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Shrubs for Clay Soil

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Shrubs that can tolerate clay soil are one solution to growing plants in heavy, less than perfect soil.

Clay soils commonly have plenty of nutrients but problems from poor aeration and slow drainage. Clays soil particles are flat and dense, not ideal for plant growth. Such soils are described as heavy.

Limited aeration and slow drainage can suppress root growth causing plants to grow slow or stunted.

Amending the soil with organic matter—aged compost, aged manure, and commercial organic planting mix—can open-up clay soil. Spread a couple of inches of compost across your planting beds at least twice a year, no matter what kind of soil you have. Keep in mind that completely changing a clay soil’s texture can be a years’ long process.

Here follows a list of shrubs that can tolerate clay soil.

Shrubs that tolerate clay soil

A-E Common NameBotanical NameZone
BuckthornHippophae rhamnoides  3-8
CinquefoilPotentilla  2-7
Citrus  Citrus9-11
Cranberry-Bush ViburnumViburnum opulus  3-8
Currant    Ribes sanguineum5-8
Devil’s Waling StickAralia elata*  5-9
Elderberry  Sambucus canadensis4-7
European Spindle Tree  Euonymous europaeus4-7
* Can tolerate waterlogged soil
Flowering quince, Chaenomles
F-J Common NameBotanical NameZone
FirethornPyracantha  6-9
Flowering quince  Chaenomeles5-9
ForsythiaForsythia  6-9
Guelder Rose  Viburnum opulus3-8
HoneysuckleLonicera spp.  4-9
Japanese AucubaAucuba japonica6-10
Japanese BarberryBerberis thunbergii4-10
Mountain laurel, Kalmia
K-P Common NameBotanical NameZone
Lilac  Syringa spp.3-7
Lily-Flowered MagnoliaMagnolia liliiflora  6-9
MahoniaMahonia x media *  4-8
Mock OrangePhiladelphus  4-8
Mountain LaurelKalmia latifolia  4-9
Parney CotoneasterCotoneaster lacteus  7-9
PrivetLigustrum spp.  5-9
Pussy WillowSalix caprea*  4-8
* Can tolerate waterlogged soil
Rugosa rose
Q-R Common NameBotanical NameZone
Red ChokeberryAronia arbutifolia*  3-9
Red-Osier DogwoodCornus alba ‘Siberica’ *  2-7
Rice PaperTetrapanax papyriferus  7-10
Roses  Rosa rugosa4-9
Rose of Sharon  Hibiscus syriacus3-8
* Can tolerate waterlogged soil
Summersweet, Clethera
S-Z Common NameBotanical NameZone
ServiceberryAmelanchier  3-8
Silk Tassel TreeGarrya elliptica  8-10
Smooth hydrangea  Hydrangea arborescens4-9
Summer-SweetClethra alnifolia*  5-9
Tag AlderAlnus serrulata  4-9
WeigelaWeigela  4-8
YewTaxus spp.  4-7
* Can tolerate waterlogged soil

Also of interest:

Perennials for Clay Soil

Climbers for Clay Soil

Trees for Clay Soil

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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