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Past Articles Library | Trees For Wet Soil Areas



Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can have a wet or boggy area in your yard at certain times of the year.

Now the the best solution for a wet lawn, or area, is to dig it up and install drain tiles or pipes that should have been put in place the first time it flooded, but that isn't always convenient or cost effective to do.

Plus, if you have a large area, it can be downright impossible. So, knowing that problem areas occur, let's take a look at what you can do if you have an area that just doesn't drain properly.

Defining a Look at Wet sites

Wet sites are sites where water either stands for long periods of time, or where drainage is slow, on average less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) per hour.

Wet sites can also be sites that receive considerable runoff from higher elevations. In wet soils, too much water in the soil fills the air spaces, resulting in low oxygen levels.

Where oxygen is lacking, water and nutrient uptake stops, plant processes and growth cease, and trees and shrubs begin to decline or die.

Add Gypsite

One thing you can do that will immediately help slow draining areas is to add gypsite. Gypsite is very easy to use, and you can almost watch the water drain away. It will open up the pores of the soil up to 8 feet (2.4 m) deep in about 1 hour.

Once the water is gone, allow the area to dry out a bit, and then do a quick soil test. You can get a kit at your nursery. Add whatever amendments the soil results tell you and till them in.

Usually wet areas, are a sign of poor soil structure. They are usually very high in clay soil, which has very small particles, and any clay soil can be improved by adding in organic matter.

Think About Adding Trees That Tolerate Wet Soil

If for some reason you can't get any gypsite, then you can think about planting some trees that tolerate wet soil.

Some mature trees can take up a lot of water - 50 to 100 gallons (190-380 l) a day. But they often return a fair amount of that water back to the ground as a kind of 'sweat', also known as gutation, later on.

For instance, after a severe or heavy rain, several different types of trees will secrete the water back out from their leaves which will look like raindrops.

So: Are some trees giant sump pumps? Or are they just trying to move enough water away from their roots to be able to breathe again for a bit?

Either way, there are real physical limits as to how much water any tree can absorb. When people talk about planting chronic wet spots with trees such as:

Eastern Red Cedar
Bald Cypress
River Birch

they�re mostly naming the few trees that won�t die when their roots stay wet for extended periods of time.

Those four trees, are also popular because they all can grow in a wide range of climates and can survive dry spells, which is important; a lot of spots that "always stay wet" are actually pretty dry in the summer.

So if you want a big spectacular tree in the landscape, like for that huge lawn area, a moisture loving tree will likely thrive there, and putting the right tree in the right place can make the surrounding area a little drier.

But before you get too excited, we need to take a quick look at our soil.

Figure Out Your Soil Type

When selecting trees relative to soil moisture, begin by identifying the site's soil type, which will tell you how much soil moisture to expect.

Soil moisture should be viewed in two major ways:

1. Drainage down through the soil

2. Runoff water across the site

Soil drainage is the rate at which water moves down through the soil. Drainage is influenced by soil texture (percent of sand, silt and clay) and soil structure (arrangement of soil particles).

Gauge Your Rate Of Drainage

To roughly gauge the rate of drainage for a particular soil, try the "hole test." Dig a hole approximately one foot (.30 m) deep, put in a stake marked with one inch (2.5 cm) increments, and fill it with water.

Time the rate (on an hourly basis) of water drainage out of the hole.

If the water drains away at about one inch (2.5 cm) per hour, you have a desirable, well-drained soil.

If drainage is much faster, your soil is probably high in sand, and if much slower, your soil is probably high in clay.

If you have a very wet area, you may also have a high water table. To test for a high water table, dig several two feet (.60 m) deep holes at the planting site and check in two to three hours. If water has collected in the holes, the water table is high.

Now You Know Your Soil Type, Choose Some Trees

Now that you know if drainage is very slow, or if you have a high water table, you can consider planting the trees for wet soil in the charts below.

Our next article continues with tips and trees for dry soil areas, so if you live in a more arid climate, we have some good suggestions for you to follow.

Trees for wet sites - Deciduous trees

Common nameLatin name
As with any tree, check with your local nursery to make
sure their roots won't be too invasive for your yard or area!
Box elderAcer negundo
Red mapleAcer rubrum
Silver mapleAcer saccharinum
Common alderAlnus glutinosa
Downy serviceberryAmelanchier arborea
Shadblow serviceberryAmelanchier canadensis
River birchBetula nigra
American hornbeamCarpinus caroliniana
PecanCarya illinoensis
Northern catalpaCatalpa speciosa
Common hackberryCeltis occidentalis
FringetreeChionanthus virginicus
PersimmonDiospyros virginiana
Green ashFraxinus pennsylvanica
Thornless honeylocustGleditsia triacanthos var. inermis
Deciduous holliesIlex decidua, I. verticillata
SweetgumLiquidambar styraciflua
Tulip treeLiriodendron tulipifera
Sweetbay magnoliaMagnolia virginiana
Dawn redwoodMetasequoia glyptostroboides
Water tupeloNyssa aquatica
PaulowniaPaulownia tomentosa
London planetreePlatanus x acerifolia
Amer. sycamorePlatanus occidentalis
Eastern cottonwoodPopulus deltoides
Swamp chestnut oakQuercus bicolor
Cherrybark oakQuercus falcata
Water oakQuercus nigra
Pin oakQuercus palustris
Willow oakQuercus phellos
White weeping willowSalix alba
Weeping willowSalix babylonica
Bald cypressTaxodium distichum
American elmUlmus americana

Trees For Wet Sites - Evergreen Trees

Common nameLatin name
As with any tree, check with your local nursery to make
sure their roots won't be too invasive for your yard or area!
ChamaecyparisChamaecyparis spp.
Japanese cryptomeriaCryptomeria japonica
American hollyIlex opaca
Southern magnoliaMagnolia grandiflora
Austrian pinePinus nigra
Loblolly pinePinus taeda
ArborvitaeThuja spp.


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Check Light Availability

Most shrubs can grow in both sun and shade to varying degrees.

Many flowering shrubs, however, tend to need some sun to flower.

Be sure to double check the amount of light you have available to the shrubs you are planning to plant so you are happy with the outcome.

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