13 Beautiful Plants for Clay Soil with Poor Drainage

Gardeners consider clay soil as bad for growing plants. Clay is soil that contains over 30% of fine clay particles. It is also one of the most difficult conditions to deal with. Clay is slippery and dense when wet and it turns brick solid when dry. It also packs easily, leaving no room for water or air movement. But do you know that there are plants for clay soil with poor drainage? Let’s find out some of the popular ones.


1. Achillea

Also known as yarrow, Achillea is popularly cultivated as an ornamental plant. This beautiful flowering plant is often used for natural landscaping especially in butterfly gardens. It thrives even in less favorable conditions such as in clay soil. Achilleas are sun-loving and they normally bloom white, pink, red or yellow flowers starting in late spring to mid-summer.

Achillea is also known to help combat soil erosion because of its deep roots and resistance to drought. Moreover, you can also grow it as a companion plant. It helps repel pests in your garden by attracting their natural predators such as wasps, hoverflies and ladybirds.

Plants for Clay Soil with Poor Drainage Achillea


2. Alchemilla

If you are looking for an edging plant or groundcover for clay soil, Alchemilla is a great choice. This plant has wispy stems of yellow green flowers in early summer, creating a frothy look. It can grow up to 18 inches tall. Because of its low-growing attribute, it is a perfect covering for shrubs and roses.

Alchemilla is a herbaceous perennial that is cultivated as an ornamental plant. They grow best in a partially shaded area. It is interesting how alchemilla got its name. During the wet season, as the leaves of this plant come in contact with water, it produces beads considered by alchemists to be a pure form of water. Alchemists use this water in their attempt to turn base metal into a precious gold. Hence, the plant is called Alchemilla.

It is important to note that Alchemilla seeds freely and can be invasive in the garden.

3. Aster

There are about 180 recognized species of Asters. These are daisy-like perennials well-loved for their attractive and colorful flowers that bloom from summer until autumn. Their colors include blue, purple, pink, red and white. These sun lovers thrive in clay soil and in all hardiness zones in the US.

Asters are versatile flowering plants. Many gardeners grow them as borders or as an addition to a rock or wildflower garden. They are also a perfect companion plant for mums. Because they bloom at the same time, you can plan an attractive garden scheme together with both flowering plants.

4. Athyrium

Many varieties of ferns including those that belong to the genus Athyrium are a great choice for a shaded clay-based garden. There are about 180 species of terrestrial ferns under this genus and they are commonly known as lady fern.

Athyrium is ideal for woodland gardens. You can also grow them as an indoor ornamental plant. What’s good about these plants is that they don’t require too much maintenance but they need a soil that is fertile and moist with a pH level that is neutral to acidic.

Other ferns for clay soil include Dryopteris male fern and autumn fern and the ostrich and sensitive ferns.

Plants for Clay Soil with Poor Drainage  Athyrium


5. Bergenia

Also known as ‘elephants ears’, this evergreen perennial can brighten up spaces where you would think nothing will grow. They are well suited for moist and well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. This plant is noted for its rose-red flowers that look beautiful in big numbers. That is why bergenias are best planted in blocks.

Bergenia are ideal for shady beds and woodland gardens. They form a clump of rounded and slightly wavy leaves that can grow up to 30cm long.

6. Castor Bean Plants

The huge lobed leaves and showy flowers of castor bean plants really stand out, adding a tropical look to a temperate garden. They look stunning because of their star-shaped leaves that can extend up to 3 feet in length. Castor bean plants are ideal for zones 9 to 11 and can grow up to 10 feet high in a single season.

Castor bean plants are one of those plants for clay soil with poor drainage, and they have interesting facts. First, they are not beans at all. Secondly, their seeds which people commonly call as castor beans produce castor oil, a popular home remedy for a host of illnesses. However, these beans also contain a poisonous substance called ricin. One castor bean is said to be enough to kill an adult.

7. Crab apples

Clay soil and crab apples are perfect together. And crab apples look great in any type of garden. They are also considered as one of the most useful ornamental trees you can grow. They show a graceful display of pink buds in the spring which later develops into beautiful white blossoms. Not only that, they also feature edible fruits that you can make into jelly. In Asian cultures, these fruits are also valued as a sour condiment. However, they are rarely eaten raw because of their woody and sour taste.

