The best shrubs for clay soil are those that are tolerant of its texture and its ability to hold water and then dry out. Clay soil is one of the more difficult soils to have in a garden bed. Many times plants will need a more organically rich soil than clay delivers. Clay soil plants and shrubs are hardy and usually more adaptable plants than those needing specialized soil.
Euonymus alatus, commonly known as winged euonymus or winged spindletree, is from the bittersweet family. It gets 15 to 20 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide. Leaves are deciduous, 3 inches long, and come in pairs. Flowers are yellowish-green, and bloom in late spring in small clusters. Plant a winged euonymus in full sun to nearly full shade in well-drained soil. Propagate via seed or spring/summer greenwood cuttings.
Lonicera sempervirens, commonly known as coral honeysuckle or trumpet honeysuckle, is from the honeysuckle family. It is an easy-to-grow vine that attracts birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. Leaves are 1 to 3 inches long. Flowers are tubular and 2 inches long, either red or orange with yellow inside. Plant a coral honeysuckle in full sun or partial shade in any soil. Propagate via seed.
Viburnum dentatum, commonly known as arrow-wood or southern arrow-wood, is from the honeysuckle family. It is a deciduous shrub that attracts birds to the landscape. It gets 6 to 10 feet tall and approximately the same in width. Dark-green leaves are over and 2 to 3 inches long. Springtime white flowers appear in clusters 3 to 4 inches wide. Fruits are bluish black. Plant an arrow-wood in any soil in any sunlight. Propagate via seed or summer greenwood cuttings.
Eastern White Cedar
Thuja occidentalis, commonly known as the eastern white cedar or the American arborvitae, is from the cypress family. It is an evergreen conifer that gets 40 to 60 feet tall. Leaves are fragrant, dull yellow-green in color and look like scales. Cones are egg-shaped and green turning to red-brown. Plant an eastern white cedar in full sun to partial shade in any soil. Propagate via seed or semi-ripe cuttings.
Sambucus canadensis, commonly known as the American elder or elderberry, is from the honeysuckle family. It is a fast-growing shrub that attracts birds. It will get 10 to 15 feet tall and approximately the same in width. Leaves are feather-like and up to 12 inches long. Foliage will have a bitter smell when crushed. Flowers are small and star-shaped in a 10-inch-wide spray. Fruits are edible blue-black drupes. Plant an American elder in full sun or partial shade in any soil. Propagate via seed, tip cuttings in winter or spring green-wood cuttings.