Gardens and Outdoors Plants

20 Plants That Grow in Clay Soil

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It’s usually a bad sign to find out that your yard has clay soil. This type of soil isn’t very hospitable for some plants but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to work with. There are some good notable qualities of clay soils. They have plenty of nutrients and can preserve moisture quite effectively. The disadvantages include the increased density which can be restrictive for plants that require sufficient airflow and water drainage.

Despite some difficulties, there are plants out there that can thrive in clay soil. We’ll explore a selection of the best plants for growing in this type of soil. Keep in mind that you also need to be aware of other important aspects of growing plants such as location and sun exposure. Although not all of the following plants may be considered ideal for your yard, it’s safe to say that you can discover some solid options to take into account. These are the best plants that can handle clay soils.

1. Russian Sage

Hot and dry conditions allow the Russian sage plant to thrive. This is a hardy perennial that can tolerate many types of soil including the more difficult clay varieties. Many gardeners rely on this plant’s wispy wands of purple-blue flowers and silvery leaves to use the Russian sage as a visual focal point. It can definitely increase the beauty of your yard through an injection of color and texture.

The Russian sage is a fairly easy plant in terms of maintenance needs. Set aside a sunny spot for it to perform in an optimal manner. A great benefit of this plant is the pleasant fragrance that can remind you of mixed sage and lavender aromas. It’s not just the blossoms of the plant that produce an attractive smell but the foliage as well. Russian sage plants can attract birds and make great cut flowers.

2. Big Bluestem

If you’re looking for some beautiful ornamental grasses that grow in clay soil, check out big bluestem. This plant can handle arid conditions and has strong roots that make it suitable for soil erosion control. Big bluestem tolerates different types of soil though it prefers moist varieties rich in organic matter to develop its full growth potential. It’s recommended to consider this plant for hardiness zones 4 to 9.

The name of this ornamental grass comes from the bluish coloring at its base. From mid-summer to mid-autumn, big bluestem plants produce tall inflorescences that will transform into seed heads. The grass can perform as expected in different light conditions as it can adapt to full sun or part shade. It’s found in its natural environment in prairies and other dry areas in the Southern US. Big bluestem can be invasive for some regions due to its rapid spread.

3. Butterfly Weed

As its name implies, this plant works as a magnet for attracting butterflies to your yard. This North American native is also commonly visited by other beneficial insects like bees and lady beetles. The butterfly weed comes with a long taproot which helps it face prolonged dry spells. This feature can also help it grow in less-than-ideal soil conditions. You can bring this plant to your clay soil site without problems. Just make sure it will receive full sunlight.

Butterfly weed plants can be found in their native range in prairies of Midwestern regions in the US. They’re characterized by the presence of orange blossoms and glossy leaves that grow in a spiral on their stems. This plant is related to the common milkweed but it doesn’t ooze the milky sap that has irritating properties to the skin.

4. Aster

With daisy-like flowers and multiple color varieties, aster plants can be reliable choices for gardens with clay soil. There are different types of asters to suit your preference for size and shape. Most species tend to put on a showy floral display in the summer with some exceptions that can bloom in early spring. Typical aster flower color options will include shades of purple, pink, white, and blue.

Aster plants require full sun exposure to avoid the problem of flopping. There are some species that can handle shady locations but sunlight is an important aspect of caring for asters to benefit from abundant pretty flowers. One great aster variety to consider is New England which works ideally as a middle-of-the-border plant. Aster can be planted with other great companions such as Russian sage, sedum, and Boltonia.

5. Daylily

Daylilies are known for being able to grow in almost any garden. Clay soils won’t pose too many issues for these plants that will decorate your yard with their distinctive trumpet-shaped blooms. Flowers of the daylily plant tend to last very little but you can expect multiple blooms throughout the season. Some varieties can produce new blooms the whole summer. If you live in hardiness zones 3 to 10, it’s safe to say that you can enjoy the beauty of daylilies in your garden.

There are lots of cultivars of this plant so you will be able to match your specific garden aesthetic and color scheme. Daylilies are usually available with flowers in shades of red, white, orange, purple, yellow, and pink. Some types of daylilies are very fragrant while others show off other excellent qualities with more unique-looking blooms and ruffled double flowers.

6. Fountain Grass

Another great ornamental grass that you can grow in clay soil is fountain grass. This plant is valued for the texture of its feathery panicles. There are different types of fountain grass in terms of size and colors. Some varieties don’t grow taller than 15 inches while others can reach heights of 3 feet. Purple fountain grass is one of the most popular types due to its striking purple foliage and showy blooms.

There’s minimal effort involved when it comes to growing fountain grass. This is because it is highly adaptable with established plants being able to care for themselves. You only need to worry about issues during extended periods of drought. Although fertile, well-drained soil is ideal, fountain grass can tolerate different conditions, even clay soils. Keep this ornamental grass in full sun to light shade exposure.