Crab apples are hardy and easy to grow and they make a perfect centerpiece for your garden.

Plants for Clay Soil with Poor Drainage Crab apples

Crab apples

8. Echinacea

Another clay-tolerant plant is the Echinacea or coneflower. There are 9 different species of Echinacea and all of them are known for their medicinal benefits, particularly for treating cough and sore throat as well as for body pain.

Echinacea plants are sun lovers and they offer a wide array of blooms in the summer ranging from yellow, white, pink, purple, orange and lime flowers. They are also herbaceous and drought-tolerant which make them ideal for clay soil. You’ll not have any problem with Echinacea plants as they are easy to care.

9. Hostas

Do you like Hostas too? And yes, they are among the plants for clay soil with poor drainage. Hostas are well loved for their foliage as well as for their durability and their ability to survive with a minimal amount of care. The color of their leaves ranges from green to blue green while some have golden, variegated and chartreuse leave patterns. Hostas are perennial plants that you can often see in many low-maintenance gardens.

There are about 2,500 cultivars of hostas and they differ in leaf size, shape, texture and color. If you are growing hostas, a good rule of thumb is that the lighter their foliage, the more sun they need. Darker colored hostas would grow best in moderate shade.

10. Pulmonaria

Also known as lungwort, Pulmonaria plants are once popular for their medicinal benefits in treating lung illnesses. But now, they are mostly cultivated because of their beautiful display of flowers that start in early spring. The colors of their flowers include blue, white and pink. Their leaves, on the other hand, can be solid green and frosted or speckled white.

Pulmonaria plants are one of the top perennials that grow on clay soil. Since they are a low-growing plant, they are a good choice for a ground cover. They self-seed but are slow to spread. In the garden, they prefer a moist and shady location.

Plants for Clay Soil with Poor Drainage Pulmonaria


11. Rose

Looking to brighten your garden with refreshing blooms? Rose is a perfect choice especially if you have clay soil. In fact, they love clay soil because of its lack of quick drainage wherein certain minerals become readily available for its roots.

Rose is perhaps one of the most popular flowers in the world. They come in a wide range of colors including red, white, pink, orange and yellow. These flowers not only add aesthetics to gardens but they are also perfect as a gift for special occasions. They are now widely cultivated for commercial and perfumery purposes.

As an ornamental plant, roses can be used for hedging and other purposes such as for slope stabilization and game cover.

12. Spiraea japonica

This shrub makes an ideal border plant. It is not fussy about growing in clay soil. It can also tolerate drought once it has fully established or after several growing seasons. Spiraea japonica plants grow in tight clusters and in the summer, they show off hundreds of tiny flowers that attract bees and butterflies.

13. Syringa vulgaris (Lilac)

Lilacs produce flowers that are popularly used as bouquets. When in bloom the flowers also draw butterflies and hummingbirds into your garden.

Many people often overlook lilacs, maybe because they don’t look very attractive. But these humble shrubs also work as a fire retardant, so you may consider planting them near your home or in places susceptible to wildfires. Tough as they are, you can definitely plant lilacs in clay soil.

Plants for Clay Soil with Poor Drainage Syringa vulgaris (Lilac)

Syringa vulgaris (Lilac)


Growing in clay may take a bit more effort than when planting in loamy soil. But clay is healthier than sandy soil, that is why there is a good variety of plants that are perfect for the latter. You can also improve its condition by adding organic compost. That way, you can grow more plants in clay. If you can’t decide on which plant to grow, you may want to check out the 13 plants for clay soil with poor drainage that we have listed above.







Which of these plants do you prefer growing? Please feel free to share your thoughts through the comment section. I also encourage you to share this article with your friends and fellow gardeners.

Ella Wilson

Hi! This is Ella Wilson, the founder of tinyplantation.com. Being a devotee with plants and gardens, you will find numerous things with me. I have developed enough interest regarding plants that these things do not bore me anymore; instead this has become my passion.