6 Trees for Wet Areas & Damp Soil Types

A yard prone to sogginess doesn’t have to mean that you can’t plant trees.

Choose carefully, and you can enjoy the beauty and benefits of damp-tolerant trees in almost any garden.

Start your research with our list of trees for wet and damp areas, and follow up with our top tips below.

6 Trees that Like Wet Soil

1. Elder

Elderflowers
Elderflower Photo by GoranH at Pixabay

The common elder, Sambucus nigra, is a great choice for waterlogged or chalky soils. It prefers full sun or partial shade and moist, well-drained soil, but can cope with less optimal conditions. Elder offers year-round appeal along with edible flowers and berries.

Elder is hardy in zones 4-7 and grows to around 20 feet in height and width. The tree is graced in late spring / early summer with cream-colored blossom; this can be harvested and used fresh for elderflower cordial or dried and stored for elderflower tea.

Elderberries follow in late summer / early autumn. Harvested and cooked when fully ripe (they’re toxic otherwise), these purpley-red berries can be used in cooking, for dyeing, and for elderberry syrup.

2. Paperbark Maple

A large shrub or small deciduous tree, the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is a great choice for year-round interest. Their glorious autumn foliage is representative of the color of all maple trees, and their winged seed pods (or samaras) are quite large.

The most distinguishing aspect of the paperbark maple is its papery bark. Chestnut-brown to copper in color, the bark peels off in paper-like sheets. Paperbark maples reach between 15-30 feet in size, rarely up to 40 feet. The paperbark maple is hardy in zones 4-8 and prefers a moist but well-drained soil.

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3. River Birch

The river birch (Betula nigra) can grow to 50 feet. Hardy in zones 4-9, they display bright yellow color in autumn. They also provide year-round appeal through their peeling bark, which begins as reddish-brown but turns almost black.

The river birch is more tolerant to heat than other birches. While they’re found naturally by the banks of streams and rivers, they will cope with drier soils. They also don’t mind heavy, wet soil and aren’t fussy about soil pH.

4. Willow

Willow Catkins and Blue Sky
Willow Catkins Photo by NickyPe at Pixabay

All willows love deep, moist soil, but some varieties — in particular weeping willow (Salix babylonica being the most cultivated variety) — are happiest growing at the edges of streams or lakes. Along with Purple willow (Salix daphnoides), weeping willow can cope with extremely damp soil, but beware of planting it close to pipes or foundations; its roots actively seek out water.

Willows grow well in a wide range of hardiness zones: zones 3-11 for the genus in general. They vary in height from bushes to trees of 50 feet or more, but some have relatively short life-spans: weeping willows grow fast, but they may not live more than a few decades and almost certainly less than 100 years.

5. Japanese Zelkova

The Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata) loves to be planted deep in moist, well-drained soil. Its green leaves change in autumn to yellow and orange, deep red to reddish-purple and brown.

While its fruit and flowers are very subtle, its bark provides interest as the tree matures. Grayish-brown on the outside, the orange under layer often shows through.

The Japanese zelkova is hardy in zones 5-8. It can reach between 50-80 feet in height, and its crown can reach 50-75 feet in width. It loves full sun or partial shade, preferring a sheltered location.

6. Pin Oak

Also known as the swamp Spanish oak, the pin oak (Quercus palustris) is a tall deciduous tree with glossy green leaves that turn to crimson and copper in the autumn. Hardy in zones 4-7/8, it grows along stream banks and on flood plains. Its favored soil is acidic, moist, and well-drained.

Pin oaks attain heights of more than 100 feet and tend to adopt an oval-pyramidal shape. Their acorns are stubby and light brown. One of the faster-growing trees, the pin oak has a shallow root system.

Unlike most other types of oak, the pin oak has a great number of thin branches, the lowest of which bend down to the ground. It takes up more ground space than other, similar trees, and this may be a factor in whether or not it’s the tree for you.

Other Damp-Tolerant Trees

Green Tilia-Lime-Linden Leaves
Green Tilia-Lime-Linden Leaves Photo by satynek at Pixabay
  1. Swamp Tupelo
  2. Sweetbay Magnolia
  3. Pear (some varieties)
  4. Pond Cyprus
  5. Tilia (some varieties)
  6. Plane Tree

Which Tree is Best for Your Wet Area?

You can find more information in our guide on picking a tree for your yard, but in general, there are a few considerations to bear in mind.

1. Water-loving trees love water!

Trees that grow happily in damp environments often have an increased need for water. If their soil becomes too dry, they’ll send roots in search of water, wherever that may be: leaky pipes, sewers, etc. A crack in an underground pipe will become a big hole once a tree with deep roots works at opening it!

Be sure to plant water-loving trees far enough away from houses and pipes, including those belonging to your neighbors!

2. Water-loving trees can dry out your soil

This might seem like a good thing. But soil that’s dried out too much will shrink, and this can cause structural cracking and subsidence of foundations: another reason to plant well away from buildings. It’s said that the drying effects of a tree can extend outward from the trunk as far as the tree is tall. 

3. Consider soil types

Think about acid or alkaline, clay or well-draining. Find out as much as you can about the spot you intend to place your tree to make sure it’s a good match.

4. Give your trees a helping hand

Some areas, especially where there’s a lot of clay, are waterlogged in winter but dry out in summer. The seasonal drought may be too much for trees that need a lot of water. For these locations, choose a water-loving tree that also has tolerance to dryness, river birch for example.

Mix it up

Mix organic matter into the soil around where you plant the tree to improve moisture retention, and keep an eye on the tree during particularly dry spells, watering as needed.

Watering Can and Garden Fork
Credit: Photo by congerdesign at Pixabay

Get your garden fork out

Before you plant your tree, make fork holes in the walls and bottom of the hole to improve drainage and stop the compacted soil becoming a water-filled bucket. Not even water loving-trees will like that.

Have fun finding the best damp-tolerant trees for your garden!

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