12 Best Plants for Clay Soil

Plants that are ideal for heavy and wet clay soil

Instead of trying to change your garden’s clay soil, why not embrace it by growing plants that thrive in these conditions? If your garden has clay soil, using plants that are well-suited to it will save you a lot of time and effort. By growing plants that flourish in these conditions, you won’t have to put in hours of work trying to change the soil (clay soil can be heavy and hard to dig, and it can become waterlogged in winter and crack in summer, however it’s nutrient-rich and moisture-retentive).

It’s far better to grow plants that thrive in clay soil, and the good news is that there are plenty of great choices to consider – here are our top 12 plants for clay soil.

Contents:

  1. Fuchsia
  2. Laurustinus
  3. Rose
  4. Juneberry
  5. Climbing Hydrangea
  6. Hardy Geranium
  7. Greater Masterwort
  8. Dogwood
  9. Hosta
  10. New England Aster
  11. Willow Leaved Pear
  12. Birch

Before getting started

When dealing with heavy clay soil, improving the soil texture is essential for successful plant growth. Working in organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, breaks up the clay particles, making the soil more loose and easier for roots to penetrate.

Mulching the soil surface further improves texture by preventing water loss and reducing compaction.

  • Two materials that can help to improve drainage and soil texture in clay soil are long manure and composted bark. Long manure is manure that still has a portion of visible straw remaining, while composted bark is a type of mulch made from decaying bark
  • While large, visible particles of straw in long manure make it a more effective amendment for clay soil, finer grades of composted bark, leafmould, leaf litter, garden compost, or mushroom compost can still help to improve drainage and texture to a lesser extent
  • Although adding coarse grit to clay soil is sometimes proposed to enhance drainage and texture, the large quantity of grit needed to make a significant difference makes it an impractical solution for all but the smallest gardens
  • To prevent the formation of waterlogged pockets and potential plant demise, aerate the planting hole in clay soils by breaking up the bottom and sides with a garden fork
  • To prevent dormant roots from becoming waterlogged and chilled, it’s recommended to postpone planting on heavy clay soils until the warmer temperatures of late winter or early spring arrive
  • Protect delicate plant stems from rots while retaining moisture and suppressing weeds by applying a 7.5cm (3in) layer of well-rotted organic mulch around the base in spring
  • Freezing and thawing over winter of ground dug in October, aids soil breakdown and helps to form spring seedbeds

12 plants that grow well in clay-based soil

Fuchsia

Fuchsias are hardy shrubs that produce beautiful pendant flowers in a range of colours. They can tolerate clay soils as long as they are moist and fertile, and prefer full sun or part shade. Fuchsias are also attractive to bees and other pollinators.

Laurustinus

Laurustinus is a large evergreen shrub that bears clusters of pink buds that turn to white flowers in late winter. It can grow well in clay soils as long as they are well-drained and enriched with organic matter. Laurustinus is also resistant to frost and drought, and provides year-round interest.

Rose

Roses are classic plants that come in many varieties and colours. They can thrive in clay soils as long as they are improved with organic matter and mulched regularly. Roses benefit from the nutrients and moisture retention of clay soils, and prefer full sun and good air circulation.

Juneberry

Juneberry is a deciduous shrub or small tree that produces white flowers in spring and edible purple berries in summer. It can cope with clay soils as long as they are not waterlogged, and prefers full sun or light shade. Juneberry is also a good choice for wildlife gardens, as it attracts birds and butterflies.

Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea is a vigorous climber that produces large clusters of white flowers in summer. It can grow well in clay soils as long as they are moist and rich in organic matter, and prefers partial shade. Climbing hydrangea is also a good plant for covering walls, fences, or trees.

Hardy Geranium

Hardy geraniums are herbaceous perennials that produce masses of flowers in various colours and shapes. They can tolerate clay soils as long as they are well-drained and enriched with organic matter, and prefer full sun or part shade. Hardy geraniums are also easy to grow and maintain, and can be used as ground cover or border plants.

Greater Masterwort

Greater masterwort is a herbaceous perennial that produces delicate flowers with star-shaped bracts in shades of pink, white, or green. It can grow well in clay soils as long as they are moist and fertile, and prefers partial shade. Greater masterwort is also a good cut flower and a magnet for bees and butterflies.

Dogwood

Dogwood is a deciduous shrub or small tree that produces clusters of white or pink flowers in spring and colourful stems in winter. It can cope with clay soils as long as they are not too dry, and prefers full sun or partial shade. Dogwood is also a good plant for adding structure and interest to the garden throughout the year.

Hosta

Hostas are herbaceous perennials that produce large and attractive foliage in various colours and patterns. They can thrive in clay soils as long as they are moist and rich in organic matter, and prefer partial or full shade. Hostas are also good plants for containers, borders, or woodland gardens, and can be divided easily.

New England Aster

New England aster is a herbaceous perennial that produces bright purple or pink flowers with yellow centres in late summer and autumn. It can grow well in clay soils as long as they are well-drained and fertile, and prefers full sun. New England aster is also a good plant for attracting butterflies and other pollinators.

Willow Leaved Pear

Willow leaved pear is a deciduous tree that produces narrow and silvery leaves and white flowers in spring. It can cope with clay soils as long as they are not waterlogged, and prefers full sun. Willow leaved pear is also a good tree for adding texture and contrast to the garden, and can be pruned to shape.

Birch

Birch is a deciduous tree that produces graceful and slender branches and peeling bark in various colours. It can tolerate clay soils as long as they are not too wet, and prefers full sun or light shade. Birch is also a good tree for adding height and interest to the garden, and can be grown as a single specimen or in groups.

About the Author

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The Alsoils Team

For more than three decades, Alsoils has been a trusted name in delivering superior soil, compost products and offering landscaping services. Based in Hampshire, Alsoils caters to a diverse clientele, including both homeowners and businesses. Our team are experts in all things gardening, so you can be sure you get the very best advice for topsoil, compost, manure and so much more!

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