Tree for Wet Area

JIrene1(8)August 14, 2014

Hi, I am new to this site and would appreciate tree advice and opinions please!

We have an underground spring in the rear corner of our backyard that causes ~3-4" of standing water on ~10' x 20' area from November - July. We live in a very wet, rainy climate, and have very poorly draining clay soil. After seeing only a very minor, temporary improvement in drainage from thatching, aerating, and amending soil with lime, etc, it seemed the results weren't worth the cost/labor.

We had a HUGE, beautiful weeping willow ~40' from the spring removed last summer, due to old age and a large hollow in it's trunk that became home to raccoons. The WW helped ALOT with the water issue, but cons were periodic expensive trim costs (it shed debris on our neighbor's garage - previous owner planted it only ~4-5' from the property line), and the habitat/travel route it provided coons. Other minor cons were the mildewy/moss effect it had on everything near it - shed roof, fence, etc.

Previous owner put in ~180' of french drain at least 10-15+ years ago, which according to a neighbor starts at the spring, but it seems partially clogged - water comes out of it at the street, yet it's just not taking up the water from that back corner like it used to. It's possible that WW roots and/or clay soil have increasingly clogged sections of it over time - old WW was only ~5' from it's ~1/2 way point from head to outlet, plus it's buried under 3' of clay soil (!!!). Due to costs, labor, etc, we don't want to install a new french drain, or dig up the existing one to unclog/repair it. I fear a swale/dry creek bed/pond to collect the water might attract coons - in addition to the coons prompting the tree removal, they also prompted ripping down beautiful grapevines from our arbor - we've learned the hard way to think of deterring them when making backyard choices.

So, we're considering putting in a new tree, this time much closer to the underground spring (~10' from it, which would also be right in the middle of where the water pools). New tree would be offset from each fence line ~10', and only nearby building would be neighbor's metal shed ~15-20' away. Area gets a good amount of sun (when it's not raining!).

Factors are:
1) Ability to absorb water & tolerate poorly draining clay soil
2) Maintenance costs - easy DIY trims or better yet none at all!
3) Appeal to critters, primarily raccoons (no fruit trees, prefer minimal hollows/habitat appeal, etc)
4) Lifespan
5) Roots clogging french drains - although not sure whether to even care about this, since I don't know how well the existing french drain is still functioning/where it's clogged - new tree would be near head of drain, whereas old tree was ~1/2 way between head and outlet of drain
6) Mossy/mildewy debris yuck on everything in it's path
7) Size/looks/privacy - prefer looks of deciduous trees, but screening view of partying neighbors with a tree at least 25' tall & at least 10' wide for as much of the year as possible is ideal

Despite the negatives we had with our old WW, we saw it's water absorption abilities and are therefore considering another one. Other ideas we've heard for water absorption are River Birch, Oregon Ash, Red Maple, and several others. How soon do you think a WW would develop hollows big enough to appeal to critters? I'm not sure the age of the old willow, but I'm guessing at least 20+ years. Our arborist thought it was 65 years old, and if this is accurate, that means the hollows for critters didn't develop til it was ~50 years old - and I'll be dead by then!

Thoughts/opinions on our best approach? Please and thank you!

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Where (roughly) do you live? We need to know more about your growing conditions other than that it's a "very wet, rainy climate"

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 9:13PM
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Thanks for the reply smivies! Pacific NW, specifically Portland area. Thanks again in advance for any advice/opinions!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 9:32PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Welcome aboard!

Taxodium, bald cypress will stand water and is reasonably polite. May get knees being right at the water and that may or may not bother you're mowing. Neat fall color. slightly different shape for here. Seem as wind resistant as anything given their shape.

Metasequoia, dawn redwood, may tolerate being in water. Worth an experiment with a $20 mail order tree. Neat story. I like the foliage more than bald cypress and the fall color more. Does not get knees. You can prune the lower branches to achieve the smooth trunk effect or leave them on to get a cool gnarly fluted trunk.

Other thoughts..

..Nyssa sylvatica, called black gum here and a different name in every zip code. Difficult transplant but very polite tree and EXCELLENT non cookie cutter fall color.

Acer rubrum, red maple cultivars. Some places they call it swamp maple.

Oh! Nyssa aquatica if your climate is mild enough for it. Another southern swamp classic.

How about a pic of your area before I get size inappropriate.

During the wet years after I first moved in I went Metasequoia, Acer Rubrum, Nyssa Sylvatica across the low spot in my front yard. Last few years have been more dry but I know life goes in cycles so they'll tolerate it when the mushy yard springs return.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 11:19PM
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The bald cypress from the hill country of Texas do not develop knees and have the ability to grow in the water depth you describe. If you are interested in growing some from seed, I would be glad to mail you some. Shoot me an email.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 11:42PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

You can plant any of these directly into the soil with your 3-4" of standing water being present but they must be planted as bare-root:

Taxodium distichum, Nyssa aquatica, Salix, Carya aquatica, Forestiera acuminata (shrub - may come in very handy to add), Planera aquatica, Nyssa ogeche, Itea virginica (shrub), Quercus lyrata, Larix species, Sycamore.

Younger trees will adapt much better than larger, i.e. a 12"-24" tree, in that range... is preferable.


This post was edited by gardener365 on Fri, Aug 15, 14 at 8:48

    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 8:43AM
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Are these suggestions appropriate for Portland, Oregon? What PNW native trees might be suitable?

    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 9:38AM
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If this were my neck of the woods, Upper South, I'd suggest river birch or bald cypress. Knowing both become large trees, esp the cypress....may impact that choice.

As far as your PNW natives, you'll need someone from there to suggest, I am sure you have some that would fit the bill.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 9:43AM
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Thanks for the ideas everyone! What do you think about Weeping Willow vs River Birch as far as water absorption?

    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 11:06AM
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"Are these suggestions appropriate for Portland, Oregon? What PNW native trees might be suitable?"

Not strictly Oregon trees but a useful resource none the less.
California Riparian Plants

Given your conditions and the link above, these may be the best 'native' options:
Acer macrophyllum
Acer negundo ssp. californicum
Aesculus californica
Fraxinus latifolia
Juglans hindsii
Populus fremontii
Populus trichocarpa
Platanus racemosa

    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 12:32PM
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