Updated date:

11 Trees That Like Wet Soil (Plus Growing Tips and FAQs)

After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about science, travel, and gardening.

Select the right trees to grow in areas with poor drainage or standing water.

Select the right trees to grow in areas with poor drainage or standing water.

Living in the Great Lakes region of the USA, I contend with wet clay soil and a lot of precipitation throughout the growing season. Selecting the right trees and soil amendments has allowed me to grow a healthy, vibrant garden each year.

What Types of Plants Grow Well in Wet Soil?

Many plants have developed adaptations to survive in swampy areas and thrive with consistent moisture. Some of these plants have aerenchyma, which are pockets of air within the plant stem to send oxygen to the plant roots. Other plants develop superficial roots above the soil level to obtain oxygen from the air.

Some trees that survive in wet areas use a strategy of growing faster than the decay process can overtake the tree. Unfortunately, this leads to trees with short lives that may not be ideal for long-term landscaping goals. Silver maples, green ash, and American elm have short lifespans and reproduce quickly, but are not ideal additions to the home landscape.

Ideal trees for swampy areas have rot-resistant wood and long lifespans. Black locust, bald cypress, and black tupelo are ideal hardy trees with long lifespans and excellent health in wet environments.

11 Best Trees and Shrubs for Wet Areas

Consistently wet soil prevents the proper oxygenation of plant roots, causing many plants to die when there is poor drainage. In addition, high water levels often cause fungal infections for plants, particularly if there is poor air circulation.

Some plants have developed adaptations to thrive in swampy areas and should be considered for any yard with areas of standing water or consistently wet soil.

Hardy trees and shrub species that survive wet areas include birch, willow, tupelo, bald cypress, hackberry, and sweetgum. For tropical areas, palm trees and water ash are excellent choices.

For plants and groundcovers that love water, please see my list of plants that like wet soil.

Best Hardy Trees and Shrubs for Wet Areas

Plant NamePlant TypeHabitUSDA Hardiness Zones

River Birch

Tree

Deciduous with a mature height of 40–70’

4–9

Weeping Willow

Tree

Deciduous, 30–40’ tall

6–8

Bald Cypress

Tree

Deciduous, 50–70’ in height

4–10

Black Tupelo

Tree

Deciduous, 30–50’ tall

4–9

Sweetgum (Liquidambar)

Tree

Deciduous, 60–80’ tall.

5–9

Tricolor Dappled Willow

Shrub

Deciduous shrub, 8–10’ tall and wide

5–9

Sweetbay Magnolia

Tree

Evergreen to semi-evergreen. 10–20’ tall with equal spread

5–9

Tropical Trees and Shrubs for Wet Areas

Plant NamePlant TypeHabitUSDA Hardiness Zones

Coconut Palm

Tree

Evergreen, 50–100’ tall

10–12

Windmill Palm

Tree

Evergreen, 10–20’ in height

7–11

Mangrove Fan Palm

Tree

Evergreen, multi trunked palm growing to 15’ in height

9–11

Water Ash

Tree

Deciduous tree, 30–40’ in height.

7–10

River birch loves wet locations and is highly ornamental.

River birch loves wet locations and is highly ornamental.

1. River Birch

Birch trees are fantastic for wet areas and will thrive when the soil is damp. The river birch is a particular standout because it has beautiful peeling bark and a multi-trunked habit that makes it an extremely attractive option for homeowners.

Tips for Growing River Birch

  • Choose a full sun to partial shade location for your tree.
  • Mulch the tree roots to keep them damp and cool in areas where the soil may dry out.
  • River birch trees prefer slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 5.0–6.5.
Weeping willow is an excellent choice near ponds and other wet environments.

Weeping willow is an excellent choice near ponds and other wet environments.

2. Weeping Willow

With elegant, weeping boughs and a bright yellow-green color, weeping willows are a great addition to a wet garden, provided they are given enough space to grow. These trees are large and require significant space in the garden, and they should never be planted near a septic field.

A fast growth habit means the tree will grow up to 2 feet (0.30 meters) per year! Gardeners seeking a smaller willow would do well to plant the tricolor dappled willow near ponds or in wet areas.