7. New York Ironweed

This is a hardy wildflower that produces lots of small purple flowers. Medium to wet moisture seems preferable for the New York ironweed so that means you can safely grow it in clay soil. These plants can grow quite tall as most of them reach around 6 feet in height. They will usually grow bigger than other wildflowers and provide nectar to pollinators like bees. The New York ironweed is a perennial that prefers full to partial sun exposure.

Home landscaping enthusiasts can include this tall plant together with other types of ironweed to create a cohesive display. The look of the New York ironweed can resemble the appearance of Joe Pye weed with flowers that fade and become rusty seed clusters. The stems of this wildflower have an increased level of strength which gives the plant the ironweed name. It’s recommended as a background plant for borders.

8. Bluestar

Prized for their adaptability to wet sites or dry clay conditions, Bluestar plants shouldn’t be missed. They also thrive in various environments when it comes to light exposure. As the name suggests, Bluestar flowers show off star-shaped blooms with a bluish tinge. They’re quite appreciated for the appearance of the foliage. The leaves resemble the style of a willow while the gold color in the fall makes the foliage of the Bluestar stand out in the garden.

This perennial has a clump-forming habit so it’s a recommended choice for various landscaping applications. Wildflower gardens can welcome it but Bluestar plants can also grow successfully in containers or be easily integrated into borders. Most species of Bluestar perform best in fertile, well-drained soils. There’s no complicated maintenance process involved to care for Bluestars. Just make sure they get enough sunlight to prevent flopping and prune them to control the aggressive spread.

9. Sea Holly

If you want to focus more on texture instead of color, the sea holly plant could be a solid candidate for a clay soil garden. It comes with jagged leaves and spiky-looking flowers with a gray-blue color. As you’d probably expect, the sea holly is avoided by deer and rabbits. The plant can flourish when planted in USDA zones 2 through 10. One of the most important aspects of growing sea holly is that it can easily thrive despite neglect.

Sea holly is extremely tough so clay soils won’t pose issues. The plant can resist drought very well and provide some interest during the cold winter months. The spiny foliage is welcomed in many gardens where you wish to create a dramatic contrast with other flowers. Another advantage of this plant is the way its blue flowers are actually bracts which means they won’t fade as rapidly as regular blossoms.

10. False Sunflower

False sunflower is a hardy perennial that can withstand extreme heat and drought. Varieties can reach tall heights of up to 5 feet but there are dwarf types to fit gardens with small space. Even if this is not a true sunflower, the plant can make a great visual impression with its golden flowers that resemble daisies. You can incorporate false sunflowers in the back of the garden to add some cheerful vibes.

Compared to the real sunflower, this plant comes with smaller blossoms with a single row of yellow petals. There are varieties that show off double flowers. The foliage of the false sunflower doesn’t really stand out but some cultivars provide a variegated look in shades of pink or white mixed with green. Although it grows best in well-drained soil, this plant is able to tolerate poor soils like clay or an arid rocky environment.

11. Autumn Joy Sedum

Sedum plants are known for being easy to grow and adaptable. Many types of sedum can grow in clay or loam soils. A great example is the Autumn Joy variety that offers blooms in shades of pink, purple, and rust-red. Although it’s considered a sedum, this plant is a hybrid obtained from a cross with an ice plant. Full sunlight exposure is recommended to allow this plant to grow as expected.

Keep in mind that the Autumn Joy sedum can only handle clay soil if it offers good drainage. Constant dampness can be damaging for this plant so it’s best to water it infrequently. Considering its natural colorful look, this sedum can work as a specimen plant or you can bring it to a rock garden. Even if it has an upright growing habit, the dense style of the Autumn Joy sedum makes it fitting for ground cover applications.

12. Black-Eyed Susan

Another low-maintenance favorite of many gardeners is black-eyed Susan. This plant isn’t fussy about soil type or quality as long it has adequate drainage. It grows nicely in hardiness zones 3 through 7 and offers cheery blooms in yellow and orange colors. Black-eyed Susan flowers have a long blooming period but there are other interesting features of this plant aside from its bright blossoms. The plant shows off a pleasant texture for its foliage due to having scratchy, hairy leaves.

Once the plants get established, it’s safe to say that you don’t have to put in too much effort to maintain them healthy and vibrant. Black-eyed Susan plants can take advantage of deadheading to help it develop new blooms. For best flowering results, make sure you select a sunny site in your yard. They have the ability to resist periods of drought and a humid environment.

13. Maiden Grass

Maiden grass is a very popular plant as it can have many landscaping uses while offering minimal care requirements. This type of ornamental grass shows off a graceful arching form and coppery flower heads that will turn to white plumes later on. Maiden grass has a tendency to create clumps that can reach tall heights of up to 8 feet. The colorful foliage starts to fade in the winter but the plant still remains attractive.

This ornamental grass tends to prefer temperate and warmer climates as it’s grown successfully in hardiness zones 5 to 9. It’s known for being able to tolerate clay soil though it will most likely not perform ideally. Maiden grass enjoys full sun exposure and can withstand drought conditions once it reaches maturity. The self-seeding tendency of the maiden grass can make it difficult to control in some areas.

