Plants for Compacted Soils

E = evergreen; N = native to Maine

Abies balsamea E, N Balsam Fir
Acer rubrum N ; Acer saccharinum N Red Maple ; Silver Maple
Acer saccharinum N Silver Maple
Alnus incana Speckled Alder
Betula nigra River Birch
Cercis canadensis Eastern Redbud
Crataegus crus-galli, N Cockspur Hawthorn
Fraxinus americana N White Ash
Fraxinus nigra N Black Ash
Fraxinus pennsylvanica N Green Ash
Ginkgo biloba Ginkgo
Gleditsia triacanthos Honeylocust
Juglans cinerea, N Butternut
Juglans nigra N Black Walnut
Larix decidua European Larch
Larix laricina N Tamarack
Picea glauca E, N White Spruce
Picea mariana, E, N Black Spruce
Populus deltoides N Eastern Cottonwood
Quercus bicolor N Swamp White Oak
Quercus macrocarpa N Bur Oak
Quercus palustris Pin Oak
Salix nigra, N Black Willow
Syringa reticulata Japanese Tree Lilac
Thuja occidentalis E, N Arborvitae; White Cedar
Tilia americana, N Basswood
Ulmus pumila Siberian Elm
Amelanchier alnifolia Saskatoon Serviceberry
Caragana arborescens Siberian Peashrub
Cephalanthus occidentalis N Buttonbush
Cornus racemosa N Gray Dogwood
Cornus sericea N Red Osier
Dasiphora (Potentilla) fruticosa N Shrubby Cinquefoil
Euonymus atropurpureus Eastern Wahoo
Diervilla lonicera N Dwarf Bushhoneysuckle
Juniperus communis E, N Common Juniper
Juniperus horizontalis E, N Creeping Juniper
Photinia (Aronia) melanocarpa N Black Chokeberry
Physocarpus opulifolius Common Ninebark
Pinus mugo E Mugo Pine
Rhododendron (Ledum) groenlandicum E, N Labrador Tea
Rhus glabra N Smooth Sumac
Rhus typhina N Staghorn Sumac
Spiraea x bumalda Bumald Spirea
Spiraea x vanhouttei Vanhoutte Spirea
Symphoricarpos albus Snowberry
Syringa vulgaris Common Lilac
Thuja occidentalis E, N (shrub forms) Arborvitae; White Cedar
Viburnum dentatum N Arrowwood Viburnum
Dasiphora (Potentilla) fruticosa N Shrubby Cinquefoil
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus Coralberry
Rhus aromatica Fragrant Sumac


In sites with heavily compacted soil, plant choices are very limited. The alternative is to change the soil. Three methods are:

  1. Replace the soil. This is very expensive in large spaces.
  2. Add a layer of well-structured soil, either in berms or in raised beds. To accommodate woody plants’ root systems, such a layer must be at least 18” deep, but preferably deeper. Do not cover existing trees’ roots with this deep a layer of soil.
  3. Amend compacted soil with organic matter. Soil amendment is a long-term project that requires ongoing effort. Over time, the organic matter breaks down and “glues” soil particles together, providing more space for roots, water and air. Organic matter should be incorporated into the entire mature-plant root zone, no just into the planting hole.

From the GardenPro Answer Book; revised and updated by Lois Berg Stack, Ornamental Horticulture Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.