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 shade loving perennials. Make sure you also visit page 1 for perennials that prefer sun.
5 Perennials for Shade
- Hosta - With beautiful foliage that thrives in shade, hosta should be grown in everyone's yard, in my opinion. A garden full of flowers can be boring without breaking up the monotony with foliage plants of varying colors and textures. Hostas come in blue, green, yellow and striped varieties that will bloom in late summer on long stems. Hummingbirds love the blooms, but the blooms can be cut off if you don't like the look. I generally cut mine off right after the plants bloom to keep them neat and tidy looking. If you have clay soil, amend the soil with lots of compost to help with drainage, but other than that, they will grow just fine. Keep them watered in dry weather and they will reward you for many years with lovely foliage in zones 3-9. Get more information on how to grow hostas here.
- Foxglove - Though most digitalis Foxglove are technically biennials, they reseed reliably so that it's almost like they are perennial. Foxglove are tough, prefer partial shade and can handle short boughts of dry weather. Foxglove can also add some much needed height to a shade garden as their trumpet shaped flowers bloom on 1'-3' foot stems, depending on variety. With varieties hardy from zones 3 to 9, you are sure to find a color that is right for your garden. I have had good luck with 'Cafe Cream' which is hardy to zone 5, considered a true perennial and can grow up to 3' tall when established and happy. All parts of the Foxglove plant are poisonous, so take care in educating the people around you to not eat the plant and to wash hands after handling the plant.
- Columbine - Another one of my absolute favorite perennials, Columbine Aquilegia is a short lived perennial with stunning blooms on tall stems. The emerging foliage in spring is so delicate and pretty as it unfolds from the ground. Columbine come in shades of white, yellow, peach, orange, purple, pink and red and are hardy from zones 3-9. Though Columbine prefer sunny, well-drained soils, in my zone 5 gardens they can handle partial shade and have lived well in clay soil that has been amended with compost. In fact Columbine prefer more shade the further south you go. Living on average of 3 years, Columbine are easy to start from seed, so you can always have Columbine in your garden.
- Ajuga - If you are looking for more of a ground cover, Ajuga is hard to beat for shady, clay, wet areas. The foliage comes in varying shades of dark green and purple and small purple, pink or white flowers can form on short stems during summer. I have a patch of ajuga in a walkway surrounding the stepping stones, so the flowers get mowed often, but the plant can withstand the foot traffic really well. It's also a great plant for helping to control weeds in between other plants so that you can use less mulch. Since it's so short, it will not choke out other plants in the shade garden. Hardy in zones 4-10, ajuga also grows well in sun, but will need regular waterings to keep it growing and spreading if grown in more of a well-drained soil. If ajuga spreads to an area that you don't want it to be in, it's easy to pop the plant out and transplant them to another area.
- Ferns - Ferns are incredibly versatile and depending on the variety, can grow in sun or shade in zones 2-10. Most thrive really well in shady, moist gardens that contain clay soil. I currently grow Ostrich Ferns that get quite tall, nearly 6', but there are many shorter varieties that would work really well grown with hostas and other shade loving perennials. Some ferns even have red or black stems that contrast nicely with the green foliage.
In case you missed it, check out my favorite perennials for sun and clay soil on page 1.