Different soils have different properties and traits that may impact what can grow in them, and also how things grow in them.
In this short guide, we outline what might grow well in clay soils and heavier types of soil, along with other relevant considerations.
Summary – What Grows Well In Clay Soil
Clay rich soil has it’s own unique traits/properties that makes it different from other types of soils
These traits/properties impact how suitable or unsuitable it is to grow different plants, fruits, vegetables, crops etc. in soils with a high clay content
Some soils may be a clay mix, which means that it may be predominantly clay, but also include a certain % of another type of soil as well (such as a sand for example)
This may change the suitability of the soil to grow different things in it, as it isn’t a full clay soil
There’s different things that can be done to a clay soil in order to amend it or improve it’s fertility, for the purposes of growing and soil productivity/soil yield
However, some clay soils may be so clay rich, and have such extreme soil conditions, that adding to them or trying to amend them to improve growing conditions can be futile
The soil type is only one factor in determining what you can and can’t grow in that soil (or, how effectively something might grow in a specific soil type)
Other factors to consider for growing in different soils include the general soil fertility, and the local conditions and variables such as weather and climate, as just a few major examples
Overall, each square area of soil on an individual plot of land potentially has it’s own unique factors and variables to consider that will impact soil production. And, the same can be said for the soil in the different geographic locations around the world
All clay soils may have general soil production principles that apply to them, but, may also have unique local variables impacting soil production as well
Profile Of Clay Soil – Traits, Characteristics, & Features
Pure clay soil, or soil with higher amounts of accumulated clay, may have these general features, traits, and characteristics:
– Have the smallest soil particles when compared to silt, and sand
– Hold/retain a lot of moisture and water and have poor drainage (because of how tightly compacted the small clay particles are)
– Expand and contract depending on how much water it gets, and how wet or dry conditions are
– Be poorly aerated
– Be sticky and clumped together when wet – making it hard for root vegetables to establish roots in the clay, and making it hard for gardeners to work with it
– Crack and go solid when they dry out – which can dislodge certain root systems
– Can sometimes have water pool on top of it
– Hold onto nutrients, but can be hard to access for plants and other things growing in clay.
Real Examples Of Clay Soil, & Where It Might Be Found
Although highly fertile, Vertisols show many of the features listed above, and this can make them challenging to work with for some soil uses.
Working With, Improving & Amending Clay Soil
Adding To Clay Soils
Compost, leaf mould, coarse grit and well-rotted bark chips can work well when added in moderate amounts to clay soil.
Liming agents like calcium can also work well in moderate amounts with clay.
Working With Difficult Or Extreme Clay Soils
However, as mentioned by Empressofdirt.net, sometimes the clay soil in your area might be too extreme for modifications and amending, and raised garden beds with imported soil might work better for growing.
More Resources On Working With Clay Soils
Read these sources for more info on amending, improving and working with clay soil:
Growing Fruits Trees In Clay Soils (kings.co.nz)
A Note On Soil Types, & What Ultimately Impacts How Things Grow
Before we look at what grows well in clay soil, it’s important to note that all soils have a slightly different composition in each geographic location – you might get a pure clay soil in one location, but in another location you might get a clay soil mixed with another type of soil, and this can change it’s characteristics
There are also different external factors acting upon the soil in each geographic area. Climate and weather are a major example of this
Additionally, there are ultimately a range of physical, chemical and biological factors that determine how well something grows in a particular spot or under particular conditions.
Soil fertility is a major factor tied to soil’s physical, chemical and biological traits, that can impact soil productivity and yield. Some soils have high natural fertility, but it’s also possible to modify or increase the fertility of some soils
This is just a guide on clay soils in general, without going into extreme depth about all these other factors (factors like soil fertility, soil health, soil quality, the impact of adding fertilizers and pesticides, bringing in commercial topsoil, the impact of different tilling practices, and so on).
To assess the soil in an individual location, it can help to become aware of factors like:
– What the soil is, and what is the best way to manage it
– The climate in that location (temperature, rainfall etc.) and the growing seasons (for example – the US has different planting zones),
– The plants or things you want to grow and the conditions they need
This is of course just basic information – it’s important to research beyond these things for each individual situation.
These guides provide some basic information on figuring out what might grow well in different soils, conditions and locations:
Below is a collection of generalized lists of things that may grow well in clay soil.
It’s important that you don’t rely solely on these lists though – obviously you should do your own additional research, and make your own independent decisions.
Plants & Flowers That Grow Well In Clay Soil
Black Eyed Susan
Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii
Flowering perennials and bulbs:
Fruits & Fruit Trees That Grow Well In Clay Soil
Vegetables & Crops That Grow Well In Clay Soil
Lettuce, chard, green beans beans and other crops with shallow roots
Broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage often grow better in clay soil than looser loams
Mid and late season sweetcorn are a good choice, too, but some of the best vegetables to grow in clay are squash and pumpkins.
As long as they are grown in planting holes that have been generously enriched with compost, summer squash and small pumpkins seem to do well no matter where they are grown
Rice can also work well in clay
Cabbage (red and green)
Cabbage (Napa and savoy)
Carrots and beets
Trees, Shrubs and Bushes That Grow Well In Clay Soil
Trees and shrubs:
Cotoneaster ‘Hybridus Pendulus’
Chaenomeles (flowering quince)
Plants For Wet Clay Soil