24 of the Best Perennials That Will Thrive in Clay Soil

hosta perennials shade plants
Photo: John Reed Forsman

Clay soil can make gardening tough. It doesn't let water drain easily, and it bakes solid when dry. It doesn't, however, mean you can't grow gorgeous plants anyway. These tough perennials all will grow well in heavy clay.

01 of 24

Aster

pink new england aster blooms
Greg Ryan

Lighting up the late season landscape with its deep violet to lavender-pink blooms, asters provide color and contrast to the fall perennial border front. These nectar rich flowers are a pollinator favorite. If the plant's height needs controlled, pinch back the stems before mid-July to delay flowering and help decrease the need for staking.

Season of Bloom: Late summer to fall

Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 6 feet tall

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: New England Aster, ($6, Prairie Nursery)

02 of 24

Goldenrod

crown of rays goldenrod yellow blooms
Doug Hetherington

Known for its bright yellow flower spikes, goldenrod lights up gardens when it blooms in late summer to fall. It's very attractive to bees and butterflies and also makes for a good cut flower. While goldenrods are generally tolerant of clay, they can grow up to 5 feet tall. 'Crown of Rays' is just as pretty, but stays more compact at 2 feet tall.

Season of Bloom: Mid-summer to fall

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 2 feet tall

Zones: 4-8

03 of 24

Black-Eyed Susan

golden black-eyed susan flowers detail
John Reed Forsman

A summer staple for sunny borders, black-eyed Susan is one of the most popular garden perennials. Its daisy-like yellow flowers that grow up to 4 inches in diameter are a wonderful addition to perennial borders, cottage gardens, prairies, or naturalized areas. 'Goldsturm' is one of the most popular varieties for its vigorous growth and profuse blooms. It spreads quickly, but not invasively, to fill a planting bed with long-lasting color.

Season of Bloom: Early summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

Buy It: Black-Eyed Susan, ($11, Etsy)

04 of 24

Russian Sage

lavender perovskia russian sage
Peter Krumhardt

A woody-based perennial of the mint family, Russian sage has aromatic gray-green leaves on square stems and whorls of light blue flowers that are tiered in branched panicles. Its wispy lavender flower spikes and silvery foliage make it an anchor of the summer border. Russian sage grows so well in hot, dry, sunny clay that in some areas it is considered invasive, so check local restrictions before planting it.

Season of Bloom: Midsummer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 5 feet tall

Zones: 5-9

05 of 24

Daylily

Daylily
Bob Stefko

An extremely adaptable perennial, daylily is easy to grow for gardens, borders, and edging. True to its name, daylily's trumpet-shaped blooms each last only a day, but plants can remain in flower for several weeks because they produce so many flower buds. With blooms up to 8 inches across in a variety of colors and textures, its no wonder there's more than 60,000 cultivars registered with the American Hemerocallis Society.

Season of Bloom: Spring to late summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 1 foot tall

Zones: 3-10

06 of 24

Yarrow

achillea fern-leaf yellow yarrow
Peter Krumhardt

The beautiful perennial, yarrow, can easily be grown in that hard-to-grow space in your garden. Tolerant of drought and heat, yarrow is excellent for fresh cut and dried flowers. Its fern-like, silvery-gray foliage and clusters of golden-yellow blooms are especially attractive to butterflies.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 2 feet tall

Zones: 3-8

07 of 24

Little Bluestem

little bluestem plant in garden
Denny Schrock

A gorgeous ornamental grass from the North American prairies, little bluestem bears blue-green foliage that turns crimson in fall. Purplish-bronze flowers appear on branched stems above this plant's foliage followed by clusters of fluffy, silvery-white seed heads.

Season of Bloom: Late summer to late winter

Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 4 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

08 of 24

Fountain Grass

hameln dwarf fountaingrass detail
Edward Gohlich

The rapid-growing ornamental perennial, fountain grass, offers fluffy, burgundy-purple flowers in bottlebrush-like spikes that gracefully arch outward from a mounded plant. The plant received its name due to its clump appearance that looks like water spraying from a fountain. This low-maintenance ornamental grass provides excellent texture, color an contrast to borders and open areas. 'Hameln', pictured here, is a dwarf variety that grows about 2-1/2 feet tall and wide.

