Planting Trees in Wet Environments

Stomping through mud puddles is a favorite pastime as a kid, but when that heavy clay soil forms on the side of our boots it’s not as much fun in the garden.  From a landscaper perspective soggy wet soil can be a challenge to deal with.  However, there are some plants and trees that thrive in this wet environment.

Acer circinatum (Vine Maple) are aggregable landscape trees for wet areas.  These trees are used by landscapers and home owners because they are economical and can be maintained at roughly six to ten feet tall.   They also create a small wildlife habitat as the branches are ideal for nesting sites.   Many small birds are attracted to this tree, which in return can help keep your garden insect problems under control.  These trees do well in shade or filtered sun.  A good pairing for this tree would be the Cornus stolonifera (Red Osier twig Dogwood) with its striking red branches in the fall.  They grow roughly eight by eight feet but can be maintained shorter.   The native varieties of the Red Twig Dogwood do particularly well in the Willamette Valley (wet winter conditions) since it is also their native habitat.

As with most yards you’ll probably want something larger, as well.  You’ll find deciduous trees offer more choices than evergreens for wet areas.  Acer rubrum ‘Red Sunset’ (Red Maple), Fraxinus latifolia Oleaceae (Oregon Ash), or Betula nigra (River Birch) are a few great picks.  A benefit is these trees are rather large trees and have absolutely gorgeous fall color. 

Since most evergreen trees do not like poor draining soil, the list of evergreens is small.  Most conifers are evergreens; however, there are a few deciduous ones that can tolerate wet soil.  If your soil is really wet and you are looking for a large tree, Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) is a good choice.  This is not your typical Redwood tree since the needles turn golden to a russet-brown and drop in the fall.  It is certainly a tree that makes people stop and look since older trunks have a wide flare at the base and the branches have slightly shaggy bark.   Furthermore, it’s a fast-growing tree (at a rate of about two feet per year), so be sure to give it lots of room. A few of these trees are scattered around Eugene; in fact, there’s one on display in the tree garden at Alton Baker Park.  

Oregon is known for its rainy winters, so consider some of these selections for the wetter areas of your landscape.  The dormant season is also an excellent time of year to plant trees and shrubs because it will give time for the roots to establish rather than putting all the energy into foliage or blooms.

Written by Karen Smith, Lane Forest Products Plant Specialist