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Perennials for Clay Soil

Bee balm in garden
Monarda x hybrida, commonly called bee balm, is tolerant of clay soil.

Growing plants in clay soil can be a chore.

Clay soil particles are small and flat; they pack so closely that water has trouble draining between them. Clay soil particles are so dense that plant roots have a hard time growing around or between them.

Clayey soil is sticky and heavy when wet and hard when dry. In either condition, plants struggle to grow. Often plants in clay soil will be stunted.

If your garden has clay soil, there are a couple of things you can do. First, amend the soil or grow above it. Add aged compost and organic matter to the soil to help separate the clay particles. Mound humus-rich soil above the clay and plant into the mounds; you can also grow plants in raised beds set high above the native clay.

Also, you can grow plants that tolerate clay soil. There are plants native to regions where clay soil is dominant; these plants have evolved other hundreds and thousands of years to survive and often thrive in clay soil.

Here’s a list A to Z of perennial plants that tolerate clay soil. At the bottom of this post are links to lists of shrubs, climbers, and trees that tolerate clay soil.

Perennials That Tolerate Clay Soil

A-B Common NameBotanical NameZone
ArrowheadSagittaria subulata8-11
AstilbeAstilbe japonica3-8
Bearded irisIris germanica3-9
Bear’s BreechAcanthus mollis6-10
Bee balmMonarda didyma4-8
BellflowerCampanula spp.3-8
Black-eyed SusanRudbeckia hirta4-9
Blazing StarLiatris spicata4-8
BluebellHyacinthoides non-scripta4-9
Blue cardinal flowerLobelia siphilitica3-9
Bulley’s PrimrosePrimula bulleyana4-8
Butterfly BushBuddleia davidii5-9
Butterfly WeedAsclepias tuberosa3-9
Cardinal flower or Lobelia cardinalis adapts to clay soil
Cardinal flower or Lobelia cardinalis adapts to clay soil
C-F Common NameBotanical NameZone
Canadian wild ryeElymus canadensis3-8
Cardinal FlowerLobelia cardinalis2-9
Chameleon plantHouttuynia cordata5-9
Chilean rhubarbGunnera manicata9-11
Common BistortPersicaria bistortum4-9
Compass plantSilphium lacineatum3-8
ConeflowerEchinacea purpurea3-9
Creeping JennyLysimachia nummularia3-8
Cuckoo FlowerCardamine pratensis4-8
DaylilyHemerocallis spp.3-9
FleeceflowersPersicaria amplexicaulis4-9
Flowering RushButomus umbellatus3-10
Forget-Me-NotMyosotis scorpioides5-9
FoxgloveDigitalis purpurea4-8

Hosta will grow in clay soil and shade
C-I Common NameBotanical NameZone
Giant Chain FernWoowardia8-9
GoatsbeardAruncus dioicus3-8
GoldenrodSolidago canadensis2-8
Greek valerianPolemonium3-9
Hardy asterSymphyotrichum3-8
HepaticaHepatia acutiloba3-7
HostaHosta spp.3-9
HydrangeaHydrangea macrophylla5-9
Indian PinkSpigelia marilandica6-9
Indian RhubarbPeltiphyllum peltatum3-7
A thick stand of Joe Pye weed, a wildflower native to Canada and the United States.
J-L Common NameBotanical NameZone
Jacob’s LadderPolemonium3-9
Joy-Pye WeedEupatorium puepueum4-8
KnotweedPolygonum capitatum8-11
Lady’s MantleAlchemilla mollis3-7
Lesser CelandineRanunculus ficaria4-8
Lesser SpearwortRanunculus flammula4-8
Loosestrife, GooseneckLysimachia clethroides3-8
Loosestrife, PurpleLythrum salicaria4-9
LungwortPulmonaria vallarsae4-8
Meadowsweet, Filipendula, growing in clay soil
M-O Common NameBotanical NameZone
Marsh MarigoldCaltha palustris3-7
Meadow PrimrosePrimula rosea4-9
Meadow RueThalictrum rochebrunianum3-8
MeadowsweetFilipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’3-8
Mexican LobeliaLobelia fulgens3-9
Mist FlowerEupatorium coelestinum5-9
MonkeyflowerMimulus guttatus2-11
MonkshoodAcontium carmichaelii3-11
New Zealand FlaxPhormium tenax9-11
NutsedgeCyperus rotundus3-10
Ostrich FernMatteuccia struthiopteris3-7
Ox-eye DaisyHeliopsis helianthoides3-8
Pink rose campion
P-R Common NameBotanical NameZone
PhloxPhlox paniculata4-8
PickerelweedPontederia cordata3-10
Plantain LilyHosta spp.3-9
RagwortJacobaea vulgaris9-11
Royal FernOsmunda spp.4-8
RhubarbRheum palmatum5-7
RodgersiaRodgersia aesculifolia5-7
Rose CampionLychnis coronaria4-8
Sneezweed, Helenium autumnale, blooms in autumn
S-Z Common NameBotanical NameZone
Self-HealPrunella vulgaris3-7
SedumSedum spp.3-9
Shooting StarDodecatheon meadia4-8
Shoreline FigwortScrophularia auriculata7-10
Skunk CabbageLysichiton americanus7-9
SneezeweedHelenium autumnale3-8
Snow PoppyEomecon chionantha6-9
Solomon’s sealPolygonatum hirtum3-9
Tibetan CowslipPrimula florindae3-8
ViburnumViburnum plicatum5-8

Also of interest:

Shrubs for Clay Soil

Climbers for Clay Soil

Trees for Clay Soil

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