Season of Bloom: Mid-summer to fall

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 5 feet tall

Zones: 9-10

09 of 24

Switchgrass

switchgrass detail with wispy seedheads
Peter Krumhardt

Among the most versatile of ornamental grasses, switchgrass thrives in moist, dry, or clay soil—and even in part shade. It offers wispy seedheads that sway gracefully in the breeze. Some varieties, such as 'Heavy Metal' have bluish-green foliage; others turn shades of red and maroon in autumn.

Season of Bloom: Summer to winter

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 6 feet tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Northwind Switchgrass, ($22, Etsy)

10 of 24

Ironweed

purple vernonia ironweed flowers
Scott Little

With a name like ironweed, you know that this perennial flower is tough. It thrives in clay, tolerates summer heat, and withstands long periods of drought. In late summer, it bears purple flowers that attract butterflies. This tall, course perennial with tough stems is a great background plant for borders.

Season of Bloom: Late summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 6 feet tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: New York Ironweed, ($9, Etsy)

11 of 24

Canna

canna with dramatic foliage and orange blooms
Kritsada Panichgul

Tropical-looking canna offers dramatic foliage and bright blooms. Its colorful flower spikes sit atop stems with large paddle-shape leaves. Look for a wide range of varieties—some grow only 2 feet tall; others tower over 6 feet. This perennial grows well in poorly drained soils and even tolerates standing water, but it requires some extra plant maintenance to keep it healthy and tidy.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 8 feet tall

Zones: 7-10

12 of 24

Bluestar

bluestar with star-shaped blue flowers
Marty Baldwin

Known as a garden champ, bluestar adapts to most growing conditions, from soggy sites to dry clay and full sun to part shade. It shines in mid-spring with steel-blue, star-shaped flowers and again in fall when the lustrous willowy foliage turns bright gold. After flowering, consider cutting back stems to promote bushy growth.

Season of Bloom: Late spring

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 5-9

13 of 24

Baptisia

purple baptisia false indigo variety
Denny Schrock

Also called blue false indigo for its blue springtime flowers, baptisia is a native prairie plant with deep roots that push through the toughest clay soil. Other selections extend baptisia's color range to white, yellow, and purple. Its lupine-like flowers turn into blackened seed pods which are often used in dried flower arrangements.

Season of Bloom: Late spring

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 4 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

14 of 24

Coreopsis

zagreb threadleaf coreopsis perennial
Marty Baldwin

The long-blooming summer perennial flower, coreopsis, is a superb border plant that makes a great cut flower. With their bright and cheery little blossoms, coreopsis can be a great companion plants to ornamental grasses and other tough annuals and perennials, especially in containers. It grows in dense, bushy clumps, and it has yellow, daisy-like flowers with yellow center disks. Deadhead spent flower stalks to encourage additional blooms and to prevent unwanted self-seeding. 'Zagreb' threadleaf coreopsis, shown here, has fine feathery foliage and spreads to make an effective sun-loving groundcover in heavy clay soil.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

Buy It: Coreopsis, ($13, Etsy)

15 of 24

Purple Coneflower

Purple Coneflower
David Speer

A butterfly-and-bird magnet for sunny sites, purple coneflower, is an easy-to-grow perennial that is native to many prairies, meadows and woods of the United States. Its showy daisy-like flowers bloom atop stiff stems with dark green leaves and make a great fresh cut bouquet. 'Ruby Star', pictured here, is one of many varieties available. Also look for hybrids with colors ranging from pink to white, orange, burgundy, and red.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 5 feet tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: Echinacea Magnus Coneflower, ($9, Etsy)

16 of 24

Sea Holly

sea holly rattlesnake master flower
Denny Schrock

If you're looking to add texture to your landscape, consider adding sea holly to your flower beds and borders. This perennial offers jagged leaves with clusters of steel-blue flowers surrounded by a crown of spiny-looking bracts, and has become popular in cut floral arrangements. Related to thistles (though it doesn't spread like them), sea holly is also deer- and rabbit-resistant. Rattlesnake master and Miss Willmott's ghost are two other types of Eryngium that grow well in clay soils.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Blue Glitter Sea Holly, ($12, High Country Gardens)

