Anyone who has ever broken a pick axe or had to use a digging bar to plant even the smallest plant knows the torture of gardening in clay soils. Whether your clay is a sculptors sort of muck or more like rock and sometimes even both, spending your gardening hours chipping, scraping and banging your way to your dream landscape in clay takes patience and fortitude.
Fortunately, there are secret weapons that can turn you hours of sweaty labor into less of a dreadful return on investment. First weapon of choice is using the right tool for working in clay so that you aren’t working harder than is really necessary. I won’t go through the myriad of available tools, but I’ll just mention my favorite here, and it is indeed a “digging bar”. This is what mine looks like, but there are a number of types and my neighbors borrow it constantly. 🙂
The second weapon is ironically, improving your soil. The old adage “Never put a five dollar plant in a ten cent hole.” By adding compost, and other high quality soil amendments to your clay soil, you help the beneficial organisms in your soil to literally grow MORE good soil. If you continue to do this over time, you will end up with the deepest and dreamiest soil. Here is the name of one of my very favorite soil amendments by Kellogg Garden Products- Soil Building Conditioner, made specifically for helping to break up and add nutrient density to heavy clay soils.
The other, and MUCH more important tool in your arsenal for saving money, time and labor when landscaping in clay soil is, wait for it….., “RIGHT PLANT, RIGHT PLACE”! Choosing the best possible plant options to thrive in your soil type from the very beginning makes for lazy gardening in the best possible way!
So to that end, Team Fine Foliage presents you with just a handful of extra yummy foliage based options to consider for your landscape if you suffer with clay soil like we do!
Switchgrass or Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’ or ‘North Wind’ are handsome choices for medium-sized grasses in the middle of a border.
Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ or ‘Burgundy Bunny’ are long time favorites of ours!
‘Little Blue Stem’ is a favorite yet little known option for many parts of the country.
Miscanthus sinensis in all of its late summer glory!
Miscanthus sinensis left to stand over winter so that the soft blooms shine when not much else is in the spotlight.
Amsonia is a wonderful staple plant for many landscapes for its spring blooms and incredible fall color, not to mention soft billowy texture.
Bergenia is a wonderfully easy plant in clay soils and comes in SO many varieties from flower to leaf.
Helleborus are an exceptional option for winter flowering in clay soils, not to mention fantastic foliage options! This is one of the lesser known types, the Bearsfoot Hellebore.
Take one perennial with showy evergreen foliage and add unique late winter/early spring blooms and BOOM! You get a clay tolerant super star! Hellebore ‘Silver Lace’
Hardy geranium are a wonderful group of clay tolerant flowering perennials with a wide variety of style options. This one is ‘Samobor’ featuring distinctive black markings.
Coral bells or Heuchera are plants that come in a wide variety of colors and growth habits for clay soils. They do particularly well in containers if you have any deer and rabbit problems too.
Another glamor shot of Coral Bells for you!
Good old Hosta has roots practically made of cast iron for clay soils!
Who but Team Fine Foliage is going to give you Coral Bells, Hardy Geranium AND Hosta foliage all in one shot?!
Would you ever imagine Sedum spectacle to be happy in clay soils? It’s a champ! This one is ‘Neon’ with its exuberant pink flowers!
Yucca are wonderful in clay soils for the giant tap-root that they put out that helps them survive.
Soft Leaved Yucca
From the simple to sublime, there are conifers for clay soil as well! This Juniper is a classic.
Pines are a typically clay soil tolerant plant category too! This one is flanked by a pair of Japanese maples that are also clay tolerant!
A Team Fine Foliage favorite- Spiraea! This is ‘Magic Carpet’.
This little know hybrid of Weigela is called ‘My Monet’, a fabulous dwarf cultivar that blooms fabulously as well as having this great foliage color combo AND tolerates clay soils.
Birch is a wonderful tree option for clay soils.
The notoriously long-lived Ginkgo tree can attain much of its longevity because of its tolerance to heavy soils.
So now you have a SMALL taste for what you can choose for everything from perennials to ground covers and shrubs to trees, we expect to hear about all of the Fine Foliage that YOU discover at your local garden center to try in your clay soil. Toil no more!
Here are two great resources for a MUCH more expanded list; 1) Royal Horticulture Society, Plants for Clay Soils 2) The Missouri Botanical Garden’s list and additional tips.
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