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Plants That Grow in Clay Soil

By April Sanders ; Updated September 21, 2017

Clay soil is common in many areas of the United States. This heavy, sticky soil is difficult to work with, drains poorly and is too hard for many types of plants to really thrive. The key to working with clay soil is to amend it, but that is often not very practical as it can be time-consuming and expensive. Instead, choose plants that are able to grow well in clay soil.

Trees and Shrubs

There are many trees and shrubs that thrive in clay soil, but give them a head start by planting them so that the top of the root ball is slightly above the surface of the ground.

Trees that grow particularly well in clay soil include the Norway and Silver maple trees, which are mid-sized trees with brilliant golden fall foliage, the River birch, which features beautiful, cinnamon-colored bark, and all cottonwood and aspen trees.

Shrubs that thrive in clay soil include the bright yellow Northern Sun or Meadowlark forsythias, which burst into bloom in early spring, the Silverberry, which has masses of pale, silvery leaves and the popular and fragrant Honeysuckle shrub.


Many flowers prefer well-drained soil, but there are some that do grow well in clay soil. Asters, with their brilliants colors, are one such choice. There are over 250 different types of asters, with varying heights. Some are perennials and others are annuals. The taller cultivators need to be staked. Purple Dome asters, which are a bright purplish-pink hue and do not require staking, are a popular choice. Asters bloom from late summer though fall. Black-eyed Susans also do very well in clay soil. There are many different types of this yellow and black beauty, with some reaching 6 feet in height (Rudbekia). Goldstrum is the most popular variety. Coreopsis is not as well known as the first two flowers listed, but it is a very hardy plant with delicate, jeweled-toned flowers and lacy leaves. In addition to its beauty, coreopsis also has the added benefit of attracting butterflies. Finally, daylilies, which are one of the hardiest flowers in existence, do very well in clay soil--even in shady areas.

Ferns and Grasses

While flowers are a great way to brighten up your garden, there are other plants that can add interesting textures and colors to your landscape as well. Ferns are great for growing in clay soil, and some varieties are also excellent for shady areas. Try the Japanese Painted fern, which has distincitive fronds of green, red and silver. Ornamental grasses are also a good choice for clay soil. Switchgrass features purple flowers that bloom in the fall and gradually fade to a golden color, bringing an interesting look to your winter landscape. It can grow up to 3 feet tall and makes a great privacy screen or border.