Ask a Question forum→What are the best plants to grow in wet clay soil?

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Oregon
EmilyEm
Feb 8, 2020 12:40 PM CST
Hi! I'm an apartment dweller in Oregon. I've been growing some native plants in the large bed next to my front door, with limited success. Although this bed gets full sun, its clay soil is very damp. In fact, it's sprouted mushrooms in places.

My neighbor has hydrangeas that are thriving in this soil. I've got a camellia bush that's doing well as well as a happy copper beech bush, excited borage, a thrilled fern, and some thriving bulbs coming up.

I also planted heuchera, kinnikinnick, butterfly bush, and evergreen huckleberry. (Yes, I know this is a lot and perhaps aesthetically questionable, but I'm trying to help birds, butterflies, and bees.) The heuchera has all but died, even though it supposedly loves clay, as has the butterfly bush. The evergreen huckleberry and kinnikinnick are alive, but they haven't grown in months.

I think the plants are dying because of the dampness, but I'm not sure. I'm in Zone 8/9. I'm wondering what I can plant in this bed that will flourish. My preference is for native plants, or at least plants that are helpful to butterflies, songbirds, etc. Any advice would be heartily appreciated!
Name: Big Bill
Livonia, Michigan (Zone 6a)
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BigBill
Feb 8, 2020 2:25 PM CST
You won't get much to grow unless you improve the soil. A drastic over haul is needed. Just how many square feet is the bed?
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Name: one-eye-luke US.Vet.
Texas (Zone 8a)
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oneeyeluke
Feb 8, 2020 3:44 PM CST
White Flower Farm, has a plant section called, "Plants for Moist Soil" give them a try they have about 12 different flowering plants for wet soil.
NOT A EXPERT! Just a grow worm! I never met a plant I didn’t love.✌
Name: Diana
Southeast Missouri (Zone 6a)
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DraDiana
Feb 8, 2020 4:02 PM CST
Rose Mallows (Hibiscus moscheutos and others) are native bog plants. They are tall and lanky. The Hardy Hibiscus cultivars derived from them include smaller more compact plants with huge blooms. They can tolerate wet feet just fine.
Name: Lee-Roy
Bilzen, Belgium (Zone 8a)
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Arico
Feb 8, 2020 4:45 PM CST
Heuchera's are woodland plants and fry in full baking sun.

You might want to try:

Perennials:

Iris sibirica, ensata (if moist at all times as you say)
Rodgersia (if moist at all times, even tolerates waterlogging)
Astilbe
Aster sp.
Rudbeckia
Astranta
Kniphofia
Geranium sp.

Shrubs/trees:

Cornus sp.
Buddleja

Bulbs:

Leucojum aestivum
Galanthus nivalis/elwesii
Fritillaria meleagris
Narcissus (less so than the above mentioned)

Oregon
EmilyEm
Feb 8, 2020 8:37 PM CST
BigBill said:You won't get much to grow unless you improve the soil. A drastic over haul is needed. Just how many square feet is the bed?


Unfortunately, I'm a renter, so I don't think I'd be permitted to do anything too drastic.

Oregon
EmilyEm
Feb 8, 2020 8:38 PM CST
Thank you for all of your amazing suggestions!
Name: Bea
(Zone 8b)
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bumplbea
Feb 8, 2020 8:45 PM CST
EmilyEm...Also easy and hardy shrubs love Oregon weather. There are so many varieties. They are available in Mini and medium sizes.
Rhododendrons
Azaleas
I’m so busy... “I don’t know if I found a rope or lost a horse.”
[Last edited by bumplbea - Feb 8, 2020 8:46 PM (+)]
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Maryland
Irises
LarryCrutchley
Feb 8, 2020 10:23 PM CST
EmilyEm

Welcome!
Name: Luis
Hurst, TX, U.S.A. (Zone 8a)
Dog Lover Region: Texas Salvias Roses Hibiscus Plumerias
luis_pr
Feb 9, 2020 11:56 AM CST
If you are a renter, be on the lookout for landscape companies given generic comments that may result in them cutting/pruning plants that should not be pruned. You may suddenly find your plants cut in half or deciduous plants cut all the way down. Ask the owner if you can put a sign that says do not prune.
West Central Minnesota (Zone 4a)
Rubi
Feb 9, 2020 12:31 PM CST
Arico said:

Iris sibirica, ensata (if moist at all times as you say)



If this is what's commonly known as Siberian Iris, I'd definitely agree with this recommendation. I've got them planted by my drainspout, and they're growing like weeds!

Georgia (Zone 8a)
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Hamwild
Feb 9, 2020 2:44 PM CST
Swamp hibiscus
Siberian Iris
Juncus
Spiderwort
Canna Lily
Northern Sea Oat

I have these in a clay bed that floods and they do fine.

Dwarf wax myrtle is a shrub I have read does well in wet clay.
canada 4b (Zone 8a)
Dirtmechanic
Feb 9, 2020 8:57 PM CST
EmilyEm said:Hi! I'm an apartment dweller in Oregon. I've been growing some native plants in the large bed next to my front door, with limited success. Although this bed gets full sun, its clay soil is very damp. In fact, it's sprouted mushrooms in places.