Tips for Growing Weeping Willow

  • Willows prefer full sun to partial shade locations.
  • Plant a weeping willow near a pond or other wet locations.
  • Weeping willow will grow in clay soil, acidic soil, and alkaline soil.
  • The average lifespan for a weeping willow is only 30 years, so plan to replace the tree after this timespan!
Bald cypress are the most hardy tree to grow in standing water, and can live for over 600 years. The roots form knees above the water for oxygenation.

Bald cypress are the most hardy tree to grow in standing water, and can live for over 600 years. The roots form knees above the water for oxygenation.

3. Bald Cypress

With the longest lifespan of any tree in the United States, the bald cypress is a conifer that will shed its needles each winter. While the bare branches may deter some gardeners from wanting this tree in their yard, the brilliant red fall display makes up for the seasonal nature of the foliage.

Northern growers often choose the non-native dawn redwood for the landscape, but the native bald cypress is a much better choice.

Tips for Growing Bald Cypress

  • Bald cypress prefers acidic, wet soil. Soil pH over 7.5 will harm the tree.
  • Start the tree off with a soil mix including some sand to obtain the best growth.
  • This tree requires plenty of space, as its height may top out at 120 feet!
  • Bald cypress planted in areas of standing water will develop interesting “knees” that protrude from the water, adding to landscape interest.
  • Several smaller dwarf cultivars exist for those with smaller garden spaces.
Black tupelo is a wonderful wetland tree that provides food for wildlife.

Black tupelo is a wonderful wetland tree that provides food for wildlife.

4. Black Tupelo

Black Tupelo is a fantastic native tree for yards with wet soil. This tree has outstanding fall color and offers berries for native songbirds. The small flowers produced by this tree are extremely beneficial to local bee populations.

With a mature height of 30–50’ and a medium growth rate (1–2 feet per year), this tree fits well into most landscapes and makes a perfect specimen tree in the yard.

Tips for Growing Black Tupelo

  • This tree prefers full sun to part shade.
  • Plant black tupelo to attract songbirds and small mammals to your yard.
  • Plant in slightly acidic soil (pH 5.0–7.4).
Liquidambar is a fantastic tree for fall foliage in wet locations, but it does produce spiky seed capsules that can litter lawns and sidewalks.

Liquidambar is a fantastic tree for fall foliage in wet locations, but it does produce spiky seed capsules that can litter lawns and sidewalks.

5. Sweetgum (Liquidambar)

A fantastic addition to any northern landscape, the sweetgum tree has star-shaped leaves that turn brilliant shades of orange and red in the fall. This is another native superstar that fits well into a landscape with poor drainage.

This tree does produce spiky “gum balls” that drop to the ground in the winter and early spring periods. These seedpods are a consideration for those who prefer a tree with less mess! For a less messy option, choose the black tupelo as an alternative.

Tips for Growing Sweetgum

  • Grow in full sun to part shade.
  • This tree will grow well in damp clay or sandy soil.
  • Do not grow where standing water remains consistently, or where soil dries out.
  • Plant in slightly acidic soil (pH 5.0–7.4).
Tricolor willow is a beautiful ornamental shrub that thrives in wet environments.

Tricolor willow is a beautiful ornamental shrub that thrives in wet environments.

6. Tricolor Dappled Willow

Tricolor willow is a beautiful shrub that produces a spectacular display of white, pink, and green leaves in the spring. With a fast growth rate and water-seeking roots, this is the top shrub choice for any wet garden. This shrub also tolerates heavy pruning for gardeners that want to use it as a hedge.

As an added bonus, this shrub is deer-resistant and requires almost no care once it is established.

Tips for Growing Tricolor Dappled Willow

  • Dappled willow prefers at least six hours of direct sun per day.
  • This shrub thrives in a variety of soil types but does not tolerate dry soil.
  • Do not plant near septic fields, as the roots are water-seeking and spreading.
Sweetbay magnolia is semi-evergreen in the colder part of its range, but withstands sodden soil and has beautiful white flowers.

Sweetbay magnolia is semi-evergreen in the colder part of its range, but withstands sodden soil and has beautiful white flowers.

7. Sweetbay Magnolia

Covered in large, white flowers each spring, the sweetbay magnolia is a striking addition to a landscape with wet soil. This tree makes an excellent specimen tree and only grows an average of 30’’ in height, making it perfect for smaller yards.

