Top 10 Plants for Growing in Clay Soil

Slow-draining clay soil makes life difficult for many plants. Not to worry! These plants for clay soil will survive and thrive!

278052433 1 Lisa Keys Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Lisa Keys

Scarlet Runner Bean

Phaseolus coccineus, annual to Zone 7

The scarlet runner bean is grown for its lavish flowers. This fast-growing vine thrives in full sun but tolerates shade. Most runner bean flowers are bright red, but if you’d rather have white ones, try the Dutch cultivar.

Why we love it: The red blooms will brighten the landscape and these plants for clay soil also lure hummingbirds. Plus, the edible beans will amp up your veggie options.

Check out the top 10 plants for sandy soil.

Fertile fronds of royal fern, White Memorial, Litchfield, ConnecHolcy/Getty Images
Royal fern 

Fern

Varieties include Athyrium and Osmunda, Zones 2 to 10

This leafy plant is so popular that an entire society is devoted to them. The American Fern Society celebrates the 12,000-plus species available today.

Why we love it: Ferns are so versatile, you can find a plant for just about any growing condition: sun or shade, indoors or out.

Try these plants if you have rocky soil.

Wgcoreopsismoonbeam, plants for clay soilWalters Gardens, Inc.
Moonbeam coreopsis 

Coreopsis

Coreopsis spp., Zones 3 to 11

Also known as tickseed and butter daisy, coreopsis blooms from late spring through late summer. All varieties are pretty as cut flowers, and their bright hues entice butterflies.

Learn how to choose the best potting soil for every type of plant.

Native Plants Switchgrass Grass Panicum Northwind Garden 11048Ball Horticultural Company

Switchgrass

Panicum virgatum, Zones 4 to 9

The drooping spikes of this ornamental grass grab attention all year long, especially once the purple-green flowers emerge in early fall. Reaching up to 7 feet high, switchgrass thrives in moderately fertile soil.

These full sun perennials thrive in sunshine.

Iris ensataIsabelleMorand/Getty Images

Japanese Iris

Iris ensata, Zones 4 to 9

Among the showiest and most recognizable garden flowers, Japanese iris is a beloved beardless variety and one of our favorite plants for clay soil. As long as the soil is moist, it’s more adaptable than bearded types.

These drought-tolerant plants can handle dry weather.

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Black-Eyed Susan

Rudbeckia spp. • Zones 3 to 9

Blooming from summer to fall, this beauty comes in reds, oranges and yellows. No matter what flowers you already have growing in your garden, black-eyed Susan will be a winning addition.

Did you know that you can grow a black-eyed Susan vine?

Viburnum3 plants for clay soilCourtesy Proven Winners - provenwinners.com

Viburnum

Viburnum spp. • Zones 2 to 9

Boasting large clusters, viburnums are real head-turners, reaching up to 30 feet high. Ample and consistent moisture is the only requirement for these, apart from some pruning to maintain their good looks.

Plant these trees and shrubs with berries for birds.

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Stokes aster

Aster

Aster spp., Zones 3 to 8

Wonderful as cut flowers, asters make any garden burst with color, particularly at the end of the growing season. From tiny alpine varieties to giants that reach 6 feet tall, these plants for clay soil prefer full sun to partial shade.

Gardener’s secret: If you live in a northern growing zone, plant asters early so they have time to settle in before winter.

Learn how to grow shasta daisies in your garden.

Coronationtriumphpotentilla BaileynurseriesBailey Nurseries
Cornation triumph potentilla

Potentilla

Potentilla fruticosa • Zones 2 to 7

When many other flowering shrubs’ colorful show is all but a memory, potentilla, or bush cinquefoil, is just beginning its long blooming season. The blossoms of this drought-tolerant plant will last until the first hard frost and is one of the best plants for clay soil.

plants for clay soilCourtesy Nora Hicks

Daylily

Hemerocallis • Zones 3 to 10

In summer breezes, trumpet-shaped daylilies seem to nod on their 10-inch to 4-foot stems. Reliable, hardy plants, daylily varieties bloom from early summer to first frost, each flower lasting just one day.

Next, check out the best shade garden plants for your shady areas

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.