What Grows Well In Clay Soil (& Heavy Soils)

Different soils have different textures and properties that should be considered when growing different things in them.

In this short guide, we outline what might grow well in clay soils and heavier types of soil.

 

Summary – What Grows Well In Clay Soil

Clay soil has traits/properties that make it different from other types of soils

These traits/properties mean that different plants, fruits, vegetables, and other things are going to be more suitable for growing in clay soil than others

There’s different materials that can be added to a clay soil in order to amend or improve it for growing conditions

However, some clay soils may be so extreme that adding to them or trying to amend them to improve growing conditions can be futile

Some soils may be a clay mix, which means that it may be predominantly clay, but also include a certain % of another type of soil as well. This may change the suitability of the soil to grow different things in it, as it isn’t a full clay soil

The soil type is only one factor in determining what you can and can’t grow in that soil – there’s also other factors to consider, with climate/weather conditions being one major one

Overall, each individual geographic area (in different regions, States/Provinces, and so on) of soil needs to be assessed individually with all it’s own unique factors and variables to determine what does and doesn’t grow well in it. There may be growing principles that apply to clay soils generally, but, individual growing variables can change that to different extents

 

Characteristics Of, & Profile Of Clay Soil

Pure clay soil tends to:

– Have the smallest soil particles when compared to silt, and sand

– Hold/retain a lot of moisture and water and have poor drainage (because of how tightly compacted the small clay particles are)

– Be poorly aerated 

– Be sticky and clumped together when wet – making it hard for root vegetables to establish roots in the clay, and making it hard for gardeners to work with it

– Crack and go solid when they dry out – which can dislodge certain root systems

– Hold onto nutrients, but can be hard to access for plants and other things growing in clay.

 

Working With, Improving & Amending Clay Soil

Compost, leaf mould, coarse grit and well-rotted bark chips can work well when added in moderate amounts to clay soil. Liming agents like calcium can also work well in moderate amounts with clay.

However, as mentioned by Empressofdirt.net, sometimes the clay soil in your area might be too extreme for modifications and amending, and raised garden beds with imported soil might work better for growing.

Read these sources for more info on amending, improving and working with clay soil:

 

A Note On Soil Types, & What Ultimately Impacts How Things Grow

Before we look at what grows well in clay soil, it’s important to note that all soils are slightly different in composition depending on the location (you might get a pure clay soil in one location, but in another you might get a mixed clay soil or a soil with different characteristics), there are different external factors acting upon each soil, and ultimately, there are many physical, chemical and biological factors that determine how well something grows in a particular spot or under particular conditions.

This is just a guide on clay soils in general, without going into extreme depth about all these other factors (factors like soil fertility, soil health, soil quality, fertilizer added, top soil added, pesticides added, tilling practices and so on).

It would do you well in the long term to get information on the soil in your location (what it is and what is the best way to manage it), the climate in your location (temperature, rainfall etc.) and the growing seasons (for example – the US has different planting zones), the plants or things you want to grow and the conditions they need – and come up with a specific plan for your situation.

These guides provide some basic information on figuring out what might grow well in different soils, conditions and locations:

 

Plants & Flowers That Grow Well In Clay Soil

  • Iris
  • Miscanthus
  • Heuchera 
  • Baptisia
  • Platycodon
  • Hosta
  • Aster
  • Rudbeckia
  • Perovskia 
  • Echinacea
  • Coreopsis
  • Achillea
  • Athyrium

– hgtv.com

 

  • Aster
  • Goldenrod
  • Black Eyed Susan
  • Russian Sage
  • Daylily
  • Yarrow
  • Little Bluestem
  • Fountaingrass
  • Switchgrass
  • Ironweed
  • Canna
  • Bluestar
  • Baptisia
  • Coreopsis
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Sea Holly
  • Perennial Geranium 
  • False Sunflower
  • Heuchera
  • Hosta
  • Blazing Star
  • Bee Balm
  • Sedum
  • Yucca
  • Miscanthus

– bhg.com

 

Flowers:

  • Roses
  • Daylily
  • Foxglove
  • Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii
  • Elder
  • Hydrangea macrophylla
  • Lychnis coronaria
  • Thalictrum
  • Persicaria 
  • Chinese lantern