In warmer climates, this tree will remain evergreen. In colder climates, the tree will lose its leaves. This native tree also attracts swallowtail butterflies and songbirds.

Tips for Growing Sweetbay Magnolia

  • The sweetbay magnolia will withstand periodic flooding but should not be planted where standing water never recedes.
  • Prefers slightly acidic soil.
  • Plant in full sun to partial shade.
Coconut palms are tolerant of salt, wind, and high water levels.

Coconut palms are tolerant of salt, wind, and high water levels.

8. Coconut Palm

Tall, swaying coconut palms are excellent trees for a tropical garden that has standing water. These trees require little pruning, with the exception of removing damaged fronds. As these trees do produce fruit, it is not wise to plant them where dropping coconuts would not be welcomed.

Tips for Growing Coconut Palm

  • Plant coconut palms in a full sun location.
  • Add a tablespoon of Epsom salt to the soil if fronds are yellowing.
  • Use an 8-8-8 fertilizer to help your palm tree thrive, applying 1.5 pounds of fertilizer to every 100 square feet.
Windmill palms can grow in USDA zone 7, withstanding some snow and frost.

Windmill palms can grow in USDA zone 7, withstanding some snow and frost.

9. Windmill Palm

One of the hardiest palm trees available, the windmill palm can withstand temperatures as low as 5°F (-15°C)! Windmill palms are grown in Ireland and other colder locations due to their relatively hardy nature. This palm can also tolerate alkaline soil, which is a benefit for those who have soil with a pH above 7.5.

While this is not a native palm, it is not invasive and makes an excellent addition to a water-laden garden.

Tips for Growing Windmill Palm

  • Windmill palms prefer shade to partial shade.
  • Don’t grow in areas of high wind, as this will cause leaf shredding.
  • Windmill palms are tolerant of salt when planted in areas near the ocean.
  • Plant three windmill palms together to create an attractive tropical grove.
Mangrove fan palms are a good option for small, wet tropical gardens.

Mangrove fan palms are a good option for small, wet tropical gardens.

10. Mangrove Fan Palm

The mangrove fan palm is a small, multi-trunked palm that thrives in wet soil. Native to southern Asia, the tree performs well in tropical gardens located in USDA zones 9–11. These small palms may be planted close to a house or foundation without the worry of destructive roots.

The fronds are unique on this palm, with each leaflet separated into segments that fan out to form a fringe.

Tips for Growing Mangrove Fan Palm

  • Plant in full sun.
  • This palm prefers high humidity and will not thrive in arid climates.
  • While this palm requires damp soil, constant standing water may cause root rot.
Water ash has attractive foliage but is susceptible to the Emerald Ash Borer.

Water ash has attractive foliage but is susceptible to the Emerald Ash Borer.

11. Water Ash

Also known as a pop ash or swamp ash, this tree is actually a member of the olive family. It is native to the southeastern United States, can reach heights of 30–50 feet, and may live for over 100 years. It has a multi-trunked habit and tolerates standing water well.

Tips for Growing Water Ash

  • Plant in full sun to partial shade.
  • This tree is susceptible to the Emerald Ash Borer.
  • Do not plant near brackish water or salt spray.
  • Requires acidic soil (pH 5.0–6.5).
Improving your yard's drainage can help your trees flourish.

Improving your yard's drainage can help your trees flourish.

FAQs

Which Tree Needs the Most Water?

River birch, bald cypress, and willow trees require the most water. Bald cypress will grow in areas of standing water and form “knees” to aerate the root system.

What Trees Grow in Waterlogged Soil?

Bald cypress, water ash, river birch, willow, and mangrove fan palm will thrive in consistently wet areas.

What Trees Grow in Marshes and Swamps?

Bald cypress is the best-known tree that grows in swamps, and it is common throughout the southeastern United States. Willows, cottonwood, aspen, red maple, swamp white oak, and birches are also commonly found in marshes.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Leah Lefler

Comments

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 04, 2021:

Many of these trees do well across a wide variety of planting zones, which is a wonderful attribute! I love weeping willows. We don't have one on our property because our septic field is too close for comfort, but one of these days I will have one. I love the graceful branches! I am glad these trees grow well in Texas, Peggy.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 04, 2021:

You have described many of the trees that grow well in our area.

Related Articles