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Best Plants for Clay Soil?

CLBCLB Nottingham, East MidlandsPosts: 26
I want to find some plants, preferably good for pollinators, that thrive in clay soil, or at least tolerate it! The garden is south facing and the plants will be going at the bottom infront of a 9ft high fence (I don’t think that matters but best to provide details just in case!) I’m not bothered about covering the fence it’s not exactly an eye sore for me but I’m open to anything if it helps the wildlife!
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  • raisingirlraisingirl East Devon, on the Edge of Exmoor.Posts: 5,575
    edited May 2018
    Don't be scared of clay - lots of plants will grow in it. You need to incorporate plenty of organic stuff - composted bark chip, rotted manure, garden compost or a mixture of all of those - spread over the surface as a thick mulch once a year, traditionally in autumn. I do this in spring instead - I'm in the middle of it now. Frost breaks the clay down very effectively so I don't cover the soil surface over winter and I only have very frost hardy plants for the time being, that will cope with it. You can dig in grit but be fairly sparing - a large 'clump' of grit in a clay bed will act as a sump and fill with water - the opposite effect to what you want. I use grit as a surface mulch around plants that like better drainage and it gradually works its way into the soil over time.

    The best you can do for wildlife is to have an area that you allow to be a bit wild, preferably with a few stinging nettles - I know but the wildlife love them - and clover and other 'native' plants. Then for the rest of the area try to get a mixture so you have something in flower on every day of the year.

    Just to see if I could do it, here's my A to Z of clay loving/tolerant plants with as many pollinator friendly ones as I could get in there:

    Amelanchier, borage, centaurea, digitalis, eupatorium, fuchsia, geranium, hypericum, ilex, jasmine, kniphofia, lonicera, mahonia, nandina domestica, origanum vulgare, pyrus, quercus, rosa, sedum spectabile, trifolium, ugni molinae, verbascum nigrum, weigela, xanthohriza simplicissima, zaluzianskya.

    Sorry, couldn't think of a 'y'. [embarrassed emoji]. But the point is - there are plenty that will do fine  :)


    “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first” 
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 27,630
    I went to the RHS Plant Selector and told it full sun, clay, wildlife friendly, perfect for pollinators and AGM.  It came up with the following list - https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/Search-Results?form-mode=true&context=l=en&q=%23all&sl=plantForm&r=f%2Fplant_pollination%2Ftrue&r=f%2Fplant_sunlight%2Ffull+sun&r=f%2Fplant_soil_type%2Fclay&r=f%2Fplant_garden_type%2Fwildlife+gardens&r=f%2Fplant_hardiness%2Fh5&r=f%2Fplant_awards%2Faward+of+garden+merit

    Lots of choice but RG is right.  You need to improve the clay with annual layers of ample mulch - 2 to 3" deep if you can.   I'd do it in late autumn/early winter purely because it's easier to spread round plants going into hibernation than it it is to avoid burying plants just waking up again but you also need to work some in every time you plant something.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • CLBCLB Nottingham, East MidlandsPosts: 26
    Down one side of the garden I have a row of stinging nettles growing as the garden has been neglected for some time so I guess I can just leave them as they are? I have no idea what they are surrounded by as I haven’t checked but should I just leave this area and focus on the bottom section of the garden? Also since the nettles and various other wild plants have grown do I need to mulch that area still or can I just leave that to grow freely and trim it back if I need to? 

    Thanks for the lists RG and Obelixx, I did have a scout online but I wanted to get opinions from you guys on here as you might have first hand experience when it comes to clay gardens.
  • DampGardenManDampGardenMan Posts: 1,054
    CLB said:
    Down one side of the garden I have a row of stinging nettles growing as the garden has been neglected for some time so I guess I can just leave them as they are?
    When it comes to nettles for wildlife they really need to be in a sunny spot, especially for butterflies. If they are, then hope for Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells to come and lay their eggs on them. And moths too I imagine. If you have room for buddlejas then they will help pull passing butterflies into your garden - I had them on clay and they grew very well.

  • CLBCLB Nottingham, East MidlandsPosts: 26
    They get the sun from about midday up until around 5 or 6pm so I’m sure that’s plenty of sun, right? I’ve looked at getting a buddleia or 2, any specific ones you recommend from experience @DampGardenMan
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 14,174
    Y for Yarrow!
  • Beaus MumBeaus Mum Posts: 3,543
    I garden on clay and love it 😊 most plants thrive for me especially roses, hydrangeas and Astrantia 
  • I have clay soil, and the following plants do well and are popular with insects:
    Buddleia, Choysia, Cotoneaster horizontalis, Hebe, Skimmia, Aster, Pulmonaria, Primula, Mouse garlic (Allium angulosum - other alliums do not like clay), and Comfrey.
  • DampGardenManDampGardenMan Posts: 1,054
    CLB said:
    They get the sun from about midday up until around 5 or 6pm so I’m sure that’s plenty of sun, right? I’ve looked at getting a buddleia or 2, any specific ones you recommend from experience @DampGardenMan
    I like 'Dark Knight'. And it was frequently covered in butterflies, including, one year, masses of Painted Ladies. The trick is to prune at the right time so it's in full flower about the third or fourth week in July, which is when the butterflies used to explode in numbers (at least in Hampshire). I'd probably be pruning it about now (we moved).
  • DubloonDubloon Posts: 45
    I like Buddleia and recognise its benefits for butterflies but I've read a lot lately about how invasive it is and some advice not to plant it as it is non-native and taking over wild areas damaging other habitats. Other advice is to cut the flower heads before they seed and it is carried on the wind. Any thoughts?
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