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Plants for clay soil

Val Bourne / 02 February 2015

Read gardening expert Val Bourne on the best perennial plants to grow in clay soil.

Monarda and rudbeckia both grow well on clay soil
Monarda and rudbeckia both grow well on clay soil

Having a garden with clay soil can be tricky. There are lots of plants that won't thrive at all, so it's best to research carefully to avoid disappointment and wasted money. If you're struggling, read our guide to improving clay soil for ideas on what you can do to make thing easier.

What to plant in clay soil

Roses for clay soil

All repeat-flowering roses do well on clay soils because it’s rich. In fact many roses prefer clay.

You can add extra Gypsum to break up the clay particles as you plant, should you wish. Or you can add Perlite to the planting hole by mixing it with the soil before backfilling. This creates air spaces and warms up the soil.

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Ten perennials for clay soil

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ AGM
The crisp, brown-eyed yellow daisy comes in many forms. ‘Goldsturm’ is one of the best, flowering from the second half of summer onwards. Many American prairie plants tolerate clay.

Heliopsis species
Another yellow daisy. My favourite one, ‘Summer Nights’, produces dark stems and a branching head of single golden daisies with dark middles. There are also double forms.

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’
A tall clump former with lemon daisies that chase the sun.

Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’
This stylish maroon thistle, which prefers semi-shade, loves a damp situation. It’s sterile, so no unwanted seedlings, and it’s a non-runner so it stays put. Flowers in early summer, but often flushes again.

Astilbe chinensis ‘Purpurlanze’
The iconic purple plume so often used by Piet Oudolf in prairie planting.  From midsummer onwards and it dies beautifully in winter, forming grass-like plumes. 

Astrantia - any dark-red forms
Astrantia are pincushion-like plants that love heavy soil. However the paler ones are less keen.

Aster novae-angliae ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke’
The raspberry-red September flowering aster is one of many clay-tolerant asters.

Helenium autumnale and other forms
These daisies have brown-velvet middles surrounded by sunny yellow, orange or red petals. The taller ones flower much later. One of the best, ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’, has flowers that dazzle in shades of orange. No two are alike.

Eupatorium maculatum ‘Riesenschirm’ AGM
Puffs of sultry purple-red heads lead skywards and the black stems are a real feature on this variety.

Monarda species and forms
Not long-lived or enduring, so these do need dividing and moving about, but the reds are stunning. Try ‘Joseph Cline’ or  ‘Garden View Scarlet’.

Read our suggestions for trees and shrubs for clay soil

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.