Best Plants for Clay Soil

close up of clay soilclose up of clay soil

Understanding The Benefits and Downsides of Gardening in Clay Soil

Clay soil is a common discovery in gardens across the country. Whether you're working with clay soil in your existing garden, or you're working on creating a new flower bed, we can help! This can seem like a challenge at first, but once you understand your clay soil, you can play to its benefits. Choosing the best plants for clay soil is not as limiting as you might expect - read on for the best plants to create beautiful and colorful perennial garden in your clay soil!

 

How To Idenitfy and Understand Your Soil Type

Knowing what type of soil you have in your garden is very useful for determining what plants will naturally thrive there, or which amendments you might want to add. Soil is made up of clay, sand, and silt particles. Most soils have a percentage of all three components, but the ratio of each is what determines your soil type. Clay is the smallest soil particle and sand is the largest, with silt being in between the two. 

The Benefits of Gardening in Clay Soil

  1. First, your clay soil has great water-holding capacity. Because clay is the smallest particle, the pore spaces in the soil are tiny; therefore, water filters through very slowly and has a lot of surface area to “grab” onto.
  2. Second, clay soil has a high nutrient holding capacity. Like the water, nutrients have a lot of surface area to bond and hold onto, making themselves available for plant uptake.

The Challenges of Gardening in Clay Soil

  1. Some difficulties of clay soil include its very little air-holding capacity. This can make it difficult for roots to grow through and maneuver within it.
  2. Clay soil also has a tendency of getting very hard and cracking when it does dry out. 

While dealing with clay soil can be difficult at times, it can provide a basis for a nutrient rich garden. Turning in organic matter helps aerate the soil, and this is something you can continue to do over time. Another recommendation is to avoid working in your clay soil right when it is very wet, as it will compact very easily and destroy the soil structure. As you add plants that naturalize and spread, their root systems can also help to improve your soil structure

Learn More: How To Identify Your Soil Type and Improve Garden Soil

 

The Best Plants To Grow In Clay Soil

AsterAster
Aster
Bearded Iris and AstilbeBearded Iris and Astilbe
Bearded Iris and Astilbe

Aster – Zone 3-9
Asters are easy to grow perennial plants that take care of themselves all summer long. Their vigorous blooms appear later in the season, right when other flowers begin to fade. A surefire way of adding great fall color for years to come, Asters' gorgeous flowers will stay true and strong until hard frosts set in. This also makes them a popular and dependable food source for Monarch butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects and pollinators.

Astilbe – Zone 3-9
Astilbes are extremely easy to grow and dependable for your shade or part-shade garden. Their textural plumes are available in a range of colors, including pinks, whites, purples, and reds. ‘Deutschland’ provides striking white plumes to brighten up a shady area mid to late summer. 

 

Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) – Zone 3-9
Coming in nearly every color you can imagine, bearded irises are a garden favorite! They require very little attention and have no problem competing for their place in the garden. The rhizomes multiply fairly quickly, so it is helpful to divide the plants every few years to avoid overcrowding and spread your iris collection. Many bearded irises are reblooming, so you can enjoy their color both in late spring and in early to mid fall.

A garden with Daylilies, Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susan, Echinacea, Hosta, and SedumA garden with Daylilies, Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susan, Echinacea, Hosta, and Sedum
A garden with Daylilies, Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susan, Echinacea, Hosta, and Sedum
  • Bee Balm (Monarda) – Zone 3-9
  • Bee Balm has been treasured for its beauty, medicinal uses, and pollinator-attracting powers for generations. The spectacular crown-shaped flowers are favorites of hummingbirds and butterflies. 
  • Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) – Zone 4-9

    Black Eyed Susans are a must-have in your garden. They produce yellow daisy-like flowers with black centers topping off at 3’ tall. ‘Goldsturm’ is a popular variety, blooming profusely from mid-summer to early-fall.

  • Daylily (Hemerocallis) – Zone 3-9

    Daylilies are an extremely low maintenance and dependable perennial that comes in nearly every color! Blooming in summer (with some reblooming varieties), your garden will excel with these must-have perennials.

  • Coneflower (Echinacea) – Zone 3-9

    Echinacea, or coneflower, is an extremely popular perennial – and for good reason! ‘Magnus’ has showy pink-purple flowers with a mature height up to 3’ tall. Attracts pollinators and birds to the garden.

  • Hosta – Zone 3-9

    There are so many hosta options to fit exactly what you need in your shade garden. Whether you are looking for blue, deep-green, or lime-green color, white or lavender flower stalks, delicate or massive foliage, a hosta will fill your space with a lush, dependable presence.

  • Sedum – Zone 3-9

    'Autumn Joy’ produces a reliable pink clump about 2’ tall. Blooming mid-summer to mid-fall, you get this bright color as other perennials are starting to slow down. This is a very carefree perennial, requiring little attention. Just plant it, sit back, and enjoy!

Best Plants for Clay Soil in Full Sun

While browsing perennials, use our helpful filters to find the right plants for your garden:
Light Requirments: Full Sun
Soil Type: Clay

echinaceaechinacea
These full sun lovers will brighten your garden all season long!

