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Trees for Soggy Sites

Master gardener Paul James explains the best trees to plant in the soggiest of conditions.

Q. Are there any trees that grow in wet, soggy areas?

A. Yes, and two in particular happen to be favorites of mine. The first is the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), a native to southeastern swamps that happens to also grow well to USDA Zone 4.

The bald cypress is a deciduous conifer and its beautiful foliage is almost fern-like. This is not a tree for small yards, however, because at maturity it can reach 150 feet tall. It will grow in boggy soils where it might also develop knees--root-like protuberances that rise above ground, creating a potential problem for lawn mowers. However, in most landscape settings, the knees never appear. There's also a weeping or cascading form of the bald cypress, and it can be trained to grow no more than a few feet tall.

The other tree I'd recommend for wet spots is the river birch (Betula nigra), and as the name suggests, it too does well in boggy soils. Commonly sold in multiple trunk forms, the river birch has a gorgeous and attractive overall shape. Hardy to Zone 4, it can grow up to 90 feet tall.

Best of all, it has beautiful exfoliating bark. The downside is that it's not an especially long-lived tree. It can develop weak crotch angles and fairly weak wood. It also tends to drop a fair amount of litter in the form of small branches. But all things considered, I still think it's a tree worth growing.

So there you have two good choices for trees that do well in wet spots in your landscape, both of which are fairly fast-growing and grow fairly tall.

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