Trees for waterlogged soil

Wet feet - me and the trees

Wet feet – for both me and the trees

With the UK doing a good impression of turning into Water World, I thought it might be a good time to write a post on our efforts to find trees that can cope with waterlogged soil. During the recent storms, a low-lying patch in our orchard flooded – again. It’s just a giant puddle, really, but it takes a few days at the very least to soak away. We don’t really want to put in expensive land drains, as the water does go after a while. So, rather than do battle with the bog, we thought we’d just try to plant things there that don’t mind about wet feet.

Most trees can take a brief bit of flooding, but a prolonged spell under water can deprive the roots of oxygen, eventually suffocating the plant. However, there are a few hardy souls that will grow, even thrive, in such temporary wetlands. Unsurprisingly, trees such as alder and willow, that are naturally at home along river banks, do well in the wet. So far, we’ve planted a Common Alder (Alnus Glutinosa) and a Violet Willow (Salix Daphnoides). After one winter, both seem totally happy.

Violet Willow

Violet Willow

For a more extreme water test, what I think are Goat Willows (Salix Caprea) are growing happily in our seasonal pond. Their trunks are submerged in about 2 feet of water for several months every winter, before the pond dries up again in the summer.

Goat willow submerged in water

Goat willow submerged in water

Goat Willow buds

Goat Willow buds

As well as putting up with the water, the alders and willows have lots to offer. They grow fast, can be coppiced for firewood, and both have pretty catkins that provide early food for bees. In permaculture terms, that’s a lot of useful yields…

If you’re after a more ornamental garden tree that can cope with the wet, the RHS has a list. Failing that, trees can be planted with their roots raised up on a slight mound of soil, to keep them above the worst of the waterlogging. We’ve done this with a pear tree that is a bit near the Puddle of Doom, and so far it appears to be working. The RHS also advise forking through the base and sides of the planting hole in wet areas, to stop water filling it up like a bucket, drowning a newly-planted tree before it can get going.

If you have any other trips on trees – or other plants – that can tolerate a bit of time under water, I’d love to hear.


6 responses to “Trees for waterlogged soil

    • Thank you! I asked the guys at the tree nursery we use what they’d recommend for a site that can get waterlogged, and we’re going by their advice. We’re just experimenting, really – I thought, if we plant a few different things, something will be happy! The goat willow (if that’s what they are – we didn’t plant them) seem amazingly tough, they really are in quite deep water for several months.

  1. I wonder how Salix melanostachys copes with water logged conditions. It has lovely black catkins with red anthers. They look like cat’s claws.
    The lovely red stemmed Salix britzensis copes with boggy conditions too.

    • Thank you for the suggestions – I’d never seen Salix melanostachys, it’s really amazing. The RHS website says it likes ‘moist but well-drained soil’ but then it says that about Goat Willow – which is growing happily submerged in my pond – so the melanostachys might well be worth a try! I may have to give this a go…Many thanks for another lovely idea, you clearly know your trees!

  2. I can testify that willow does very with wet feet. It was a ‘twig’ sticking out of the ground some 40 years ago. Now it’s huge. It’s catkins provide early nourishment for ‘my’ bees. In most winters it will stand in water about six months of the year. I think the latin name is Salix discolor, which I’m told is roughly equivalent to the goat willow in Europe. According to, the buds on the male tree appear earlier than those on the female. So my tree in the little pond must be a male. Interesting.

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