Perennials for Clay Soil
for sun and shade
My yard is like many of your yards; parts of it are sandy and dry and other parts of it are full of clay and retain moisture well if not too well. As you add compost to your gardens, this will improve, but it can take some time. Some plants are more able to handle clay soil than others, but most will still be fine in their planting spots even as your soil improves. Here is my list of favorite plants that grow well in clay soil. I've also divided into two lists; one for sun and one for shade. This page is dedicated to perennials for sun. Make sure you visit page 2 for shade loving perennials for clay soil.
5 Perennials for Sun
- Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia - These are probably my all time favorite perennial for growing in clay soil because they are so incredibly easy to grow. They spread well without getting out of control and bloom for nearly a month depending on weather conditions. If it's incredibly rainy or extra hot when they begin to bloom in mid-summer or early fall, I've found the blooms may not last as long as they normally would otherwise, but that is no reason not to plant these happy golden colored plants. Rudbeckia will grow in many areas of the country being hardy in zones 3 - 11 and prefer 6+ hours of sun a day, but will also tolerate some shade. There is sure to be a variety that is right for your situation. The most common variety found in nearly every garden center in the country is 'Goldsturm' which grows 2-3 feet tall and spreads moderately. If you are looking for a plant that will make you notice it and gets more than 5 feet tall, try 'Maxima'. I grow it in poor soil that is on the sandy side and it does well there also. 'Sonora' and 'Prairie Sun' are more compact at 2 feet tall or less, but have a more pronounced center with brown spreading out onto the petals. Both are really lovely plants.
- Daylily Hemerocallis - I know I said Black-Eyed Susans were my favorite, but Daylilies are a very close second, if not my favorite depending on the day of the week. Depending on the variety grown, you can have daylily blooms from spring until fall. Daylilies are generally hardy in zones 3-9 with some hardy in zone 10. They thrive in full sun and can handle all types of soil. In spring, the grass-like foliage is fresh and green. Daylilies come in small blooming varieties, large blooming varieties, dwarf and tall varieties. The variety above is called 'Mary's Gold' which is one of my favorites. To read more about how to grow daylilies check out this article.
- Coneflower Echinacea - Coneflowers are a staple in gardens around the country for good reason. Many are hardy in zones 3-9, love full sun and can handle clay soil. I find that the old-fashioned purple coneflowers to be hardier than the newer hybrids. I'm not sure if it is our climate in zone 5 or our soil, but most hybrids never seem to get established in my garden, but the old-fashioned ones that have been in your grandmother's garden for years thrive. My favorites are the purple coneflower and 'White Swan'. Coneflowers love full sun and will bloom from mid to late summer. At the end of the season, allow the flowers to go to seed and you will be rewarded with lots of finches as they strip the heads of the seeds in a single afternoon.
- Miscanthus - These grasses are tall, stately, and have nice plumes in late summer. Some Miscanthus can reseed, so be careful. I currently grow "Zebra" and it has not spread in my garden. Miscantus are tough and can grow in almost any soil, from full sun to part shade. They don't require much water once established and are hardy in zones 4-9.
- Japanese Iris - Hardy in zones 4-9, Japanese Iris can really strive in sunny areas with clay soil as long as they are kept evenly moist. With grass-like foliage that is a fresh light green in spring, the beardless flowers come in shades of purple, white, pink and yellow. My only complaint is that the blooms only last a week or two, depending on variety, but they are so worth it. Plus, the foliage still looks nice most of the summer. The plants are tough and can be divided every few years to create more clumps. My goal is to get enough plants to line a walkway; how stunning would that be?
Don't forget to visit page 2 for my favorite perennials for shade and clay soil.