What are the Best Perennials for Clay Soils?

Coneflowers of all types grow well in clay soils and look beautiful in summer. (Image by Jessie Keith)

“What are the best perennials for clay-based soils? Thanks!” Question from Trish of Newton, New Jersey

Answer: There are lots of exceptional perennials adapted to clay soils, and many of the best are regional natives. Here are nine perennials that are beautiful, native, and well-adapted to clay soils in the Mid-Atlantic. I’ve included different plants that look attractive in the garden from early summer to fall.

Nine Hardy Perennials for Clay Soils

1. Orange Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa): In my opinion, this is the prettiest of the butterfly weeds, which are the star plants for monarch butterflies. Its bright orange flowers appear from early to midsummer. Clip back the flowers after their first bloom, and they will rebloom later in the summer. (Click here to learn more about growing butterfly weed.)


2. False Indigo (Baptisia hybrids): There are so many wonderful cultivars of this tall, bushy perennial available at garden centers these days. Their deep roots cut through clay soils, and their spires of early summer blooms come in shades of violet-blue, purple, white, or yellow.

3. Pink Turtlehead (Chelone lyonii): In late summer, this pretty perennial produces upright stems of rosy pink flowers that look much like turtle’s heads. It grows well in moist, clay-rich soils and tolerates partial shade.


4. Coneflowers (Echinacea hybrids): Everyone loves the large, colorful, summer blooms of coneflower. There are lots of hybrids that come in shades of pink, rosy purple, orange, apricot, yellow and white. They bloom in summer and attract bees and butterflies. Cut the old blooms back and plants will continue flowering into fall.

5. Miss Manners Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’): There are many obedient plants, but most varieties are fast-spreading and can become a little weedy. ‘Miss Manners’ is a white-flowered variety that refrains from spreading and looks very pretty in the late-summer garden.


6. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.): Most Black-eyed-Susans are well-adapted to sun and clay soils. Their sunny summer and fall blooms will brighten any garden and attract bees and butterflies.

8. New York Aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii): For a reliable fall-bloomer for clay, try one of the many varieties of New York asters. Their violet-purple or pinkish flowers add needed color to fall gardens and are a favorite of late-season pollinators. (Click here to read more about growing asters.)


9. Switchgrass (Panicum virginicum): It’s always nice to add perennial grasses to the garden for height and texture. There are many exceptional varieties of switchgrass, and all will grow beautifully in clay soils.

Happy perennial gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist