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Top 20 Plants That Thrive in Clay Soil

One thing that most gardeners know is that clay is the most finicky soil type to work with. The soil is known for its inefficient drainage and low air circulation, and most plants can’t handle it. 

Though the majority of plants don’t mesh well with clay soil, you’ll be happy to know that there are some plants that do well in the soil. In this article, we’ll share with you the top 20 plants that thrive in clay soil.

We have an article all about Starting A Garden In Clay Soil and these are the plants to do that with.

Give Bearded Irises a Try 

Bearded irises are no-fuss plants that do well in clay soil. However, there are a few things that you should know before planting your irises. They can be planted in clay soil, but only if they are planted in raised beds.

This is necessary to ensure that they are able to drain properly. If you don’t plant them in raised beds, then they could end up with rhizome rot. 

These gorgeous plants should be planted in an area that gets either light shade or full sun. They do best if they’re planted in the fall months (September or October are best).

To test out these plants in your clay soil, plant experts recommend that you space the rhizomes between 1 and 2 feet apart and make sure that they are barely beneath the surface of the soil. 

You can plant them in hardiness zones 3-9.

Attract Butterflies with Asters

Another great option for your clay soil garden is asters, which are extremely easy to grow. Even the most inexperienced gardeners can grow these daisy-like beauties. 

To grow asters in clay soil, you’ll need to create some drainage for them. Wet clay soil is the perfect recipe for root rot. You should also be careful not to allow the soil to get too dry, or else the asters will wilt. 

Make sure to plant your asters anytime in the spring or early fall to increase the chances that their roots will be fully established before winter starts. 

Asters like full sun and a lot of water. You can plant them in hardiness zones 3 to 8.

Here’s a quick video explaining how to grow asters from seed:

Bring in the Color with Sneezeweed

Sneezeweed is a stunning species of perennial that blooms in the fall. They can easily tolerate clay soil and can be planted in hardiness zones 3-8. They like full sun and love water, though waterlogging them can lead to root rot. In the wild, you’ll find sneezeweed in moist soil and around streams in Missouri. 

If the soil that you plant them in is nutrient-rich, you shouldn’t need to fertilize these plants. If you plan on using these flowers as a border or prefer to plant them along a pathway, you’ll have to cut them back often to keep the foliage from growing out of control.

Each flower will grow around 3-5 inches tall and sports daisy-like petals with dull-yellow center disks. They are the perfect addition to any garden due to their showy appeal and easy disposition. 

Plant Some Butterfly Bushes

Butterfly bushes will take any butterfly garden to the next level! Their vibrantly colored flowers attract tons of butterflies and hummingbirds, making for a lovely garden teeming with life. 

The bush is not difficult to grow, but there are some tips that you can use to increase your chances of success when working with this plant. The following list will tell you the ins and outs. 

In order to reach their full potential, butterfly bushes need full sun, and they need it for at least 8 hours per day. The condition of the soil is also extremely important for this plant. The soil needs to be able to drain efficiently. So, if you plan to use mulch around your butterfly bush, don’t put it too close to the plant. It could cause moisture to pool in the soil. 

Also, experts recommend that you don’t plant your bushes level with the ground. If you dig a shallow hole to plant your butterfly bush, this will create a hill that will allow for adequate drainage. 

Butterfly bushes are hardy in zones 5-9 and need full sun (meaning at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day). Anything less, and you’ll have growth issues. Also, it’s imperative to make sure that your bush is not overwatered.

Here’s a video with some great tips on butterfly bushes:

Plant Some Astilbes in Shady Areas

Astilbes are wispy and colorful plants that liven up any shady areas of your garden. They can bloom in a variety of colors, from white to pink to dark burgundy. But the best thing about them is that they can grow in clay soil. 

Astilbes prefer moist soil that doesn’t get too dry or soaked. So, if you want to plant some Astilbes, keep in mind that you will need to keep a close eye on the soil’s moisture. If the soil stays wet for too long, fungus issues can develop, but if it gets too dry, the plant can show signs of drying up. 

One thing that’s special and potentially annoying about this plant species is that pests love them. Some of the most common pests you may have to contend with include: 

  • Beetles
  • Woodchucks
  • Slugs
  • Rabbits
  • Deer

Plant your astilbe in either the summer or fall. And make sure that the plant gets part shade. Too much shade will decrease the plant’s ability to flower. 

Go Exotic with Bee Balm

Bee Balm is a vibrant crown-shaped flower that is beloved by many. Their name references bees because these flowers attract them in high numbers. 

Bee Balm stands out for their peculiar looks, and as an added plus, they can handle clay soil. They prefer moist, rich soil. Like some of the other plants mentioned, this plant does not like to be dry. A little dryness is usually fine, but prolonged dryness can kill them. 

Grow your bee balm in full sun and in hardiness zones 4-9. Space the plants out sufficiently – 18-24 inches apart will do. These plants do well if you plant them in the summer or fall, and after you do, keep the foliage of the plant trimmed. This way, the plant’s roots can be sufficiently developed.

Watch this video about growing Bergamot (Bee Balm):

Daylilies Love Clay Soil

Your clay soil garden will not be complete without daylilies. The peculiar appearance and texture of these flowers, along with the variety of fun colors they come in, make them a true enhancement to any garden. 

These plants are known to be easy to plant and care for. On top of all of this, daylilies thrive in clay soil, along with most other soil types.

To grow daylilies, you should plant them where they will get either full sun or light shade. Expert gardeners will tell you that you likely won’t need to fertilize daylilies. It’s extremely important to give this plant enough water and even more during bloom season. The general rule of thumb here is the more water you give this plant, the more it will bloom. 

These plants do well in hardiness zones 4-9. 

Add Interest with Black-Eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan is wonderful to look at, with their dark centers and cheery flowers. This plan is as beautiful as it is carefree. These plants prefer clay soil but can tolerate many other soil types. 

These beauties like either full sun or part shade, depending on the specific variety you have. You should plant these about 18 inches apart from each other to minimize the chances of crowding. 

These plants can handle dry soil for up to a month, but they will need water from time to time. Gauge whether you should water your Black-eyed Susans by looking at them.

If it looks like they’re drooping or otherwise struggling, give them some water. You don’t need to fertilize these plants, but you can do so once a year if you want to. 

These plants do best in hardiness zones 4-9.

Here’s some tips on black eyed susan growing:

Bring in Some Greenery with Hostas

Hostas are lively green plants that don’t have any blooms, yet they may be just perfect for your garden. The foliage of a hosta is full of texture and personality and makes for lively groundcover. 

In general, Hostas grow best in shady, cool areas that don’t get a ton of sun. However, some types of hosta can handle some sun. But you’re better off planting them in an area that has considerable shade. 

When it comes to Hostas, the soil type and moisture level are extremely important. Clay soil is fine for hostas, but you should make sure that the soil is high in organic matter. Planting your hostas in the growing season gives them the best possible start. If you plant them in the summer, you will need to be extra attentive to them so they don’t die in the hot summer sun. 

Elevate Your Garden with Miscanthus

This grass grows very well in clay soil and carries a unique vibe. This tall grass adds a ton of texture and movement to your garden. 

Plant your miscanthus in clay soil that is able to drain adequately – you can ensure that your soil is able to drain by planting your miscanthus shallowly. This will allow excess moisture to run off rather than accumulating at your plant’s roots.

Make sure that your miscanthus gets full sun. If you plant it in an area that only gets part sun, you’ll notice that your plant may start to lean or even look droopy. 

Plant Coral Bells for Colorful Foliage

Coral bells are among the most beautiful foliage plants in existence, and as an added bonus, they grow just fine in moist clay soil. 

The plant’s flowers can be any color, from pink to purple, or almost any color in-between. You can choose any variety that you feel will complement your existing plants. 

You’ll need to do a bit of work to get your coral bells established, but after they are sufficiently established, they are easy-going. To keep your coral bells thriving, you’ll need to divide them every 3 to 4 years. 

They grow best in hardiness zones 4-9.

