwater on hand for my bog!

While visiting my family in CA last month, I visited California Carnivores twice and shipped home several gorgeous plants - thanks to Peter's help and advice. Additionally, I had purchased about 2 dozen specimens off the Internet, so I had quite a variety to get started. So far, I only have pitcher plants, fly traps, bladderworts, butterworts and sundews. I look forward to adding a great number of others - thanks to Fred's wonderful suggestions -next year.

I also have a new pond going in this week and as soon as that and the deck near it are completed, then I can seriously get started on designing the final home for my bog. Right now it's appearance is quite utilitarian, but as soon as all the pond building paraphenalia is gone I will finally be able to get near it again and take a picture to post.

Thanks again for everyone's help - I can already see that this new delight is going to start competing with my ponds for real estate space!!!!!

    Bookmark   October 27, 2004 at 8:08AM
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My ponds are now dug, but they are going to have to wait out the winter before I get them completely installed. 2 ponds, upper and lower, with a stream connecting. these are in the same general area as the bog gardens and like you I placed the ponds next to the deck I had built last year.

Keep me posted on how things fare through the winter, perhaps I'll have a few things to share in spring


    Bookmark   October 27, 2004 at 9:27PM
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I lost my S. flava var. maxima . :(

    Bookmark   May 28, 2005 at 10:19PM
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I am building a 10,000gal pond and am trying to filter the water using a 8x12x3 foot artificial bog.

I plan on putting gravel in the bottom with the outlet pipes from the pump. The water would then be pumped up through the gravel, then thru sand, then thru pumice and then through peatmoss and finally compost/soil.

Does anyone have ideas on how I can keep my sand from collecting pieces of bio material (dead leaves etc) from the bottom of my pond and then getting the sand clogged up?

How big should I make the holes in my pipes which feed the water to the bottom of the bog?

Ideas and suggestions are welcomed.... should I put a pool sand filter before the least that way I could backwash the sand filter.

Should I use silica instead of sand? If sand, should I use fine or coarse sand?

Many thanks for any input.

- Bob

    Bookmark   May 29, 2007 at 8:21PM
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1. Wont run-off from rainwater (if the sides of the liner are not higher then ground-level to prevent the entry of run-off) cause an influx of nutrients and minerals that will accumulate over time?

2. Will Cranberries overtake a CP bog, being too invasive, or can then be easily pruned back to certain areas? I want to make my bog 3' x 30' (strip) with the cranberries in the middle and the CP towards the edge.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 9:59PM
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I built a bog 2 summers ago following the directions I found in this thread and other places on the web. I used a buried childs swimming pool filled with a sand/peat mix. In hind sight, I wish I hadn't slit holes in the bottom of the pool. It is connected to a downspout from my roof, so it gets some water (mainly in spring and fall) but I do need to supplement it. I used to use water from my dehumidifier but then learned that our city gets its water from the Mississippi River (not from ground wells as do other cities near us), so I can use plain old city water without groundwater minerals. So far, it has thrived. I add water about every other day in the hot part of summer if it hasn't rained. The tamarack seedling that I planted is now over 4' tall and taking over, so I have it a generous "haircut." I also have 2 Sarracenia purpureum, Calla palustris, Iris versicolor, sphagnum, and Carex spp growing successfully. I planted 2 Spiranthes cernua f. odorata but they disappeared. I would like to Calopogon and Cyps eventually. One of my Sarracenia's has been flowering all summer this year.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 4:57PM
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I don't really have a bog garden that I put in but..........I have a bed next to the house that is too wet for anything else to live in. I've lost 2 rounds of encore azelias and I've decided to plant bog plants and ferns in it. It's constantly wet, the entire backyard drains into this spot. I tilled it up and it's wet, but lots of worms........ I live in zone 8b but I haven't had any luck with anything that won't grow in zone 9. This bed gets 2 or a little more hours of afternoon sun, yesterday 3 - 5:30ish. Can anyone suggest plants for this spot please? I put in some ground orchids and some ferns, was thinking about Cali Lily's and some clivia. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 12:35PM
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