25 Plants That Grow in Clay Soil

Blazing star flower (Liatris spicata)

Sharon Dominick/Getty Images

Clay soil is one of the most difficult conditions a gardener can face. It's wet and dense, and it can bake as solid as a brick in the sun. This leaves little room for air and water movement for plants.

Choosing plants to grow in clay soil takes some discretion. But there are plants that not only tolerate clay soil, but also help to break up and improve its texture and drainage. Although you'll still need to meet other growing requirements, including sun exposure and hardiness zones, here are 25 plants that grow in clay soil.

  • 01 of 25

    Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii)

    Blue star flower (Amsonia hubrichtii)

    Michele Lamontagne/Getty Images

    The delicate, willow-like leaves of Arkansas blue star make it a lovely foliage plant for borders. Pale blue star-shaped flowers bloom in late spring followed by attractive seed pods. And golden fall foliage rounds out the growing season. The plant will grow in most soils, though it doesn't like prolonged drought.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Light blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
  • 02 of 25

    Aster (Aster sp.)

    Aster flowers

    PATSTOCK/Getty Images

    Asters are late flowering perennials that take your garden through to frost. The plants can thrive in clay soil, though they do need good drainage. If you have heavy clay, consider planting in a raised bed or double-digging the soil

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink, purple, red, white, blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Slightly acidic, well-draining
  • 03 of 25

    Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

    Big bluestem

    CarbonBrain/Getty Images 

    Big bluestem is a warm-season grass that loves arid growing conditions. It's used as an ornamental plant and is also popular for erosion control. The plant is tolerant of most soils. In fertile, moist conditions, it experiences lots of growth. And in less fertile, dry soil, it is less likely to flop.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red-purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
  • 04 of 25

    Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

    Black-eyed Susan

    Silke Dsener/EyeEm/Getty Images

    Black-eyed Susans are a staple in gardens because they are so adaptable and low maintenance. They will bloom for months and live for years. The plant tolerates a range of soils, as long as it has good drainage. It grows best in a rich, moist soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, orange
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 25 below.
  • 05 of 25

    Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

    Blazing star flowers

    Sharon Dominick/Getty Images

    Blazing star plants have grassy foliage and spiky bottle-brush flowers that bloom over a long period. This variety is very popular with monarch butterflies, which will spend hours feasting on the nectar. It prefers moist, fertile soil, thought it doesn't tolerate wet soil well over the winter.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Red-purple, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, moist, well-draining
  • 06 of 25

    Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

    Bees on butterfly weed

    Marie Iannotti

    This North American native perennial produces clusters of flowers in brilliant color combinations. It is very attractive to butterflies, as well as bees and hummingbirds. The plant's long taproot makes it very drought tolerant, and it does well in poor soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, orange, red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
  • 07 of 25

    Canadian Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis)

    Canadian wild rye

    Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Canadian wild rye is a clump-forming, cool-season grass with a gentle arching habit. It's easy to grow from seed and can adapt to a variety of soils and conditions. The plant is even tolerant of drought and air pollution.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
  • 08 of 25

    Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)

    Compass plant with a monarch butterfly

    bookguy/Getty Images

    Silphium plants are distinctive prairie plants that like the rich quality of clay soil. The plants hold their sunny golden flowers high above the foliage. Besides the compass plant, the shorter Silphium integrifolium also makes a good choice for clay soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
    Continue to 9 of 25 below.
  • 09 of 25

    Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

    Purple coneflower

    Falombini/Getty Images

    Coneflowers are tough, dependable prairie plants. The purple variety is the most well known, but newer hybrids come in several more colors. The plant can tolerate clay and rocky soil, as well as drought, heat, and humidity.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Purple, pink, red, gold, orange
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 10 of 25

    Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

    Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

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    It's called the cup plant because water collects in the cups formed where the leaves meet the stems. This type of Silphium is extremely popular with birds and butterflies. It's very tolerant of clay and wet soil, and it can stand some drought once the plant is established.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist
  • 11 of 25

    Daylily (Hemerocallis)

    Daylilies

    Evgeniya Matveeva/EyeEm/Getty Images

    Although each daylily flower blooms for only one day, there are plenty of them. You would be hard-pressed to find a more dependable flower that's tolerant of many growing conditions. This plant thrives in moist soil, preferring a fertile loam. But it does fine in clay soil, as well.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red, pink, orange, yellow, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-draining
  • 12 of 25

    Drooping Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

    Drooping coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

    mtreasure/Getty Images

    Drooping coneflower doesn't quite have the refined look of the Mexican hat flower (Ratibida columnifera). But it is much hardier and sports the same cheery, swept-back petals. The plant likes medium moisture and good drainage, but it can tolerate some drought.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Clay or sandy, well-draining
    Continue to 13 of 25 below.
  • 13 of 25

