Heavy, wet soils are among the most difficult conditions for growing fruit trees. Though some varieties will tolerate heavy, clay-based soils, most will die when too much water is present. The best option is to avoid planting in these areas, or to try to amend the soil with compost to improve drainage. If this process doesn't work, there are a few fruit-bearing trees that will survive these conditions.
The mountain ash family includes 2 primary species, the North American mountain ash (Sorbus Americana) and the European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia). Though these trees themselves aren't meant for dense, wet soils, a few of their hybrids will thrive. These options include the Ivan's Beauty mountain ash (Sorbus "Ivan's Beauty"), a hybrid that thrives in zones 2 through 7. Another is the Shipova (Sorbopyrus auricularis), a variety that may be hybridised with pear or pyrus trees. Both the Shipova and Ivan's Beauty are small trees that produce berrylike, edible fruit.
There are more than a dozen types of pear tree, many of which will do well in heavy types of soil. For wet areas, preferred species are the European (Pyrus communis) and Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia). Pear trees will take several years to produce fruit and should be planted in a spot where they receive full sun exposure. Most varieties will be hardy to temperatures below zero and will do well in dry or damp soil. Both the Asian and European pear species will do well with occasional standing water.
The black currant (Ribes nigrum) is a deciduous shrub that will grow to approximately 6 1/2 feet in height. It thrives in zones 3 through 8 in the United States and is highly resistant to frost and cold weather. These plants produce glossy, green leaves and a dark violet-coloured berry from July to August. The berry may be eaten raw, but is most commonly used to make jelly and jam. It is a good source of vitamins C and E. Additionally, leaves may be steeped to make tea. This plant does best in a soil that is slightly alkaline and will suffer with acidity. It does best in well-drained, loamy soil, but will tolerate heavy soil that is waterlogged in the winter.
For areas that are too wet or have soil too heavy for most fruit trees, there are a few other fruiting plants to choose from. Among them are blueberries, which require an area with full sunlight and slightly acidic soil. Though they do well in soil that drains well, wet soil is also tolerable for some varieties, such as highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and New Jersey blueberries (Vaccinium caesariense). Hazelnut trees will all thrive in heavy soil with standing water and will not tolerate drought. Both lingonberry and cranberry plants of all varieties will thrive in heavy soils, and neither will not tolerate drought.
- Gardening Central: Mountain Ash Trees
- Landscape Plants for Alaska: Ivan's Beauty Hybrid Mountain Ash
- United States Department of Agriculture: European Black Currant
- Michigan State University Extension; Hints on Growing Blueberries; Eric J. Hanson, et al.; 1998
- United States Department of Agriculture; Hazelnut Planting Guide; Jimmy Henry, et al.; 2000