Perennials 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.

The soil should be mixed with a fair amount of compost to help perennials get a good start. If the soil is very compacted, some sand can be mixed it also. Be sure to surround the perennial bed with leaf compost to aid in nutrients getting to the roots and all the other benefits mulch does for plants.

  • For Trees and Shrubs for clay soils ~ CLICK HERE
Botanical Name Common Name Bloom Color Light
Achillea tomentosa woolly yarrow Jun-Jul yellow sun
Achillea filipendulina fernleaf yarrow Jun-Jul yellow sun
Arisaema spp. Jack-in-the-pulpit May-July green/purple shade
Aruncus dioicus goatsbeard Jun-Jul white ps/sh
Asclepias tuberosum butterflyweed Jun-Aug orange et al sun
Astilbe arendsii & var. false spirea, astilbe Jun-Aug white-pink-red ps/sh
Bergenia cordifolia heartleaf bergenia Apr-May pink ps/sh
Brunnera macrophylla Siberian bugloss Apr-May blue ps/sh
Echinacea purpurea purple coneflower Jul-Oct pink sun
Helenium autumnale
‘Moerheim beauty’
Sneezewort Jul-Sept bronze red sun/ps
Heliopsis scabra Heliopsis Jul-Aug yellow sun
Hemerocallis spp. daylily summer many sun/ps
Heuchera hyb. coral bells Jun-Aug white-pink-red sun/ps
Hibiscus spp. rose mallow Jul-Sept white-pink-red sun/ps
Hosta spp. plantain lily Jul-Aug lavender ps-sh
Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ houttuynia June white sun/ps
Iris sibirica, pseudo-
acorus, versicolor, etc.
Siberian and blue and yellowflag iris variable blue, violet, yellow et al. sun/ps
Liatris spicata gayfeather, blazing star Jul-Aug pinkish sun/ps
Liriope muscari lily turf Aug-Oct lavender-mauve-white ps/sun
Lysimachia spp. Yellow loosestrife, gooseneck loosestrife Jul-Sept yellow-white sun/ps
Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian sage Summer Lavender sun
Primula spp. primroses Mar-Jun many ps/sh
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ Goldsturm rudbeckia July-Sept yellow sun/ps
Salvia spp. salvia, sage Jul-Oct blue-violet sun/ps
Sedum spectabile var. stonecrop, sedum Aug-Oct pink-red sun
Tradescantia virginiana spiderwort Jun-Sept blue-violet-white sun/ps
Yucca filamentosa Adams’s needle summer white sun

20 thoughts on “Perennials for Midwestern Clay Soils

  1. i’ve been going back over past posts looking at people who have commented and i ran across you and i’m beating up on myself for not going back to your blog since you first comments on one of my poems and i checked you out to my great delight since i was a landscaper for ten years until i had a bad accident. the only activity in my life … of a physical demanding nature .. is the landscaping work i continually do … two, three hours a day. so i love to learn as much as i can about plants and trees and since my wife and i have a cottage in northern michigan, i am especially interested in your blog because northern plants are the subject of your blog. so i’m glad i re-discovered you since i haven’t been here in a while. i noticed that you gave me a ‘like’ on one of my pieces … part of a series i did on water, rain, ice, moon etc. i wanted you to know that these poems were all inspired by the life i live along the shoreline of lake huron basically, my ‘spot’ on the planet where i love life the most … i thought that knowing this may give a little more depth to those pieces since i’m sure that you too are in love with and inspired by those great bodies of water (you are near lake michigan aren’t you) as i am. so i’m looking forward to coming back more often. i want to learn more about perennials that can live in shade since my place has so many trees. also, i am in love with moss. i transplant it to patchy areas around the cottage where i can enjoy the beautiful emerald green color and the gorgeous velvety appearance. thanks for your ”like” .. ks


    • Good day Kurt! Thanks for stopping by, again 😉
      I really did enjoy your poetry and I am fairly near Lake Michigan (15 miles). I love Michigan, been going to the Saugatuck area since I was a child. My grandfather used to live there. I have a post coming about perennials, bloom times and it includes exposure in the list. This may help you. Many of my clients are in the Northshore area, which is basically dense shade and wet soils… Pretty tough gig for plants! I also love moss, its so soft and grows where many plants don’t. I’m going to give you a follow so I can enjoy more of your poetry!


      • thank you … you might enjoy the piece, ‘Night, Ice Shades Varying Mood Intensity, Daylight, Darkness, Infinity, Season’s Glow’ … written as a whole piece (as opposed to the separate sections also posted) … this would be chronologically, the last piece working your way down the ‘recent posts’ … also, please read both parts of ‘Life … Knowledge’ … both pieces are dear to my heart but ‘life … knowledge” especially … .i’ll be back … ks


  2. I did not know that so much of the Midwest had clay soil. I think there is a patch of sandy soil in central Wisconsin where my friend lives.


  3. Thanks for a nice plant list! As I said in a previous post I’ve definitely got some clay soils and plenty room yet for some more plantings. Stonecrops will hopefully come back where I left them waiting to be planted. I had Yarrows in the past and you’ve got me thinking I should get some more this year. I do like their feathery soft vegetation and lovely flowers. So thank you for getting my spring planning started. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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