If you plant a loam-loving plant in clay soil, both you and the plant will be mightily disappointed! That’s because it doesn’t drain well and can form a slimy-wet, airless muck that rots plant roots. And when it finally dries out, it becomes compacted and resists water absorption.
If you’ve ever tried to dig a hole in clay soil, you know how unworkable it can be. It’s nearly impossible to chop into fine chunks to aerate it, it clings to your shovel in great globs, making you work harder, and if it’s dry, you might not get your shovel into it at all!
If your yard is one of the 10 percent in the US with clay soil, you may be tempted to throw up your hands in surrender. But here’s encouraging news: there are plants that can tolerate the challenges of this soil. Also, there are ways to make clay more hospitable to less hardy plants.
Some shrubs, trees, and prairie grasses manage to flourish in clay, even heavy clay, with their roots resolutely drilling down through it millimeter by millimeter. And there are exceptionally rugged native flowering plants that have adapted, too, including many that provide food for butterflies, honeybees, and birds.
Following are some of these plants, and you’ll be able to plant other varieties, too, by improving the texture of your soil. Mix in organic matter, such as mulched leaves, compost, wood mulch, gypsum, and cottonseed hulls, to amend it. Position plants so the top of their root ball is slightly above the top of the soil—that will help prevent their suffocating if the clay sometimes stays boggy for too long.
|Common name||Latin Name||Zone|
|Bee Balm||Monarda fistulosa||3–9|
|Big Bluestem (grass)||Andropogon gerardi||2–7|
|Black-eyed Susan||Rudbeckia hirta||3–7|
|Blazing Star||Liatris spicata||4–9|
|Butterfly Weed||Asclepias tuberosa||4–10|
|Cup Plant||Silphium perfoliatum||4–8|
|False Sunflower||Helianthus helianthoides or H. x laetiflorus||5–9|
|Fox Sedge||Carex vulpinoidea||3–7|
|Fringe Cups||Tellima grandiflora||4–8|
|Golden Alexanders||Zizia aurea||4–9|
|Indian Grass (grass)||Sorghastrum nutans||5–8|
|Kansas Gayfeather||Liatris pycnostachya||4–9|
|Little Bluestem (grass)||Schizachyrium scoparium||3–9|
|Nodding Pink Onion||Allium cernuum||3–10|
|Purple Coneflower||Echinacea purpurea||3–9|
|Smooth Penstemon||Penstemon digitalis||3–9|
|Solomon's Seal||Polygonatum commutatum||3–9|
|Swamp Sunflower||Helianthus angustifolius||6–9|
|Wild Hyacinth||Camassia scilloides||3–8|
|Wild Senna||Senna hebecarpa||5–9|