If you live by a creek that floods regularly or have a yard that drains poorly, growing plants and trees is challenging. The ground is soft and wet from standing water, and most root systems do not take well to growing in these conditions. However, some actually thrive in soggy soil and are the best trees for wet sites.
One of the main reasons a tree struggles to grow in these areas is because the roots cannot breathe. A yard with wet ground is not the easiest place for growing trees, but it’s not impossible.
Some trees have developed roots with the ability to grow with less air, allowing them to flourish in marshy areas where other trees die. These trees not only tolerate having wet feet but thrive and often grow in flooded areas.
That said, growing them in an arid climate is just as bad as trying to grow a drought tolerant tree in a flood zone, so it’s essential to understand tree requirements.
- Which Trees are Ideal for Wet Areas?
- Do Evergreens Tolerate Wet Soils?
- Are there any Benefits to Growing Trees in a Wet Landscape?
- Where is a Good Place to Plant Water-Loving Trees?
- Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
- Swamp Cottonwood (Populus heterophylla) – Tall Trees for Wet Sites
- Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
- Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) – Wet-Tolerant Tree with Fragrant Flowers
- Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)
- Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – Small Tree with Multi-Season Interest
- Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
- Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) – Water-Loving Tree with Graceful Arching Stems
- Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
- Hornbeam (Carpinus) – Small Shade Tree for Wet Areas
- Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
- Red Maple (Acer rubrum) – Handsome Tree with Captivating Fall Color
- Common Alder (Alnus)
- White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) – Evergreen Tree for Boggy Areas
Growing Trees that are Tolerant of Wet Soils
A tree has a few basic needs to live, and providing them with the right amount of sunshine, water, and air to live is key to their survival.
A Japanese maple does not fare well at all with too much water, while a weeping willow is right at home. Knowing which trees love water is the first step to creating a beautiful landscape in wet sites.
Which Trees are Ideal for Wet Areas?
Many trees soak up a lot of water, and some are better at the job than others. Pin oak, dogwood, and sycamore tolerate poorly drained soil and are easy to grow.
River birch (Betula nigra), swamp Spanish oak (Quercus palustris), black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), and swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) are also excellent choices for this environment.
Do Evergreens Tolerate Wet Soils?
Usually, a shade evergreen tree detests growing in soggy ground. However, a few varieties tolerate wet soil and are suitable for growing in these conditions.
The Atlantic white cedar, or false cypress, grows naturally in wet locations. Balsam fir, black spruce, and common arborvitae also handle growing in damp areas as long as it isn’t too wet.
Are there any Benefits to Growing Trees in a Wet Landscape?
These trees soak up excess water naturally through their root system. They often absorb so much water that the area around them dries, making it more habitable for other plants to grow.
Not only do you get a lush, green landscape, but the trees make it possible for you to grow a variety of other plants. Add a few wet soil ground covers to the area, too, for extra interest.
Where is a Good Place to Plant Water-Loving Trees?
These trees do well growing in a yard where water accumulates, such as low lying spots with poor drainage, and near a river, creek, or pond.
Think about planting other wet-tolerant plants nearby, such as the sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) and elderberry (Sambucus), to encourage more water absorption, as well as vines for poor wet soil.
Check the plant care guide for your tree to determine how much sunlight it needs and plant it accordingly. Avoid planting wet soil trees too close to underground pipes since their roots tend to seek out water, no matter the source.
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
The American sycamore is a fast-growing deciduous tree with maple-shaped medium and dark green foliage.
The leaves are 4 to 10 inches wide and turn yellowish-brown in the fall. This tree has a rounded crown and a massive trunk with horizontal and crooked branches.
This sun-lover is easy to grow in consistently moist soil and thrives in zones 4 through 9. These trees that grow tall are known for their gray bark that flakes off to reveal cream-colored inner bark. Their mature size is 70 to 100 feet tall and wide.
Swamp Cottonwood (Populus heterophylla) – Tall Trees for Wet Sites
These hardwoods are native to America’s eastern and southeastern areas and a member of the birch family. Swamp cottonwoods have a single trunk that grows 3 feet across with pale gray bark that darkens as it ages.
The dark green leaves of this tree have light shades underneath. This type of cottonwood is happy growing in wet conditions and is hardy in zones 2 through 9. These deciduous trees can reach 50 to 100 feet tall with leaves 4 to 6 inches long.
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
These tall conifers are a common sight in areas such as Florida. They have flared trunk bases with an upright pyramidal form. Their delicate foliage of sage green leaves turns orange before shedding each winter and are replaced in the spring.
Bald cypress trees require full sun and enjoy growing in poorly drained soil. They are virtually disease and pest free and hardy in zones 5 through 11. These wet-tolerant trees have a mature size of 50 to 70 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide.
Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) – Wet-Tolerant Tree with Fragrant Flowers
This magnolia tree has handsome foliage, smooth gray bark, and exotic fruiting cones that are pinkish and burst open to reveal seeds. It produces showy, cup-shaped flowers of creamy white with a lemony scent.