17 of 24

Perennial Geranium

pink cranesbill perennial geranium blooms
Marty Baldwin

The most common species of geranium grown in the United States, perennial geranium makes a great groundcover on sites with clay soil. Also called bloody cranesbill for the crane-like shape of its seedpods and crimson flowers, this plant grows in a mound with white-hairy trailing stems that spread up to 2 feet wide. After the first fall frost, the foliage usually turns an attractive shade of red.

Season of Bloom: Late Spring

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 18 inches tall

Zones: 4-8

18 of 24

False Sunflower

tuscan sun false sunflower bloom detail
Jacob Fox

It's hard to beat false sunflower for garden performance. This tough perennial blooms all summer long and boasts impressive heat- and drought-tolerance. This clump-forming, sunflower-like plant features daisy-like flowers and is similar in appearance to the true sunflower. The dwarf false sunflower variety, 'Tuscan Sun' remains under 3 feet tall and is perfect for small-space gardens.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 6 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

Buy It: False Sunflower, ($17, Proven Winners)

19 of 24

Coral Bells

Coral Bells
Peter Krumhardt

If you're looking to add color to your garden, coral bells or alumroot, will provide impressive flower color ranging from white and pink to light coral and deep red. The perennial gets its name from its spikes of tall, bell-shaped blooms, but its highly recognized for its attractive foliage colors, with shades ranging from deep purple to bronze, peach, and silver.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 2 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Dolce Creme Brulee Coral Bells, ($27, The Home Depot)

20 of 24

Hosta

hosta perennials shade plants
John Reed Forsman

A favorite in the shade garden for its attractive foliage, hostas are an ideal low-maintenance garden perennial. Many hostas produce pretty spikes of white or lavender blooms. This popular perennial can be grown as a groundcover or mixed with other perennials in shady borders, shade gardens or woodland gardens. 'Patriot' hosta, pictured, has blue-green leaves dramatically edged in pure white.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 18 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: 'Bedazzled' Hosta, ($16, NH Hostas & Companion Plants)

21 of 24

Blazing Star

liatris blazing star purple blooms
Marty Baldwin

A must-have perennial for butterfly gardens, blazing star is a native prairie plant that has become a popular cut flower. It offers spikes of fluffy, deep purple flower heads atop leafy flower stalks. This plant is an attractive addition to containers, cutting gardens, flower beds, and naturalized plantings.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 4 feet tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: Blazing Star, ($16, GrowJoy)

22 of 24

Bee Balm

mondarda bee balm with red flowers
Peter Krumhardt

An old-fashioned favorite perennial, bee balm features brightly colored flowerheads in shades of red, pink, lavender, and purple that resemble unkempt mopheads. This fragrant plant is attractive to bees, hummingbirds and butterflies, particularly when grouped in mass plantings. It's also one of the top rabbit-resistant plant choices for your garden. In small garden settings, some varieties of bee balm can out-compete less aggressive neighbors, so be careful where you plant them.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 4 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Bee Balm, ($21, Etsy)

23 of 24

Sedum

autumn joy sedum pink blooms detail
Peter Krumhardt

The drought-resistant perennial flower, sedum is an excellent plant for rock gardens or border fronts. It features masses of tiny, star-like flowers which emerge pink, gradually change to deep rose-red and then change to coppery-rust in the fall. The flattened heads of flowers sit atop stems of grayish-green, succulent-like leaves and are attractive to butterflies throughout the season.

Season of Bloom: Fall

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 2 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

24 of 24

Yucca

detail of yucca filamentosa adams needle
Bob Stefko

Also called Adam's needle for its sharp, pointed leaves, yucca shines in the early summer garden when it sends up a towering candle of waxy white blooms. Perfectly at home in desert climates, yucca also grows well in clay soil in more humid regions. Plant it as an architectural accent in your garden or watch it thrive in a large container.

Season of Bloom: Summer

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 8 feet tall

Zones: 5-10

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