Choosing Plants for Clay Soil
Trees and Shrubs

Choosing plants for clay soil can be tricky as cold heavy clay soils can prove rather inhospitable for many ornamental plants.

However, there are a number of trees and shrubs that are tolerant of these conditions and should do well.

They range from the really tough Hawthorns, to the elegant Chanticleer Pear, with its delicate display of spring blossom, and the glowing fruit of the Golden Hornet Crab Apple.

Flowers aplenty are provided by the Lilac and the Weigela, whilst the coloured stems of the Dogwood pack a real winter punch.

Don't forget that, if you wish, you can extend the range of plants you can grow by improving or amending your soil.

For more ideas on choosing clay tolerant plants, go to Choosing Plants for Clay Soil: Perennials and Climbers.

Trees for Clay Soil

Crataegus laevigata 'Paul's Scarlet' (Hawthorn, Pinkthorn)

Plants for Clay Soil, Crataegus laevigata Paul's Scarlet, Hawthorn, Pinkthorn
  • Form: tree
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 5 to 8
  • Soil: any soil other than totally waterlogged; tolerates clay
  • Situation: full sun or partial shade
  • Height: 8m (25ft)
  • Spread: 8m (25ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: This really tough little tree is a good choice if you're looking for plants for clay soil. It has a long season of interest bearing masses of double, deep pink flowers in spring, followed by small red fruits in the autumn. The shallowly lobed leaves are an attractive glossy mid green.

Also consider: C. laevigata 'Rosea Flore Pleno'.

Ilex aquifolium 'J. C. van Tol' (Holly)

Trees for Clay Soil, Ilex aquifolium JC van Tol, Holly
  • Form: tree
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 7 to 9
  • Soil: any soil other than totally waterlogged; tolerates clay
  • Situation: full sun or partial shade
  • Height: 7m (23ft)
  • Spread: 4m (13ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Self fertile variety therefore it will reliably produce a good crop of bright red berries every year. The long glossy dark green leaves are virtually spineless. Cream flowers in early summer.

Malus x zumi 'Golden Hornet' (Crab Apple)

Clay Tolerant Trees, Malus zumi Golden Hornet, Crab Apple
  • Form: tree
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 5 to 8
  • Soil: any soil other than totally waterlogged; tolerates clay
  • Situation: full sun or light shade
  • Height: 10m (30ft)
  • Spread: 8m (25ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Deep pink buds opening to a profusion of pink flushed white flowers in late spring are followed by golden yellow fruits (which make a delicious jelly!). The dark green foliage turns an attractive yellow in autumn.

Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer' (Chanticleer Pear)

Pyrus calleryana Chanticleer, Chanticleer Pear
  • Form: tree
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 5 to 8
  • Soil: prefers well drained fertile soil; tolerates clay
  • Situation: full sun
  • Height: 15m (50ft)
  • Spread: 6m (20ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: This narrowly conical ornamental pear tree makes a good specimen for a small garden. Attractive sprays of small white flowers in mid-spring are followed by round brown autumn fruits. The oval scalloped leaves are dark green and glossy and turn red before they fall.

It copes well with atmospheric pollution and is a good choice for an urban garden.

Shrubs for Clay Soil

Cornus alba 'Sibirica' (Red-barked Dogwood)

Shrubs for Clay Soil, Cornus alba Sibirica, Red-barked Dogwood
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 2 to 8
  • Soil: moist fertile soil; tolerates clay
  • Situation: full sun
  • Height: 2.5m (8ft)
  • Spread: 2m (6.5ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Of all the plants for clay soil, this one is the most spectacular in winter with its almost glowing, bright red bark. It also has a good red autumn leaf colour.

For the very best bark colour, remove shoots close to the ground in spring to encourage the formation of new shoots for next winter's display.

Also consider: C. alba 'Kesselringii' for purplish black stems or C. sericea 'Flaviramea' for yellow stems.

Syringa vulgaris 'Katherine Havemeyer' (Lilac)

Syringa vulgaris Katherine Havemeyer, Lilac
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 4 to 7
  • Soil: prefers fertile, well drained, neutral to alkaline soil; tolerates clay
  • Situation: full sun
  • Height: 7m (23ft)
  • Spread: 6m (20ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Gloriously scented double lavender blue flowers opening from deep purple buds in late spring and early summer. Attractive heart shaped mid green leaves.

Also consider: Syringa vulgaris 'Madame Lemoine' for white flowers.

Weigela 'Florida Variegata'

Clay Tolerant Shrubs, Weigela Florida Variegata
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 4 to 8
  • Soil: prefers well drained, fertile soil; tolerates clay
  • Situation: full sun
  • Height: 2.5m (8ft)
  • Spread: 2.5m (8ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Abundant clusters of funnel shaped dark pink flowers in late spring and early summer. Attractive grey green leaves edged with white.

Need More Information?

More ideas for plants that grow in chalk soil can be found at Choosing Plants for Clay Soil: Perennials and Climbers.

Not looking for plants for chalk soil? Links to all the 'plants for places' pages on this site can be found at plant guides.

You can find information and advice about garden soil, including links to other soil-related pages, at garden soil.





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