Trees and Shrubs For Midwestern Clay Soils

Most of the Midwestern area is comprised of clay soils. Never fear! This is a much better situation to have than sandy soils. Clay soils maintain more minerals and moisture than other soils.

Sometimes clay soils can be bad, such as in conditions where there are more problems than just the soil. If while digging in the soil, it looks blueish-black and smells kinda off, this is because of poor drainage and the smell is from rotting organisms. The area should be assessed for drainage problems before anything else is done.

If the clay is a redish-orange, this is perfect as the soil is holding all the minerals plants crave.

With regards to planting woody plants, be sure to plant these correctly and never lower than the top of the roots of the rootball. If you’re at all concerned about the clay content of your soil, plant you woody plant a bit higher. Trust me, they will love you for it!!

Trees for Clay Soils

Scientific Name Common Name Grow Zone
Abies balsamea Balsam fir 3
Abies concolor White fir 4
Acer freemanii Freeman maple 4
Acer ginnala Amur or ginnala maple 3
Acer platanoides Norway maple 4
Acer rubrum Red maple 3
Β Acer saccharinum Silver maple 3
Alnus glutinosa European alder 4
Betula nigra River birch 4
Carpinus caroliniana Blue beech 4
Carya cordiformis Bitternut hickory 4
Carya ovata Shagbark hickory 4
Celtis occidentalis Common hackberry 2
Crataegus species Hawthorn 3-4
Fraxinus nigra Black ash 3
Fraxinus pennsylvanica Green ash 3
Ginkgo biloba Ginkgo 4
Gleditsia triacanthos Common honeylocust 4
Gymnocladus dioicus Kentucky coffeetree 4
Juglans cinerea Butternut 4
Juglans nigra Black walnut 4
Larix decidua European larch 4
Larix laricina Tamarack 2
Malus species Apple, crabapple 3
Phellodendron amurense Amur corktree 4
Picea abies Norway spruce 4
Picea glauca var. densata Black Hills spruce 4
Pinus nigra Austrian pine 4
Pinus strobus White pine 3
Pinus sylvestris Scots pine 3
Pinus ponderosa Ponderosa pine 4
Populus species Aspen, cottonwood 2
Pyrus species Pear 4-5
Quercus bicolor Swamp white oak 4
Quercus macrocarpa Bur oak 3
Salix species Willow 2
Syringa reticulata Japanese tree lilac 4
Tilia species Linden, basswood 3
Ulmus species Elm 4

Shrubs for Clay Soils

Scientific Name Common Name Grow Zone
Amelanchier species Serviceberry 4
Aronia melanocarpa Chokeberry 3
Caragana arborescens Siberian peashrub 3
Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush 4
Cornus alba Tatarian dogwood 3
Cornus alternifolia Pagoda dogwood 4
Cornus racemosa Grey dogwood 3
Cornus sericea Red osier dogwood 3
Diervilla lonicera Dwarf bush-honeysuckle 3
Elaeagnus commutata Silverberry 2
Euonymus alatus Burning bush 3
Forsythia x ‘Meadowlark’ ‘Meadowlark’ forsythia 3
Forsythia x ‘Northern Sun’ ‘Northern Sun’ forsythia 3
Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel 4
Ilex verticillata Winterberry 4
Juniperus species (most) Juniper 3
Physocarpus opulifolius Common ninebark 2
Potentilla Fruticosa Potentilla 2
Rhus species Sumac 2
Ribes alpinum Alpine currant 2
Ribes odoratum Clove currant 2
Rosa rugosa Rugosa rose 2
Salix species Willow 2
Sambucus canadensis American elderberry 3
Spiraea species Spirea 3-4
Symphoricarpos albus White snowberry 3
Syringa species Lilac 2
Thuja occidentalis Arborvitae, white cedar 3
Viburnum dentatum Arrowwood viburnum 3
Viburnum lentago Nannyberry viburnum 2
Viburnum opulus European cranberry bush 3
Viburnum sargentii Sargent viburnum 4
Viburnum trilobum Highbush cranberry bush 2

15 thoughts on “Trees and Shrubs For Midwestern Clay Soils

  1. I don’t have a green thumb once killed a cactus by over watering it.I wish I had a better understanding by I just can’t wrapped my head around all this stuff. Thank you for your like,I will be back ,come and check me out there’s a lot to see and read


      • Our soil is black – it was ‘red’ in Joburg! I am ignorant of soils and a rubbish gardener! I just remember my husband saying the soil had a lot of clay – I think it doesn’t drain well?
        Thanks for your info πŸ™‚ I thought you’d done geology πŸ™‚ And how’s the meteorology going?


        • There can be so much going on in soils when you’re talking about where homes were constructed. I bet there was a lot of soil brought in (or not) and the profile (a term to describe the layers of soil) will have changed around your home.
          I finished meteorology last December. Got a B, I’m ok with that. πŸ˜€

          Liked by 1 person

          • Cool πŸ™‚ Yes, I’ve no idea what soil was put here when the house was built.
            Congrats on your Meteorology studies πŸ™‚ Not easy to fit on when you work full time!


  2. That is quite a list here, No one needs to look any further if they are living in the zones you have listed. Actually some of the trees and shrubs I’m familiar with and know that those grow further south in my zone which, I think is considered 8 or 8B.

    Your list is a nice variety. Good basic info on how to plant. I have clay soil where I live but it is black clay. My yard however has a lot of decayed matter in many places and I have a huge compost pile. There are leaves virtually year round to be raked and added. But most areas the leaves remain on the ground.


    • Black clay, now that is a great thing to have! Full of powerful plant food.
      The zones I reported are more for cold tolerance than heat. In general, many things can go from a cold zone to a warm, but not vice-verse.
      Ahhh, 8B. I could do that!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice, informative post, thank you for sharing. I definitely have clay soils, some areas are more dense than others. I also have some weird rocks and what-not in mine which requires some research on my part. Put the two together and you’ve got a nightmare to dig through. Digging is the worst part of clay I think. πŸ˜‰


    • Digging is the worst, period! πŸ˜‰ (says me, the lazy gardener!)
      I was pretty lucky in the soil department. At one point my neighborhood was an apple orchard, then a golf course. My soil is pretty nice for about 2 feet down, then it’s a clay slab!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, interesting history of your neighborhood! Ever find any stray, ancient golf balls?

        Digging can be left to the dogs for all I care, if only we could hire them…I’d pay, I mean hey I’ve got leftovers I can sacrifice. πŸ˜‰ That said it can be a wonderful thing to have your hands in the dirt…until you find yourself bare-handed picking up rabbit poo…ooops or should I say shit!


  4. Pingback: Perennials for Midwestern Clay Soils | Midwestern Plants

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