My neighbor has hydrangeas that are thriving in this soil. I've got a camellia bush that's doing well as well as a happy copper beech bush, excited borage, a thrilled fern, and some thriving bulbs coming up.

I also planted heuchera, kinnikinnick, butterfly bush, and evergreen huckleberry. (Yes, I know this is a lot and perhaps aesthetically questionable, but I'm trying to help birds, butterflies, and bees.) The heuchera has all but died, even though it supposedly loves clay, as has the butterfly bush. The evergreen huckleberry and kinnikinnick are alive, but they haven't grown in months.

I think the plants are dying because of the dampness, but I'm not sure. I'm in Zone 8/9. I'm wondering what I can plant in this bed that will flourish. My preference is for native plants, or at least plants that are helpful to butterflies, songbirds, etc. Any advice would be heartily appreciated!


It is actually air that is lacking. The soil will drain, but the durn clay particles being so fine and packing when wet is the first and worst issue. Because it is so dense, it takes a lot of compost to balance it. One good shovel of dense clay weighs about as much as an entire bag of black kow compost. Anyway, the secret is to go up like a planter but leave the clay bottom open. Think tall borders. Tall enough to help feeder roots breathe. You can pry and shovel the plants up redo their soil if they are not too big.
Name: Heather H
Richmond, Va (Zone 7a)
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HeatherH444
Feb 9, 2020 10:09 PM CST
I would think that if you are allowed to plant in this spot, which means you have certain " rights" to the area, ( if you are allowed to plant in that spot,you gotta dig a little)that you could dig out some of that clay,shovel it into a bucket or bag and replace it with topsoil, soil conditioner and compost. A large bag of each mixed into the clay would drastically improve the growing areas soil and ability to grow different plants
Name: Lee-Roy
Bilzen, Belgium (Zone 8a)
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Arico
Feb 10, 2020 4:31 AM CST
HeatherH444 said:I would think that if you are allowed to plant in this spot, which means you have certain " rights" to the area, ( if you are allowed to plant in that spot,you gotta dig a little)that you could dig out some of that clay,shovel it into a bucket or bag and replace it with topsoil, soil conditioner and compost. A large bag of each mixed into the clay would drastically improve the growing areas soil and ability to grow different plants


Placing a different (read: more draining) soil type on top of another doesn't leviate drainage problems. In fact it enforces them because of the formation of a perched water table. Mixing the two is totally out of the question. To improve drainage on a clay soil by incoorporating 'sand' you'd need ATLEAST the same amount in volume to make a difference over the ENTIRE area. A waste of time, effort and money.
Mixing organic matter into the soil doesn't help long term either. It will decompose eventually, making the soil sink back to the original level causing problems for your planted stuff and in the mean time might even cause anaerobic conditions futher down.
Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
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stone
Feb 10, 2020 7:44 AM CST
I'd be planting some of those wonderful pacific coast iris that we can't grow here...

Also... how about some nice blackberries?
[Last edited by stone - Feb 10, 2020 7:45 AM (+)]
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Georgia (Zone 8a)
Region: Georgia Enjoys or suffers hot summers Dog Lover Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Cactus and Succulents Garden Art
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Hamwild
Feb 10, 2020 8:45 AM CST
I forgot one. Swamp Milkweed

Here's my garden last year:
Thumb of 2020-02-10/Hamwild/1e6924

Name: Debbieo
Florence Al (Zone 7a)
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taterpye
Apr 20, 2020 9:34 AM CST
Geez louise. I have the same problem with my soil. I moved NW Al and now have "chirt". Oh my. I have gardened in clay soil in Atl Ga successfully. But this has me crying the blues. I have no rich uncle and the money it would take or the labor is huge and beyond my reach.
I am trying hardy hibiscus this year.
Successful with milkweed. I have killed a variety of plants in the last few years.
I see way too many containers in my future.
Sighing!
I am searching roadsides for what works Crying
Name: Rob
Portland, OR (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Native Plants and Wildflowers
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nuttallii
Apr 20, 2020 10:14 AM CST
The Lewis mock orange is a nice, native shrub with beautiful white flowers that smell of citrus. Bees love it, and it will grow just about anywhere. The scientific name is philadelphus lewisii.
Name: Diana
Southeast Missouri (Zone 6a)
Region: Missouri Enjoys or suffers hot summers Dog Lover Cat Lover Hibiscus Daylilies
Irises Vegetable Grower Canning and food preservation Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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DraDiana
Apr 20, 2020 12:39 PM CST
Cranberry Crush breaking dormancy in red clay muck and rocks in the drainage area next to the driveway:
Thumb of 2020-04-20/DraDiana/dae803
The really healthy looking green thing in the background is dandelions. Thumbs down
Some blue-eyed grass is surviving in the ditch, plus a couple of volunteer holly hocks. I had a wild type daylily "ditch lily" volunteer there until I moved it. It doesn't require much weeding - most weeds don't like it.

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