Best Plants for Clay Soil: Shade

Your shade garden will burst with different textures and colors with these shade-loving perennials! While browsing perennials, use our helpful filters to find the right plants for your garden:
Light Requirments: Full Shade, Half Sun / Half Shade
Soil Type: Clay

Astilbe and Hosta are two great plants for shady gardens with clay soilAstilbe and Hosta are two great plants for shady gardens with clay soil
Astilbe and Hosta are two great plants for shady gardens with clay soil

Best Plants for Clay Soil: Hot, Dry Areas

Best Plants for Clay Soil: Hot, Humid Areas

Best Plants for Clay Soil: Attract Pollinators and Hummingbirds

While browsing perennials, use our helpful filters to find the right plants for your garden:
Soil Type: Clay
Advantages: Attracts Butterflies, Attracts Hummiingbirds, or Bee Friendly

Best Plants for Clay Soil: Repel Deer, Rabbits, and Other Critters

While browsing perennials, use our helpful filters to find the right plants for your garden:
Soil Type: Clay
Advantages: Deer Resistant, or Rabbit Resistant

 

Getting a Full Season of Blooms in the Clay Soil Garden

full season of bloomsfull season of blooms

To get a full season of color in your clay soil garden, plant flowers with a range of bloom times!

Plant early spring bloomers, such as Bearded Irises, Hepatica, and Creeping Phlox. This early spring display would then be joined with late spring to early summer blooming Indian Pink, Daylilies, Butterfly Bush, Helenium, and Echinacea.

For your shady garden, Hostas and Astilbes will give you a bright bloom in the early summer. The peak of summer would continue to add color from tall Panicle Plox, Black Eyed Susans, Blue and Red Cardinal Flower, and Bee Balm. With the end of summer comes the color of Sedum and Asters, which transition your garden to its autumn stage. Here, your summer garden is joined with more Bearded Iris (if you have reblooming varieties) and Liatris for your shade garden.The persistent blooms of Helenium and Echinacea will last through the cooling temperatures of late fall.

A garden filled with these clay loving plants will give you a colorful cottage-like garden that fills out more and more every year!

Shop Plants For Clay Soil

  1. Deer Resistant Wildflower Seed Mix

    Containing 17 wildflowers that deter deer and other critters, the Deer Resistant Wildflower Mix brings loads of colorful blooms to the landscape. Perennials like Lupine, Gaillardia a...

    Learn More
    Deer Resistant Wildflower Seed Mix Deer Resistant Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $10.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Containing 17 wildflowers that deter deer and other critters, the Deer Resistant Wildflower Mix brings loads of colorful blooms to the landscape. Perennials like Lupine, Gaillardia and Lance Leaf Coreopsis return and multiply each season, while annual varieties like California Poppy, Zinnia and Scarlet Sage burst into blooms the very first year. Growing well in most regions (zones 1-8), the Deer Resistant Wildflower Mix contains only 100% pure, non-GMO neonicotinoid-free seeds. Guaranteed to grow.
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  2. Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix with Forget-Me-Nots, California Poppies, and Catchfly

    Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix is a colorful, varied mix of 26 annual and perennial wildflowers. A complementary color palette of pinks, reds, blues, and golds will brighten up an...

    Learn More
    Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $9.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix is a colorful, varied mix of 26 annual and perennial wildflowers. A complementary color palette of pinks, reds, blues, and golds will brighten up any part-shade garden or meadow for many seasons to come. Hearty blooms will attract pollinators from summer through fall. Plant in an area with at least 4 hours of sun per day. This mix contains 100% pure, non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free seeds, and is guaranteed to grow.
    Learn More
  3. Dry Area Wildflower Seed Mix

    Our Dry Area Mix is perfect for areas that are out of the way or regions that have water restrictions. It contains 25 different wildflowers, both annuals and perennials, that are dro...

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    Dry Area Wildflower Seed Mix Dry Area Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $9.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Our Dry Area Mix is perfect for areas that are out of the way or regions that have water restrictions. It contains 25 different wildflowers, both annuals and perennials, that are drought tolerant. This mix is designed to bloom all season long, year after year - It will burst into blooms the first year with the annual wildflowers and provide color in years after with the perennials.
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  4. All Annual Wildflower Seed Mix

    All Annual Big Color Wildflower Seed Mix - Variety will create a rainbow of color with 23 annual wildflower varieties. If you're looking for a quick-blooming meadow to give you armfu...

    Learn More
    All Annual Big Color Wildflower Seed Mix - Variety All Annual Big Color Wildflower Seed Mix - Variety
    As low as $9.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    All Annual Big Color Wildflower Seed Mix - Variety will create a rainbow of color with 23 annual wildflower varieties. If you're looking for a quick-blooming meadow to give you armfuls of cut-flower bouquets, this mix is for you! Blooming starts just weeks after planting and continues from spring all the way through frost, attracting a parade of pollinators along the way. Plant in full sun. This mix contains 100% pure, non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free seeds, and is guaranteed to grow. (Formerly known as our All Annual Mix).
    Learn More
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