Top 25 Plant Recommendations for Gardens with Clay Soil

The clay soil can be one of the toughest soil conditions for a gardener to deal with. Clay soil is dense and wet, and can become as hard as bricks when exposed to the sun. This type of soil leaves very little space for air and water to move for the plants.

It takes some discernment to choose plants that will grow well in clay soil. Some plants can tolerate clay soil, and even help improve the texture and drainage. Here are 25 plants which can grow in clay soil, even though you will still need to meet the other requirements for growing, such as sun exposure and USDA Hardiness Zones. Full sun plants are listed at the top.

How to Improve Clay Soil for the Garden
01

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
Big bluestem
CarbonBrain / Getty Images
The big bluestem grass is a warm season grass that thrives in arid conditions. The plant is used for erosion control and as an ornamental. It is adaptable to most soils. It grows well in moist, fertile soil. In less fertile, drier soils, the plant is less likely flop.

USDA Growing Zones 4 to 9
Color Varieties: Red-purple
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil needs: Average, well draining
02

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Black-eyed Susans with yellow petals radiating outward on tall stems
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Black-eyed Susans make a great addition to any garden because they’re adaptable and require little maintenance. The plants will live and bloom for many months. As long as the soil is well-drained, this plant can tolerate a wide range of soils. It thrives best in moist, rich soil.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 7
Color Varieties: Yellow, orange
Full sun exposure
Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
03

Blazing Star
Blazing star plant with pink bottlebrush flowers on tall stems
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Blazing star plants are characterized by their grassy leaves and spikey bottlebrush flowers, which bloom for a long time. Monarch butterflies are attracted to the flowers and will feast on their nectar for hours. It likes fertile, moist soil. However, it does not tolerate wet soil over winter.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 8
Colors: White, red-purple
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil needs: fertile, moist and well-draining
04

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias Tuberosa
Bees on Butterfly Weed
The Spruce by Marie Iannotti
This native North American perennial produces clusters in a variety of brilliant colors. Butterfly, bees, and hummingbirds are all attracted to it. It is drought-tolerant and thrives in poor soil because of its long taproot.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 9
Color Varieties: Yellow, orange, red
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil needs: Average, well draining
05

Canadian Wild Rye
Canadian wild rye with green flowering stems
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Canadian wild rye has a soft arching habit and forms clumps in the cool season. The plant is easy to grow and adaptable to different soils and conditions. It is tolerant to air pollution and drought.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 8
Color Varieties: Green
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil needs: Average, well draining
06

Compass Plant (Silphium Laciniatum).
Compass plant with yellow flowers radiating outwards and bids
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Silphiums are prairie plants that prefer the richness of clay soil. The golden yellow flowers of the plants are held high above their foliage. The shorter Silphium Integrifolium (Rosinweed), which is also a great choice for clay soil, can be used in addition to the compass plants.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 8
Color Varieties: Yellow
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil needs: Average, well draining
07

Cup Plant (Silphium Perfoliatum)
Cup plant (Silphium Perfoliatum)
LianeM/Getty Images
The cup plant gets its name because it forms cups where the stems and leaves meet. Birds and butterflies love this type of Silphium. The plant can tolerate clay, wet soil and some drought after it is established.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 9
Color Varieties: Yellow
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil Needs: Rich, moist
08

Daylily (Hemerocallis)
Closeup of Daylily with large Orange Petals
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
There are many daylilies, even though each flower only blooms for one day. It is hard to find another flower that can tolerate so many different growing conditions. This plant prefers a fertile, moist loam. It also grows well in clay soil.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 9
Colors: Red, pink orange, yellow and purple
Sun exposure: full sun
Moisture and drainage are the two main requirements for soil.
Continue to 9 below.

09

Drooping Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
Coneflowers with yellow petals that are swept back and brown centers, on thin stems.
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
The Mexican hat flower, Ratibida columnifera (Drooping coneflower), is more refined than the Drooping Coneflower. It is more robust and has the same cheerful, swept-back petal look. It prefers good drainage and medium moisture, but can tolerate some dryness.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 8
Color Varieties: Yellow
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil Type: Clay or sandy soils that drain well
10

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Goldenrod with yellow flower panicles and tall stems
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Goldenrod is often misunderstood because it’s mistaken for ragweed, which can cause allergies. However, goldenrod shouldn’t irritate the sinuses. It is tolerant to poor soils and can tolerate clay, as long as there is good drainage.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 9
Color Varieties: Yellow
Full sun exposure
Soil needs: average, slightly acidic and well draining
11

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Indian grass
GracedByTheLight/ Getty Images
Indian grass begins the season as a low growing clump. By mid-summer it starts to produce tall flower stalks, which remain attractive throughout the winter. It can grow in heavy clay and dry, infertile soil.

USDA Growing Zones 4 to 9
Color Varieties: Light brown
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil needs: Average, well draining
12

New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
New York ironweed with small purple flower clusters, buds
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
New York ironweed, a vigorous and colorful wildflower, produces clusters of violet flowers on its 5- to 7-foot tall plant. It is happy to grow in clay soil because it prefers moist conditions.

USDA Growing Zones 5 to 9
Color Varieties: Purple
Full sun exposure
Rich, acidic soil with medium to high moisture
Continue to 13 below.