    Eulalia Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

    Japanese silver grass

    Cora Niele/Getty Images

    Miscanthus varieties are some of the most popular ornamental grasses to grow. They are clump formers, and their self-seeding tendency might become a nuisance. They grow in many soils, from light and sandy to heavy clay.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Copper, silver
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 14 of 25

    Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

    Fountain grass (Pennisetum)

    153photostudio/Getty Images

    Fountain grasses are beloved for their fluffy, feathery panicles. You will find fountain grasses in a wide range of heights and colors, but they only tend to be perennial in warmer zones. They prefer loamy soil but also can grow well in clay.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Silver, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium to wet moisture
  • 15 of 25

    Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

    Goldenrod flowers

    Brian Hagiwara/Getty Images

    Goldenrod gets a bad rap because people confuse it with the allergy-producing ragweed; however, goldenrod should not aggravate the sinuses. The plant is very tolerant of poor soil types, and it can handle clay as long as it has good drainage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, slightly acidic, well-draining
  • 16 of 25

    Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)

    Indian grass

     

    GracedByTheLight / Getty Images

    Indian grass starts the season as a low-growing clump. By mid-summer, it begins to send up tall flower stalks, and it remains attractive through winter. The plant can tolerate heavy clay as well as dry and infertile soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Light brown
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
    Continue to 17 of 25 below.
  • 17 of 25

    New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)

    Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)

    martypatch/Getty Images

    New York ironweed is a vigorous wildflower that puts out clusters of small violet flowers atop the 5- to 7-foot plant. It prefers damp growing conditions, making it very happy in clay soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun 
    • Soil Needs: Rich, slightly acidic, medium to wet moisture
  • 18 of 25

    Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)

    Kansas gayfeather flowers

    Joshua Mayer / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    This plant can handle all kinds of tough conditions, even wet clay. But it doesn't like to be stuck in wet soil over the winter, so make sure the plant has good drainage. Prairie blazing star has the Liatris habit of starting to bloom at the top of its bottle-brush flowers and slowly working its way down.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun 
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 19 of 25

    Sea Holly (Eryngium yuccifolium)

    Sea holly

     

    Trudie Davidson / Getty Images

    The thistle-like flower heads make sea holly an unusual sight in the flower garden. The blooms also can last for days as cut flowers. The plant prefers somewhat dry, sandy soil, though it can grow in a well-draining clay.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Green, blue, purple, white, silver
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun 
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
  • 20 of 25

    Autumn Joy Sedum (Hylotelphium 'Autumn Joy')

    Autumn joy sedum

    Lizzie Earl/Getty Images

    Autumn joy sedum is reliable and easy to grow. It thrives in poor sandy or gravelly soil. But it can tolerate clay or loam as long as drainage ensures it doesn't stay constantly damp.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, rust-red, lavender purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
    Continue to 21 of 25 below.
  • 21 of 25

    Perennial Sunflower (Helianthus)

    Heliopsis helianthoides

    Joshua McCullough/Getty Images

    Although perennial sunflowers are not as large and showy as annual sunflowers, they still make a brilliant display in the garden. Three nice species to grow are swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), false sunflower (Helianthus x laetiflorus), and ox eye (Heliopsis helianthoides).

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow and brown
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
  • 22 of 25

    Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus)

    Sweet flag

    Jerry Pavia/Getty Images

    Sweet flag is a short ornamental grass that can grow in damp areas or even submerged in water. It will spread by underground rhizomes, but usually it is not invasive. It's a good plant to stabilize damp areas that are prone to erosion.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Greenish-yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, moist
  • 23 of 25

    Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)

    Switch grass (Panicum virgatum "Heavy Metal")

    KatyLR/Getty Images

    Switch grasses are tall, upright, clump-forming grasses with feathery flowers that appear late in the season. Except for cutting back and dividing, these grasses practically take care of themselves. They can tolerate dry conditions but prefer moist sandy or clay soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Sandy or clay, medium to wet moisture
  • 24 of 25

    Tickseed (Coreopsis)

    tickseed

    Sascha Thomas/EyeEm/Getty Images

    Tickseed is an extremely hardy North American native plant. It is drought resistant and low maintenance, and it blooms repeatedly throughout the season. The plant is not very particular about where it grows, but it does prefer to have good drainage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, orange, pink, red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining
    Continue to 25 of 25 below.
  • 25 of 25

    Wild Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)

    Wild bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)

    Ali Majdfar/Getty Images

    Wild bee balm does not care what kind of soil it grows in, but it does like conditions on the dry side. It has showy flower heads that spread out like sparklers. Pinch them back early in the season for bushier plants.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium moisture, well-draining