This slender tree is slow-growing and has no serious insect or disease problems. It prefers consistently moist, well-drained soil and full to part sun. Sweetbay magnolias are hardy in zones 4 through 10 and grow up to 60 feet tall in the south and up to 35 feet tall in the north.
Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)
The water tupelo is an aquatic tree with an open crown of large, shiny leaves and a straight trunk with a swollen base. It is deciduous and starts very symmetrical with a pyramidal shape, but ages to an irregular form.
This tree is flood-tolerant and grows in USDA hardiness zones 6 through 9. Water tupelos have large, dark green leaves that turn yellow in the autumn. They have a trunk diameter of around 4 feet and grow to up to 100 feet tall.
Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – Small Tree with Multi-Season Interest
Black chokecherry is a small, spreading, deciduous tree that also grows as a shrub. It has striking, purple-red foliage and black berries with multi-season interest. Spring reveals a profusion of fragrant, white-pink flowers, and the tree attracts pollinators and birds.
This tree grows easily in medium moist soil and enjoys part shade or full sun. These chokeberry trees only grow up to 6 feet tall with an equal spread and are hardy in zones 3 through 8.
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
This tree has a straight trunk and dense crown of medium green leaves containing five to nine leaflets. The foliage turns rich golden-yellow in the fall, and the tree matures from a pyramidal to a rounded shape.
Green ash is a fast-growing shade tree with a mature height of 50 to 70 feet tall and a 35 to 50-foot spread. It grows well in hardiness zones 3 through 9, is deer resistant, and needs full sun.
Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) – Water-Loving Tree with Graceful Arching Stems
Weeping willows are medium to large deciduous trees with a stout trunk and open crown of gracefully arching stems. The narrow, finely toothed green leaves yellow before shedding in the fall.
These trees thrive in moist soil and grow happily along a pond or stream. Weeping willows are hardy in zones 6 through 8 and grow 30 to 50 feet tall and wide. They perform best in full sun, are simple to grow, and are deer resistant.
Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
This sun-loving tree is native to eastern North America. Its straight trunk and broad, conical crown look stunning adorned with the star-shaped dark green foliage that turns orange and crimson during the fall.
Sweetgum trees tolerate medium-moist soil and are hardy in zones 5 through 9. They are deciduous and grow to 60 to 80 feet tall with a crown spread of 40 to 60 feet. They are low maintenance and deer and rabbit resistant.
Hornbeam (Carpinus) – Small Shade Tree for Wet Areas
Hornbeams are a small deciduous tree that is an excellent choice for shading the yard. There are many different types, and all of them have attractive gray bark and heavily veined, bright green leaves that turn rust-colored in the fall.
These trees prefer part to full sun and grow no more than 30 feet tall, with a wide, spreading canopy of up to 20 feet. Hornbeam trees grow in hardiness zone 3 through 9.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
This tree goes by many names, including Michigan holly and black alder. It is a slow-growing deciduous tree with a rounded habit, grows green-white flowers in the spring, and a profusion of cherry-red berries from fall through winter.
Winterberry trees are generally disease and pest free and hardy in zones 3 through 9. They prefer moist but well-drained soil and g 6 to 10 feet tall and wide.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum) – Handsome Tree with Captivating Fall Color
Red maples are loved for their captivating fall color as their dark green leaves turn to a dazzling yellow and red during the fall. They have smooth gray bark that furrows with age and a handsome shaped crown.
These trees are suited for part shade or full sun and grow in hardiness zones 3 through 9. Red maples grow 40 to 70 feet tall with a crown of up to 50 feet wide. They are low maintenance and grow effortlessly in medium to wet soil.
Common Alder (Alnus)
This easy to grow tree has lustrous green bark that browns with age and an upright growth habit in a pyramidal shape. Its dark green leaves turn bright yellow in autumn, and it produces cone-like brown fruits throughout the fall and winter.
Common alders have a rapid growth rate and are content growing in wet soil. They reach 50 feet in height and are best grown in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7. These trees are low maintenance and perform well in both full sun and part shade.
White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) – Evergreen Tree for Boggy Areas
This evergreen tree has fan-like branches of scaly leaves and grows with single or multi-trunks. It produces light brown, oblong cones and is a great tree for growing as a windbreak in boggy areas with its upright triangular shape.
White cedars are hardy in zones 2 through 7 and have a medium growth rate of one to two feet per year. While this tree prefers a wet environment, it does tolerate drought conditions occasionally.
Thinking that all trees are created equal is a common mistake. Some trees prefer dry areas, while others like getting their feet wet and forcing them to grow in the wrong conditions lead to problems.
The best tip for growing trees in saturated soils is to learn which ones are hardy and wet-tolerant.
Growing trees for wet sites is not as difficult as you think, as long as you plant the right trees, so why not share our water-loving tree guide with your friends and family on Facebook and Pinterest?