13

Prairie Blazing Star
Blazing star / Liatris Pycnostachya
Magicflute002 Getty Images
The plant is able to handle any kind of condition, including wet clay. It doesn’t want to stay in wet soil all winter. So make sure that the plant has good drainage. Prairie blazing stars have the Liatris habit, which is to start blooming at the top of their bottle-brush flowers before slowly moving down.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 9
Color Varieties: Purple
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
14

Sea Holly (Eryngium Yuccafolium)
The purple and silvery flowers of the sea holly are similar to those of the thistle.
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Sea holly is a unique flower in the garden because of its thistle-like flowers. Cut flowers can also last days. It prefers a sandy, slightly dry soil but can also grow in clay.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 9
Colors: White, green, blue, purple
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil needs: Average, well draining
15

Autumn Joy Sedum (Hylotelphium ‘Autumn Joy’)
Autumn Joy sedum with pink flowers clusters on thin stems
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Autumn Joy Sedum is easy to grow and reliable. It grows well in sandy or gravelly soil. It can tolerate clay and loam, as long as the drainage is good.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 9
Colors: pink, rust red, lavender purple
Sun exposure: full sun
Soil needs: Average, well draining
16

Perennial Sunflowers (Helianthus).
Heliopsis Helianthoides
Joshua McCullough/Getty Images
Perennial sunflowers may not be as big and spectacular as annuals, but they are still a beautiful addition to the garden. Three species are good to grow: swamp sunflower (Helianthusangustifolius), fake sunflower (Helianthusxlaetiflorus), oxeye (Heliopsishelianthoides).

USDA Growing Zones 4 to 9
Colors: Yellow and brown
Full sun exposure
Soil needs: Average, well draining
Continue to 17 below.

17

Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii)
Arkansas blue star with pale blue star-shaped flower on stem
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Arkansas blue star has delicate willow-like foliage that makes it an attractive border plant. Late spring brings pale blue flowers in star shapes, which are followed by beautiful seed pods. Golden autumn foliage completes the growing season. It will grow on most soils but does not like prolonged drought.

USDA Growing Zones 5 to 8
Color Varieties: Light blue
Sun exposure: full sun to partial shade
Soil needs: Average, well draining
18

Aster (Aster species)
Aster with pink frilly flower with yellow center clustered together
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Asters are perennials with late-flowering flowers that will last your garden until frost. They can grow in clay soil but need good drainage. Consider planting in raised beds or digging the soil twice if you have heavy clay.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 8
Colors: pink, purple, white, red
Sun exposure: full sun to partial shade
Soil needs: Acidic but well-draining
19

Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Yellow coneflowers in sunlight
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Coneflowers can be a dependable and tough prairie plant. Coneflowers are a tough, dependable prairie plant. It can grow in rocky and clay soils, and also tolerate heat, humidity, and drought.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 9
Colors: Red, gold, purple, pink
Full sun to partial shade
Soil needs: Medium, medium to dry moisture, well draining
20

Eulalia Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
Eulalia grass, with long thin leaves and tan seeds heads.
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Miscanthus is one of the most common ornamental grasses. Their tendency to self-seed can be a problem. They can grow in a variety of soils, ranging from sand to clay.

USDA Growing Zones 5 to 9
Color Varieties: Copper, silver
Sun exposure: full sun to partial shade
Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
Continue to 21 below.

21

Fountain Grass, (Pennisetum alopecuroides),
Fountain grass with pink and silvery fluffy panicles and thin leaf blades
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
The fluffy panicles of fountain grasses make them a favorite. They grow best in loamy soil, but can also thrive in clay. Fountain grasses come in many heights and colours, but tend to be perennials only in warm zones.

USDA Growing Zones 6 to 9
Color Varieties: Silver, pink
Sun exposure: full sun to partial shade
Soil moisture needs: Medium to moist.
22

Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus)
Sweet flag
Jerry Pavia/Getty Images
The sweet flag is an ornamental short grass that grows in moist areas and can even be submerged in water. It spreads by underground rhizomes but is usually not invasive. It is a great plant for stabilizing damp areas that are prone to erosion.

USDA Growing Zones 6 to 9
Greenish-yellow
Sun exposure: full sun to partial shade
Soil Needs: Fertile, moist
23

Switch Grass, (Panicum virgatum),
Switch grasses are clump-forming blades that have brown-tipped tips and feathery flowers.
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Switch grasses form clumps and are tall grasses that have feathery flowers. They bloom late in the year. These grasses are almost self-sufficient, except for dividing and cutting back. These grasses can tolerate dry conditions, but prefer moist sandy and clay soil.

USDA Growing Zones 5 to 9
Color Varieties: Pink
Sun exposure: full sun to partial shade
Sand or clay with medium to high moisture
24

Tickseed (Coreopsis)
The plant has small yellow flowers arranged in clusters on the thin stems.
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
The native North American plant tickseed is extremely hardy. The plant is low-maintenance, drought resistant and blooms continuously throughout the year. It is not particular where the plant grows, but prefers good drainage.

USDA Growing Zones 4 to 9
Color Varieties: Yellow, orange, pink, red
Sun exposure: full sun to partial shade
Well-drained soil is the best for soil.
Continue to 25 out of 25 below.

25

Wild Bee Balm, Monarda fistulosa
Wild beebalm with purple showy flower
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
It does not matter what type of soil it grows on, but it prefers conditions that are dry. The flower heads are like sparkling sparklers. For bushier plants, pinch them back at the beginning of the season.

USDA Growing Zones 3 to 9
Color Varieties: Pink, purple
Sun exposure: full sun to partial shade
Soil needs: dry to medium moisture with good drainage


The FAQ
What perennials do best in clay soils?
Perennial plants return year after year. Daylily flowers and asters are some of the best perennials to grow in clay soil.

Can flowers grow on clay soil?
All plants except grasses have beautiful blooms. Their flowers are available in different colors, such as yellow, orange and blue.

Does hydrangeas thrive in clay soils?
Most hydrangeas like a loamy soil that drains well and is rich in humus. If you add organic matter or compost to your clay soil, your hydrangeas will not be stressed or infected.


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