Clay Soil Plants

Here are some plants I recommend for clay soil. Those marked with  are native or have native species available. The staff at your local fine nursery will have additional suggestions.


Trees that tolerate clay soil

River birch Betula nigra ‘Heritage’ and others Beautiful bark and yellow fall color
Green Ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica Good form, great shade tree
Larch Larix spp. A deciduous conifer with yellow fall color
Witch Hazel Hamamelis virginiana Late autumn fragrant flowers, yellow fall color
Weeping willow Salix spp. Iconic tree but the messiest imaginable
Bald cypress Taxodium disichum Deciduous conifer, bronze fall color, can form “knees”
Arborvitae Thuja occidentalis many cvs. Readily available evergreen, fast grower, versatile, but deer browse on it
Black Haw Viburnum Viburnum prunifolium Tough small tree, white flowers, red fall color, fruit for birds, tolerates shade

Shrubs that tolerate clay soil

Serviceberry Amelanchier Red fruit and fall color
Bluestar Amsonia hubrichtii Blue flowers, fine-textured leaves turn yellow to peach in fall. Great massed.
Flowering quince Chaenomeles cvs. Colorful spring flowers, fruit for jelly
Summersweet Clethra alnifolia cvs. Fragrant flowers in late summer and yellow fall foliage
Red twig dogwood Cornus sericea ssp. Prune old stems annually for best showy winter stems
Grapeholly Mahonia cvs. Bold-textured broad-leaved evergreen with late winter blue fruit that birds relish, deer do not browse
Ninebark Physocarpus opuifolius ‘Diabolo’ Purple-leaved, tough, versatile, can be cut back for best new growth, ornamental bark
Elderberry Sambucus canadensis Graceful foliage, flat-topped white flowers produce fruit relished by birds (and good for pies)
Viburnum Viburnum trilobum and V. dentatum Red fruit and fall color

Perennials that tolerate clay soil

Anise hyssop Agastache foeniculum cvs. Long lasting blue flowers, bees love this plant
Swamp milkweed Asclepias ssp. Essential food source for butterfly caterpillars
Blue false indigo Baptisia australis Blue-purple lupine-like flowers early in spring, adds nitrogen to soil
Purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea cvs. Every garden must have, attracts butterflies
Joe-Pye weed Eupatorium fistulosum Tall, attracts butterflies
Daylily Hemerocallis spp. and cvs. Every garden must have daylilies
Hosta Hosta spp. and cvs. Indispensible shade plant, deer love
Blue Lobelia Lobelia siphilitica Deep blue flowers in late summer, forms colonies, butterflies attracted
Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris Beautiful tall fern but very aggressive and hard to confine. Better to use Osmunda fern species with their dramatic cinnamon-brown fruiting stalks
Virginia bluebells Mertensia virginica Early spring bloomer, wonderful massed in woodland, goes dormant after flowering
Rodgersia Rodgersia spp. and cvs. Bold textured
Cupplant Silphium perfoliatum Tall, single best species for attracting birds, especially goldfinches. Seeds aggressively
Ironweed Vernonia novaboracensis Fluffy brilliant purple flowers, tall, for the background of borders. Will seed around, good for wildflower gardens.

Groundcover that tolerates clay soil

Bugleweed Ajuga reptans many cvs. The definitive groundcover for clay soil, spreads

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