– gardenersworld.com

 

Flowering perennials and bulbs:

  • Hostas
  • Lingularia
  • Euonymous
  • Vinca
  • Alchemilla mollis 
  • Asters
  • Rudbeckia
  • Coreopsis
  • Phlox
  • Aconites
  • Hellebores
  • Japanese anemone.
  • Geraniums
  • Primulas
  • Cranesbill
  • Pulmonaria
  • Astilbe
  • Astrantia
  • Kniphofia
  • Solidago
  • Ivy
  • Clematis
  • Honeysuckle
  • Narcissi
  • Snowdrops

– daviddomoney.com

 

Fruits & Fruit Trees That Grow Well In Clay Soil

  • Citrus trees
  • Fig
  • Stone fruits

– gardenguides.com

 

Vegetables & Crops That Grow Well In Clay Soil

  • Lettuce, chard, green beans beans and other crops with shallow roots
  • Broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage often grow better in clay soil than looser loams
  • Mid and late season sweetcorn are a good choice, too, but some of the best vegetables to grow in clay are squash and pumpkins.
  • As long as they are grown in planting holes that have been generously enriched with compost, summer squash and small pumpkins seem to do well no matter where they are grown
  • Rice can also work well in clay

– growveg.com.au

 

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage (red and green)
  • Cabbage (Napa and savoy)
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Bean
  • Pea
  • Potato
  • Daikon radish

– empressofdirt.net

 

  • Bean varieties
  • Carrots and beets
  • Swiss chard
  • Rice varieties

– hunker.com

 

Vegetables:

  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Squashes
  • Pumpkins
  • Onions
  • Leaks 

– daviddomoney.com

 

Trees, Shrubs and Bushes That Grow Well In Clay Soil

Trees and shrubs:

  • Snowy mespilus
  • Birch
  • Crab apple
  • Roses
  • Hawthorn
  • Holly 
  • Strawberry tree
  • Cotoneaster ‘Hybridus Pendulus’

– gardenersworld.com

 

Trees:

  • Birch
  • Eucalyptus
  • Sorbus
  • Hawthorn
  • Magnolia
  • Amelanchier
  • Pine
  • Thuja
  • Juniper
  • Chamaecyparis

– daviddomoney.com

 

Shrubs:

  • Cornus
  • Viburnum
  • Mahonia
  • Berberis
  • Pyracantha
  • Cotoneaster
  • Weigela
  • Buddleja
  • Forsythia
  • Hydrangea
  • Chaenomeles (flowering quince)

– daviddomoney.com

 

Plants For Wet Clay Soil

  • Iris
  • Hostas
  • Hydrangea
  • Cornus
  • Weigela
  • Astilbe

– daviddomoney.com

 

Sources

1. https://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/flowers-and-plants/14-plants-that-thrive-in-clay-soil-pictures

2. https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/best-plants-to-grow-in-clay/?slide=slide_526290#slide_526290

3. https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/small-trees-for-heavy-and-clay-soils/

4. https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/10-flowering-plants-for-clay-soil/

5. https://www.daviddomoney.com/best-plants-clay-soil-grow-full-sun-partial-shade/

6. https://www.gardenguides.com/list_5942074_fruit-trees-grow-clay-soil.html

7. https://www.daleysfruit.com.au/forum/which-fruit-trees-can-be-grown-in/

8. https://www.kings.co.nz/gardening-news/growing-fruit-trees-in-clay-soils

9. https://www.growveg.com.au/guides/growing-vegetables-in-clay-soil/

10. https://empressofdirt.net/best-vegetables-clay-soils/

11. https://www.hunker.com/13406959/crops-that-grow-well-in-clay-soil 

12. http://www.provident-living-today.com/Types-of-Soil.html 

13. https://www.burkesbackyard.com.au/fact-sheets/in-the-garden/gardening-tips-books-techniques-and-tools/soil-type-test/

1 thought on “What Grows Well In Clay Soil (& Heavy Soils)”

  1. Awesome info, moved to endland a few years ago and the soul here is very clay based. Scotlands soil is completely different. None the less I’m happy I can still grow stuff that my family like to eat. Home grown always tastes better

    Reply

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