Grow Some Bush Honeysuckle

Native to North America, bush honeysuckle will no doubt jazz up your garden. Plant your bush honeysuckle in an area that gets full shade for the best results. You could also try your hand at growing them in partial shade if necessary. 

They have a high tolerance for drought and can be planted in high numbers and long as they’re spaced 3-5 feet apart. Be sure to plant them in rich soil that is well-drained.

Beware that bush honeysuckle attracts moths. So, if you’re not keen on moths flying everywhere, then you may want to explore some of the other options on this list. 

Line Your Paths with Dogwoods

Not only are dogwoods nice to look at, but they also flourish in clay soil. Just make sure that you plant them on a slope for optimal drainage. Be forewarned, though, that dogwoods are not the easiest plants to grow. 

Before you take the time to plant these, make sure that the soil drains well. Dig a small 12″ x 12″ and fill it with water. Allow the water to drain and then fill it up once again. Get your stopwatch and see how long it takes for the water to drain. If the water drains completely in about 12 hours, then the soil is suitable for your dogwoods. 

When it comes to water, dogwoods like a moderate amount and they are not too fussy about light. 

Plant a Crab Apple Tree

Crab apple trees are a sight to behold. Their beautiful white and pink blooms are breathtaking, to say the least. 

These plants like clay soil, but only if it has adequate drainage. Grow them in full sun for the best results. The general hardiness zones for this plant are 3-8. However, some crab apple trees may grow perfectly in zone 9. 

Be on the lookout for the following issues normally seeing in crab apple trees: 

  • Mildew
  • Fire blight
  • Rust
  • Leaf spot

Accent Your Garden with Elephant Ears 

Elephant ears are so named because their leaves look similar to elephant’s ears. The plants produce pink or red flowers in the springtime. You can plant them either in the sun or in the shade. Just make sure that they don’t get too much direct sunlight. 

They are pretty hardy plants and can be grown in zone 3-11. For the best results, plant them in the spring after the weather has started to warm up a bit. If you want to be thorough, check the temperature of the soil before you plant them. Once the soil has reached 65 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re clear to plant your elephant ears. 

Plant a Viburnum Screen

Viburnums are beautiful plants that feature berries and colorful, fragrant blooms. If you don’t already have a viburnum in your garden, we urge you to get one immediately. These plants go well in any garden as screens or hedges.

Viburnums are not fussy- beginner and avid gardeners alike will testify to the fact that these plants are easy to grow. Just make sure that you plant them in part shade. 

Consider Vibrant Honeysuckle 

Honeysuckle is a good plant option for you if you’ve got clay soil. The lonicera periclymenum variety pairs with clay soil effortlessly- other honeysuckle varieties may not flourish in clay soil. 

This plant likes moist soil that drains well, so plant them on a slope. To keep mildew away, plant them in dappled shade.

Here’s a video showing which honeysuckle is best to plant:

Plant Some Classic Roses 

You may not have been aware, but the majority of roses prefer clay soil. Make sure that the specific rose variety you’re considering will grow well in clay soil by doing a simple internet search of the species. 

Some gardeners will tell you to amend the soil with organic matter to help with drainage, though this may not always be necessary.

Keep the soil moist but not overwatered, as this can quickly kill your roses. 

Experiment with Pulmonaria

Pulmonaria is a perennial that originated in Britain. It’s known for its distinct dotted foliage and colorful blooms. 

The pulmonaria plant is one of the best plants for clay soil. It grows best in either partial or full shade and likes moist soil. After the roots have been established, you can expect your pulmonaria to survive drought. 

Keep your plant in good shape by keeping it out of the full sun. 

Add Arkansas Blue Star to Your Garden

A very peculiar plant, the Arkansas blue star adds interest to any garden. The plant has green leaves that resemble those of a willow and flowers that look like miniature stars.

These plants don’t mind clay soil, but you should take steps to make sure the soil drains adequately. 

You can grow this plant in USDA hardiness zones 5-8. Check your zone prior to planting these since they are very sensitive to weather changes.

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