Helping Flooded Trees and Shrubs (H1592, Revised April 2021)

Flooding periodically happens in North Dakota. Post-flooding management decisions can help or harm trees and shrubs on their road to recovery. A list of flood-tolerant trees/shrubs, and a list of flood-sensitive trees/shrubs, are provided.

Joseph Zeleznik, Ph.D., Extension Forester

Availability: Web only

Flooded Yard
NDSU Photo by Megan Myrdal

Symptoms of flood damage

  • Leaves – discoloration (yellowing), wilting, scorched appearance, early fall color or leaf drop (Flood symptoms are very similar to drought symptoms.)
  • Branches – dieback of existing branches, sprouting of new branches from the trunk

Determining amount of damage

    • Water – If the entire tree crown is or was covered with water for any amount of time, the tree likely will die. However, a high amount of oxygen in the water can reduce the damage:
      • Fast-moving water contains more oxygen than slow-moving water.
      • Shallow water warms quicker and loses more oxygen.
    • Health of the tree – Very young and very old trees are unlikely to survive; previously healthy trees have a better chance at survival.
    • Inspection – Use your thumbnail to scratch the bark from a young limb; if you find green tissue underneath, the plant is alive though there is no guarantee that it will recover.
    • Season of flooding – Floods that occur in the dormant season will not harm trees.

    Recovery of flood-damaged trees – reduce future stress

      • Remove sediment that has accumulated on the soil surface.
      • Fertilization – Lightly fertilize with up to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of soil surface.
      • Pests – Scout for insects and diseases and treat as necessary.
      • Damaged bark – Remove loose bark and carefully trace around wounds with a sharp knife to remove loose bark; do not use pruning paints or wound sealers.
      • Remove only dead branches and limbs. Do not top trees.
      • Recovery – Trees or shrubs may take up to five years to recover.

                Tree limb
                NDSU Photo by Dave Haasser

                Tree removal

                • Flood-damaged trees may fall over in high winds because of weakened root systems and/or saturated soils.
                • Hire a professional arborist for removing large branches and trees.

                Tolerance to Soil Saturation or Surface Ponding During Growing Season


                Often able to withstand more than three weeks

                • Ash – green, black, Manchurian
                • Boxelder
                • Cottonwood
                • Common hackberry
                • Willows

                Able to withstand one to three weeks

                • Silver maple
                • Freeman maples (‘Autumn Blaze,’ ‘Sienna Glen,’ and others)
                • River birch
                • Russian-olive
                • Honeylocust
                • Quaking aspen
                • Bur oak
                • American and hybrid elms
                • Arborvitae

                Unable to withstand more than seven days

                • Norway maple
                • Sugar maple
                • Ohio buckeye
                • Paper birch
                • Hawthorns
                • Black walnut
                • Apples and crabapples
                • Mountain-ash
                • American linden (basswood)
                • Siberian elm
                • Siberian larch
                • Junipers (including Eastern redcedar)
                • Pines
                • Spruces


                Able to withstand more than three weeks

                • Redosier dogwood
                • Willows
                • Nannyberry
                • American cranberrybush

                Able to withstand one to three weeks

                • Black chokeberry
                • Silky dogwood
                • Honeysuckles
                • American black currant
                • Eastern arborvitae

                Unable to withstand more than seven days

                • Juneberry
                • Cotoneasters
                • Euonymus
                • Forsythia
                • Cherries, plums, apricots, peaches (genus Prunus)
                • Golden currant
                • Lilacs
                • Yews 


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