Looking for suggestions for suitable plants for clay soil

After a severe winter and the loss of several shrubs, I need to start thinking of re-stocking the garden Which shrubs/ perennials would be best suited to clay soil. Also can anyone suggest the best way to improve drainage. My previous garden had much lighter soil, so I haven’t had this problem before.

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Hi Kathy!
I am growing on heavy clay here in East Anglia. The good thing about heavy soils is it holds nutrients and water - and the downside is it holds water and no air. The solution is lots of compost and mulch. This will lighten the soil and allow air in and not stay cold and wet in the winter (which kills shrubs and plants more than the cold air temps).

Add loads of compost when you plant and top mulch in autumn/ spring. This top mulch will move down into the soil as the soil animals such as worms do their thing.

Since doing this on beds and plots, the soil is SO much better in my garden. I was told to double dig when I first got my garden - it was just hard work and no better for it. Don’t dig (except to plant, etc) as this will disturb the good work your soil life is doing.

As for which to plants, well, I just plant anything that I fancy that does not require acid soil - (looks out window) viburnum, sorbus, prunus, roses, lilac, flowering quince, birch, yew, lavender, fruits, herbs, bulbs, flowers, uh, lots of things.

Does anyone else have any suggestions for Kathy?

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Thanks for your reply. We moved house at the end of September and I brought quite a few things in large pots, which I then planted in October. Some of these have died, and some survived. I have started taking the dead stuff out so I will start adding lots of compost before I start planting anything new. I did put lots of bulbs in last October which are now starting to come up so don’t want to disturb them just now.

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I completley agree with Belovedporcupine, i have very heavy clay garden and prevoius owner just had invasive bamboo on one side and graveled the rest. Once we cleared that we marked out our borders and just added organic matter on top in autumn let the frost do its thing be for adding more in spring. every time we palnt somthing we take the clay out and back fill with compost. we have Hydrangea, small Acer’s, honeysuckle, Trachelospermum jasminoides, magnolia, ferns, Leycesteria’s to name a few of our plants.


Hi Nick, thanks for your reply,. I am waiting for garden centres to open so so can start planning what to plant. We also have a lot of gravelled areas, and some fiddly little beds which we want to take out. We have a deep border at the back of the garden which is north west facing so want to plant shade tolerant climbers and perennials. I can see I will be buying a lot of compost over the next few weeks!!

All good advice so far. I would add: What kind of plants do you like? What will your style be? Then check out if they like clay and if they don’t cross them off your list. What’s doing well in the gardens in your street? And again only on the list if you really LIKE it. That should narrow it down a bit.
Enriching the soil is the secret to plants doing well and how about plenty of grit. I chuck grit around like it’s confetti.
And will you be setting up your own compost heap? That’s great for the soil.
Let us know how things go. best wishes, Julie

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Hi Julie, difficult to know what the neighbours gardens are like because of lock down!! The front gardens are open plan so tend to be just lawn with not much else.
I love acers and have transplanted two which I think have survived, and I have another which is still in a large pot. I also planted two really large rhodies which have done ok and a couple of bamboo. I am trying to go for a low maintenance garden as we are getting a bit older for heavy work, so looking to put in perenials like lupins, aquileiga, crochosmia and agapanthus for colour. I just need to make sure they will be ok in the soil. Had all those in my last garden and they were fine.

Hi Kathy,

Our heavy clay soil has been a work in progress for 25 years! We’ve had so many failures including a lot of perennials that simply don’t like wet feet all winter, but some real successes have been euphorbia, hellebore, dicentra, aquilegia and camassia, all very self sufficient once established so won’t require lots of maintenance from you. In terms of shrubs we have camellia and hydrangea. And the gaps are filled in with ferns because they always thrive there and give a bit of lushness :blush:

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Hi, thanks for your reply, and your advice. I have a couple of camellias in large pots which I have been wondering whether I should plant, but think I will take a chance on after your help. I have put two very big rhodedendrons in which again were in large pots and they are doing really well.,I had some giant ferns in a north facing border at our last house which I loved, and was really upset to find that the new owner had promptly ripped out. I am about to order a 1000lt bag of a compost mix so will see how far that goes to lightening the soil. Have you tried agapanthus as I have some in another large pot which I’m not sure about. I don’t want to plant them out if they won’t do well.

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I must admit my agapanthus are in pots too, I wouldn’t have thought they’d do too well in clay in our winters as they’re Mediterranean I think (ours came from Madeira). If you plant it in sun with well mulched compost it might be ok though. I’ve just never risked it - it took them so long to establish and flower I’m scared to move them out of their pots now!

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I know they are quite happy being crowded in a pot, and they have done well so far, so think I will leave them in pots. I think they could do with refreshing though and maybe re-potting, but a bit nervous of disturbing them. At the moment they are showing no sign of life so keeping my fingers ctossed they survived the severe Scottish winter.

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