14. Goldenrod

There are lots of species of goldenrod that can tolerate clay soil. This hardy perennial brings some other benefits to your garden as well. The brilliant yellow-gold flowers can stand out in the garden while drawing many pollinators. Despite its appearance that makes people confuse it with an allergy-unfriendly plant called ragweed, the goldenrod plant can be considered quite safe for allergy sufferers. It lacks that light airborne pollen that can easily trigger allergy symptoms.

Most types of goldenrod will grow fairly tall as they can reach around 5 feet. If you’re looking for a smaller variety, you should take a look at the ‘Crown of Rays’ goldenrod. This tidy plant reaches a maximum height of only 2 feet and doesn’t spread too aggressively. It boasts the same tolerance of clay soils and can adorn the garden with its vibrant yellow blooms and spiky foliage.

15. Yarrow

Dry and sunny conditions allow the yarrow plant to grow quite nicely. This classic garden perennial isn’t particularly fussy about soil types while its attractive appearance can be easily integrated into any garden setting. Flowers of yarrow are available in multiple shades around a pastel spectrum of yellows, oranges, and pinks. The plant is prized for its silvery-gray foliage and resistance to deer. Butterflies will often visit the blooms of yarrow plants.

Thanks to being extremely simple to grow, yarrow is a welcomed addition for gardens with more difficult conditions. There aren’t lots of considerations to keep in mind when caring for yarrow, except for avoiding wet soils. Established plants can survive long droughts. You don’t have to worry about your yarrow plants if you live in a hot climate area but shady conditions can cause flopping or diseases.

16. Switchgrass

There are a few types of ornamental grass that can be considered more versatile than switchgrass. Whether it’s moist, dry, or clay soil, this plant can keep growing while adding fresh color and texture to your garden. Switchgrass is tough enough to handle drought and will never require fertilizer. Full sunlight is recommended if you wish to experience more vibrant foliage colors. Many newer cultivars of switchgrass show off interesting displays with rich burgundy and blue/green color combinations.

This ornamental grass grows in clumps but doesn’t spread very fast. It blooms in the summer while providing some good interest in the fall season as well. The wispy seedheads of switchgrass can offer a stylish textural feel to the garden as they sway gently in the breeze. The grass has soft pink blossoms that complete the overall aesthetic appeal of the plant’s foliage.

17. Canna

Those who live in very warm climates can add the tropical-looking canna plant to their garden. This flower grows well in clay soils with poor drainage. There are lots of canna hybrids with many of them providing a strong injection of color through the plant’s dramatic foliage. Canna bloom colors range from delicate shades of white and pink to vibrant yellow, orange, and red hues. Plants can grow fairly tall with some varieties able to reach more than 6 feet.

If you don’t have a lot of space in the garden, it’s recommended to opt for types of canna plants that stay under 2 feet tall. Thanks to living close to water, the canna plant is very well adapted to wet soil conditions. It’s even able to tolerate standing water. While that may seem good news for some gardeners, others will have to put some more effort in maintaining consistent levels of moisture.

18. Purple Coneflower

One of the most popular types of coneflowers, this plant fits well in your clay soil garden. It’s able to withstand multiple harsh conditions, including rocky soil, high humidity, and drought. There are other coneflowers to consider if you prefer different bloom colors but the purple variety seems to be the hardiest. The fibrous root system of the purple coneflower makes it simpler to transplant and divide the plant.

Clay soils can be amended to boost their organic nutrients content. This will help to ensure that your purple coneflowers can develop their characteristic daisy-like flowers and lush foliage. Full sun exposure is also essential for good flower production. Purple coneflowers are natives of eastern US regions and can cover lots of landscaping purposes. They work great for attracting butterflies and look splendid as a tall background for other showy plants.

19. Blazing Star

This native prairie plant is a staple of butterfly gardens. It’s also very appreciated by florists because it looks amazing as a cut flower. Blazing star blooms are loved by deer and rabbits too so keep that in mind if you decide to plant them. Wet clay conditions are rarely tolerated by most plants but it seems that blazing star can handle it together with other harsh growing environments.

Blazing star plants provide eye-catching spikes of flowers that are usually purple or white. Rich and fertile soils can be damaging for these plants as they’re adapted to prairie conditions. Keep blazing star flowers in full sun without worries as they can face heat and drought. While taller varieties can be prone to flopping in some environments, there are dwarf blazing star cultivars available that fit better in small gardens.

20. Yucca

Full-sun gardens should definitely include yucca plants. They can handle extended periods of drought while maintaining attractive evergreen foliage. This plant is tough enough to grow in clay soil but it’s essential to keep it properly drained. Yuccas are highly susceptible to diseases like root rot in moist soil. These lovers of desert climates can create a showy garden display with the help of their sharp, pointed leaves and waxy white blooms.

The foliage of a yucca plant represents the main reason for its popularity. Leaves can be found in different colors with some variegated types that add some extra visual interest. Additionally, some yuccas can show off filaments that complement the look of their silvery green leaves. Yucca plants are relatively easy to grow but make sure you’re careful about choosing correct companion plants that don’t have high water needs.

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