Planting trees along a river bank can provide environmental benefits such as preventing soil erosion, providing shelter for wildlife and decreasing runoff of pollutants into the water. It is important to select the right varieties for planting along a waterway to ensure of their survival and success. Choose trees that are tolerant of wet soils, are native to the area and will look nice growing along the banks. Once the trees become established, leave them undisturbed to grow and develop into a natural planting.
The river birch, or Betula nigra, grows best near water. It is a fast-growing tree that can reach heights of 50 feet and widths of 40 feet in optimal growing conditions. It produces triangular serrated leaves that are supported by a multitrunk base. Each trunk is covered with dark grey to black flaky, peeling bark. River birches are hardy to USDA planting zones 3 to 9, prefer acidic soils and can grow in areas that receive full sun to partial shade.
Quaking aspen, also know as Populus tremuloides, grow all over North America. These trees have chalky white bark and dark green leaves that tremble in the breeze. They require moist to wet soils and full sun conditions to thrive. They are most hardy in zones 3 to 6. Quaking aspen trees can reach heights of 50 feet with a width of 20 feet. These trees grow in clumps and make excellent windbreaks and natural plantings.
The nuttall oak, red river oak or Quercus nuttallii, is found in the southeastern United States. This tree grows well in heavy, clay soils that remain wet. It will only grow in areas that receive full sunlight and is hardy to zones 5 through 9. It is a large tree that can grow 40 to 60 feet tall with a spread of 25 to 30 feet. Wildlife such as squirrels, deer, ducks and wild turkeys eat the nuttall oak's acorns during the winter.
Weeping willow, or Salix babylonica, is best know for its weeping habit. The branches seem to cascade down the tree with a waterfall-like appearance. Weeping willows require a moist growing environment with heavy soils and can survive in areas with standing water. They prefer full sun areas and often can be found growing along streams and rivers in the wild. They can reach heights of 50 feet tall and spread to widths of 35 feet. Weeping willows are hardy in zones 4 through 9.