Flood-Tolerant Native Trees for Soggy Soil

Fall is the best time for planting trees, but you might be getting cold feet about planting trees in a garden with wet toes. It’s simple to discover drought-tolerant trees these days, but for many of us in areas that are flood prone or possess soggy soil, the choices are more limited. Should you lack the “well-drained soil” that each plant seems to need, the solution is to plant indigenous trees that can be found living naturally in the swamps and floodplains of the USA. From evergreens to fruit trees, nuts and fall color, there’s a solution for every single soggy site.

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Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum, USDA zones 5 to 10; locate your zone) is the king of flood-tolerant trees and could be found growing right in standing water during Southeastern swamps, from North Carolina to extreme southeast Florida. They’re also drought tolerant once established, therefore they are frequently used in a huge variety of commercial plantings — everywhere from retention ponds to parking lot medians. Cypresses are famous for creating buttressed trunks and knobby roots that protrude from the soil, but they will keep their roots below the soil as long as floods are not frequent.

Pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens, zones 5b to 9b) is similar to bald cypress, but its smaller size makes it ideal where space is a concern.

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Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis, zones 3 to 7) is a standby for hedges and windbreaks using its neat, symmetrical shape and tightly packed needles, which makes it ideal for providing a formal look to poorly drained gardens. Even though it’s indigenous from Manitoba and Minnesota throughout Quebec, there are isolated populations as far south as North Carolina. One of arborvitae’s greatest draws is its variability; using a few forms topping out in a mere 3 feet tall and many others attaining a lofty elevation of 60 feet. Unless you are planting a dwarf cultivar, then make sure you plant arborvitae well away from driveways, buildings, sidewalks and any other structures that they might eventually lift using their massive trunk and twisted roots.

If you are following a evergreen with glossy leaves and bright red wildlife-attracting berries, look no further than the hollies. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria, zones 7 to 10) and dahoon holly (Ilex cassine, zones 7 to 10) are excellent choices for the Southeast, whilst American holly (Ilex opaca, zones 5 to 10) will grow during most of the USA.

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River birch (Betula nigra, zones 3 to 9) is a flowering shrub that loses its leaves in fall to reveal a beautiful framework of white branches along with multiple trunks. It is indigenous to much of the eastern United States, from Minnesota throughout Texas and Florida. Plant them naturalistic groves against dark backdrops, or plant one alone using a ground cover in the base to highlight the vibrant peeling bark. Unlike most birches, river birch is tolerant of the heat and humidity that abounds in the muggy Southeast.

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American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana, zones 4 to 9) is a astringent species of persimmon that must fully ripen before you can consume it, but it is well worth growing for its tolerance of wet soil and its value as a wildlife attractor. After all, how many other fruit trees could tolerate poor drainage? American persimmons do supply fall color, however, the leaves are soon overshadowed by the bright orange globes of fruit that persist following the leaves have dropped, right into winter. You can find them rising naturally throughout most of the eastern United States, from Kansas throughout Florida.

Paw paw (Asimina triloba, zones 5 to 9) is still another native fruit that tolerates wet soil, but it is most frequently seen rising as a tree. The fruit has a creamy texture like that of its custard apple relatives along with a taste that some would compare to that of a banana.

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora, zones 6 to 10) is the queen of the South for it is intoxicatingly fragrant and enormous white flowers and its distinctive foliage: dark green and glossy with velvety rust-colored undersides. The species is indeed enormous and imposing that it must just be used at the biggest spaces, but cultivars like ‘Little Gem’ remain small enough to be used in most gardens. Since it is indigenous to floodplains from Texas through Florida and into Virginia, it goes without mentioning that the magnolia can defy its share of occasional water.

Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana, zones 6 to 9) can handle even soggier soil, and can be found growing in permanently boggy swamps of the Southeast. Its only drawback is the fact that it temporarily loses its leaves in the winter.

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis, zones 6 to 9) does require well-drained soil for the majority of the year, but it will tolerate floods and temporary standing water, even since it’s also indigenous to the floodplains of the Southeast, from southern Illinois to Texas and Louisiana. The pecan tree’s tasty nuts are just one reason to add it to your landscape, since it’s an exceptionally attractive shrub with arching branches and finely split vivid green leaves.

Other trees at the Carya genus are called hickories, and most will handle soggy soil even better compared to pecan, but you have to have a lot of distance; Shagbark (Carya ovata, zones 4 to 8) and pignut hickory (Carya glabra, zones 5 to 9) can reach anywhere from 50 to 100 feet tall.

Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla, zones 6 to 9) is a fantastic choice for those of you in the Pacific Northwest, because it can be found in riparian forests from California all the way up the West Coast to Alaska. It can ultimately grow to become a huge evergreen shrub, reaching 70 to 200 feet tall, but don’t expect it to do this on your own lifetime.

Western redcedar (Thuja plicata, zones 5 to 9) is still another tree for soggy gardens outside West, but it can also be grown in the western Rockies, in which it is also indigenous. This evergreen conifer is a quick grower and will gradually reach 50 to 70 feet tall, so plant it where it will have space to breathe!

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