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Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea) is a great plant for clay soil.

Top 10 Plants For Clay Soil

By David Salman, High Country Gardens Founder & Chief Horticulturist 

Clay can be one of the gardener's biggest challenges. Unless a plant is well-suited for clay conditions, it likely won’t do well. Read on to learn which plants grow well in clay, and some of the techniques for amending clay soil for long term success.

What Is Clay Soil?

Soil is actually made up of several components: clay, sand, and silt, as well as water, air, and organic matter. The proportions of clay, sand, and silt are what determine how well your soil supports the things that are growing, how much moisture it holds, and how well it drains. 

Clay is very finely textured with extremely small individual particles that form a highly water-absorbent, poorly drained soil. Clay soils are nutrient-rich, but their density can make root growth difficult. Clay soil becomes brick-like when it gets dry becoming very hard and brittle and resistant to re-wetting. Wow, what's a plant to do?

5 Tips For Planting In Clay Soil

  1. Amend clay soil at planting time with high quality organic compost, Yum Yum Mix, and Soil Mender Worm Castings to improve texture and the availability of water and oxygen.
  2. Top-dress in fall with Yum Yum Mix and organic matter, such as leaves or grass clippings, to feed the soil for a healthier and more workable garden.
  3. Mineral aerators like coarse perlite (readily available at indoor grow shops), small size volcanic scoria (if locally available), and expanded shale can be mixed to the soil to a depth of about 1 foot deep along with the soil amendments listed above.
  4. The soil can also be "bermed,” building mounds to plant onto or lifted into terraced and raised beds.
  5. Choose clay-loving plants. Choosing these adaptable plants means less work amending soil for a garden that will grow and thrive more easily. If a plant doesn't have the constitution to deal with this sticky soil, then no amount of amendments will bring long-term success.

Top 10 Plants For Clay Soil

Below is a list of David Salman's top recommendations for planting clay soil. Remember, when browsing our site, use our Soil Type shopping filters to find plants that are suited to clay soil.

  1. Maximilian's Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliana) — 'Santa Fe' and 'Dakota Sunshine' 
  2. Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata)
  3. 'Thin Man' Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
  4. 'Blonde Ambition' Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis)
  5. Yellow Yarrow (Achillea fillipendulina) — 'Coronation Gold' and 'Moonshine'
  6. European Sage (Salvia nemerosa) — 'Blue Hill''May Night' and 'Caradonna'
  7. Orange Butterfly Weed - Clay Form (Ascelpias tuberosa)
  8. Pink Cotton Lamb's Ear (Stachys lavandulifolius)
  9. Catmint (Nepeta faassenii) — 'Select Blue' and 'Walker's Low'
  10. Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) — 'Fire Dance' and 'Pfitzer's Hybrid'

Additional Resources

Learn more about preparing your soil for success:  Soil Preparation: Building Your Soil Health Naturally & Organically

Not sure what kind of soil you have? See our guide: The Dirt On Garden Soil Testing