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Plants for Clay Soil

Best Plants for Clay Soil

What grows well in clay soil? Dense clay soil is common in yards across the country. This can seem like a challenge at first, but we’re here to help! With some simple amendments and the right plants, you can transform your yard with beautiful plants.


How To Identify 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

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.

  • 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!

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

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

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

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

full season of blooms
Bee Balm, Hostas and Daylilies offer weeks of beautiful blooms!


Getting a Full Season of Blooms in the Clay Soil Garden

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!

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