It takes a special tree to be able to stand up to soil that will not drain properly, no matter how you amend the soil. Ideally, for most trees, the soil should be half solid materials and half porous-enough material to hold the water the roots need and enough space to let the excess escape. When the solid material reaches from 60 to 80 percent, you have a serious drainage problem. If you constantly have puddles after a rain storm, you have a drainage problem. Check the color of the soil. A dull or gray color is another indication of poor drainage.
Trees and other plants are susceptible to a fatal fungal disease known as root rot. The puddled water is a breading ground for bacteria which can enter through the roots. You can have your soil tested and if there are no options like creating a raised bed, you have to choose a tree that actually likes to get its feet wet. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for help and a list of trees that will do well in your area, but here are a couple of suggestions, just to give you an idea of your options.
Winter King’ Southern Hawthorn( Crataegus viridis) grows from 20 to 30 feet tall with dark green leaves that turn bronze, red, and gold in the fall. Large, white flowers produce orange-red fruit that stays on the tree throughout the winter. The tree is hardy in zones 4 through 7. Plant in full sun and a soil that is moist and occasionally wet.
Sweetbay Magnolia(Magnolia virginiana) grows from 20 to 40 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide. Plant in full sun or partial shade and a rich, moist to wet soil. The tree features medium to dark green leaves up to 6 inches long that turn chartreuse in the fall. Cream colored, fragrant flowers bloom in late May and June. The flowers give way to solid green fruits that turn to chartreuse then brown and open to reveal dozens of bright red-orange seeds. The tree is hardy in zones 5 through 9.
American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) can grow up to 100 feet tall or higher with a trunk diameter of 10 feet or more. Leaves are 4 to 8 inches long and about the same in width. Flowers grow in thick clusters and are followed by fruits in green clusters that turn brown before falling off the tree. Plant in full sun or light shade and a moist, well-drained to wet soil. The tree is hardy in zones 5 through 9.
Other options include Ilex decidua, Liquidambar styraciflua, Nyssa sylvatica, Quercus lyrata, Quercus macrocarpa, Quercus phellos, Salix babylonica, Taxodium distichum and Ulmus americana.
University of Tennessee