How to Plant in Clay Soil


Clay soil can be discouraging to the home gardener both for the difficulty in digging and the potential death grip it can put on plants and flowers. But for all its drawbacks, clay soil does not have to keep you from having a beautiful landscape if you use a little hard work and careful planting.

Things You'll Need

  • Rounded Shovel Pick Ax Composted Mulch Plant Fertilizer Plants

Plant Effectively in Clay Soil

  • Choosing the right plant is essential. Some plants that grow well in clay include: blue star flowers, swamp sunflowers, daylilies, Autumn Joy sedum, goldenrods and ornamental grasses such as switchgrass and Indian grass. The local nursery will help you with this as well. Look for hearty varieties that do not require good drainage or plants that grow well in pots.

  • Using the pick ax, chop up the soil in the area you wish to plant. Chop up the ground in a circle roughly twice as big as the root-ball or pot of your plant.

  • Using the shovel, dig a hole about six inches deeper than the root-ball or pot of your plant. You may have to alternate between the axe and the shovel depending on how hard the ground is. If it's excessively dry, soak the area you chopped up with the axe with water overnight to loosen the soil.

  • Place a four-inch base of soil mixed with the compost mulch in the bottom of the hole. Then add roughly two inches of mulch and sprinkle plant fertilizer over the top of the mulch. Water until moist but avoid standing water.

  • Carefully remove the plant from its pot or loosen the ties on a canvas root-ball. If it has canvas, leave the canvas on the bottom third of the ball as you lower into the hole. Remove the twine, but the canvas can stay to hold the ball together. Backfill around the plant with a mixture of soil and mulch. Slope mulch up and around the plant to an inch away from the base.

  • Water until moist but not flooded. Water carefully the first week and fertilize to add nutrients to the tough terrain.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the plant shows signs of distress use a product called SuperThrive, which can be found in nurseries. Mix with water and treat according to instructions. If problems persist try to gently dig up the fill soil around the plant ball and see if water is standing at the base. If so, clean out the hole, dig the base four inches deeper and repeat the above process.
  • Do not try to force plants that don't grow well into a landscape of clay soil. Plants that need a lot of drainage will not survive in the clay. Plants indigenous to the area will do best and save money in replacements.

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  • Photo Credit Used with permission
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