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12 Best perennials for clay soil that provide colour year after year

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If you have clay soil, you might be thinking that you can’t possibly grow any plants because so many plants require rich, loam and perlite infused soil ro at the very least free-draining soil which isn’t usually the case with clay soil. The problem with clay is that it’s typically compact so it’s very difficult to get water to flow through it or allow struggling weak roots to get down into it.

On the other end, you have to consider that clay soil actually has a great deal of nutrients which makes it a perfect growing space for perennials. You can always improve the soil a little bit, adding things like sand to try and break it up so that it’s easier for your plants to establish themselves but in the meantime, we’ve compiled a list of the 12 best perennials for clay soil so that you can pick something that will improve your garden appeal immediately.

Top 12 perennials suitable for clay soil

1. Hemerocallis (Daylilies)

These daylilies are very tolerant of drought and once established they are also tolerant of rabbits so if you have some small furry friends who like to munch on your flowers, rest assured they should leave your Daylily alone. They will typically bloom for a short amount of time between one week and five weeks is mostly determined by the weather.

Daylilies are very adaptable to different levels of moisture and soil. They are in fact one of the safest perennials to grow in clay soil because even with poor drainage they will usually survive quite well and the flowers are nothing less than spectacular. 

2. Echinacea (Coneflower)

Bees are in decline in the Uk so in this guide, we look at 12 of the best perennials for bees that provide colour and pollen and nectar year after year.

Echinacea is known as Coneflowers can grow in any type of soil as long as it’s well-draining which means digging plenty of grit into the clay soil.

They’re very tolerant of drought and heat. The name is derived from the centre of the flower which sticks up in a sort of cone shape and attracts a lot of pollinators during the growing season. It is dotted with flat petals which can be purple, pink or white and even yellow depending on the variety that add a lot of colour to your garden.

3. Hosta

Hosta grow well in wet soils

Hosta is very popular for shaded areas but there are thousands of varieties of this plant and some do very well in clay. Make sure that they don’t get planted in an area that has a lot of standing water. This is one of those cases where you might want to make a small adjustment to your soil by adding something like sand to really loosen it up so that the hosta doesn’t get waterlogged.

4. Heartleaf Brunnera

Brunnera perennial plant

The heartleaf brunnera is perfect for shade or clay. In fact, if you have both, clay soil in a shaded area, there’s almost very little you can grow but this is one exception along with hostas.

This plant is a beautiful perennial that grows in full shade or partial shade quite well even in clay conditions. It grows in a tight mound so it won’t overtake your garden. The leaves are quite variegated and add a lot of geometric appeal.

5. Monarda (Bee balm)

Bee balm or Monarda is a great way to add a ton of colour to your garden. It is yet another great plant for attracting pollinators, hence its name. There are very few plants that offer more robust colour in the middle of summer than this. They will spread underground using stems so they do need an area with light.

There are newer cultivars you can invest in that are more restrained in terms of their spread which will be perfect for smaller areas in your yard. Otherwise, they have dark green, variegated foliage on top of which you will get an abundance of bright fuchsia flowers during the summer.

6. Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)


The Black-Eyed Susan gives you colour for a very long blooming cycle. You can actually increase the blooming cycle of the black-eyed Susan by deadheading.

It has a large, rich green foliage that fans out along the bottom of the plant toward the ground while the flowers grow like daisies, on upright stems on top of the plant adding a lot of variety to the shape and the structure of your garden.

7. Heliopsis helianthoides (False sunflower)

Heliopsis helianthoides

This plant gets its name from the fact that it’s often mistaken for small sunflowers because the blooms are a sunny yellow colour. This is a wonderful native perennial that gives colour in the middle of summer.

They’re incredibly adaptable to all types of soil conditions so you can grow them in clay soil as long as they have full to partial sun. Make sure they do get well watered but don’t stay waterlogged.

8. Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Switchgrass is a tall type of grass that takes on a mixture of green and often dark burgundy colours. It’s a very easy plant to grow no matter your soil conditions. It does best however if it gets access to the full sun and if you want optimum performance, of course, make sure it has good drainage.

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9. Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed)

Even though it is called a weed, butterfly weed is not a weed at all. It’s actually a very beneficial perennial that you can put in your garden as a source of food for Monarch butterflies.

It will bring butterflies and other pollinators to your garden while also enriching the space with burnt orange flowers the colour of a rich sunset.

10. Aruncus dioicus (Goats beard)

Aruncus dioicus

Goats beard comes in many varieties and hybrids. They are tolerant of full sun all the way to full shade although they do best if they get filtered shade in the afternoon with access to Sun in the morning. A very popular perennial plant.

11. Amsonia Blue Star

Amsonia BlueStar tolerates full to partial sun and produces blooms early in the season. You got a nice range of size and colour. After the clusters of small, light blue flowers are done blooming the plant remains a decent backdrop thanks to its green foliage.

If you have a problem with deer or rabbit rest assured they won’t bother this plant. As mentioned it does need partial sun to full sun so if you grow it in the shade it will survive just fine but the stems will stretch out instead of getting stronger and eventually flop over.

12. Ligularia przewalskii

This is a somewhat difficult perennial because they love water but they don’t want to sit in it and they are also quite picky about sun in that they love sun but they don’t want it too much and they love shade and they don’t want that too much. However, you can find different varieties that add size, height, and colour to your clay soil. The flowers are grown in small clusters along tall stems that reach out above the wide, hunter green foliage and are great at attracting pollinators. 

With any of these, you can, of course, mix-and-match until you get a good collection of colour throughout the entire growing season. It is very important to pay attention to which plants can tolerate clay soil and shade versus which plants can only tolerate clay soil if there’s ample sunlight. If you have issues with deer or rabbits, or you really need to bring pollinators to your face, you can mix and match the different options from this list that suit your conditions.

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10 plants that grow well in clay soil including shrubs and perennials

Shrubs that grow in clay soil

12 of the best perennials for shade

Best perennials for attracting bees

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Last update on 2021-12-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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