Clay Soil Plants – Gardeners’ Corner

Gardeners’ Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts

Which native plant would you confidently recommend for use in clay soil?”

by Dan Songster, January 2018


Gene Ratcliffe—I vote for Festuca californica (California Fescue), a great evergreen grass that does well in heavy clay and even part shade, midway in size between the Nassellas and Muhlenbergia.

Celia Kutcher—Best shrub for clay soil on slopes within a few miles of the coast: Rhus integrifolia (Lemonadeberry). Best for clay soil flatlands: Nassella spp (Needlegrass species) & some other bunchgrasses. But it depends on how clay-ey & how alkaline.

Alan Lindsay—The soil in my garden is clay, hard as a rock when it is dry. I have just one Chamise that thrives no matter what I do to it. It’s been stepped on and broken, gone without water for an entire summer, and it keeps coming back. I believe its botanical name is Adenostoma fasiculatum var prostratum, which Tree of Life sells as Adenostoma fasciculatum ‘Nicolas.‘ Mine has never gotten more than 3 feet high with a spread of 6 feet. The bloom is nothing to rave about but is abundant for a couple of months and its foliage is always dark green. I think this prostrate Chamise is overlooked as a landscaping plant, especially in clay soil.

Nancy HeulerFragaria chiloensis and/or Fragaria californica.

Greg Rubin—Some outstanding performers in clay include Baccharis ‘Pigeon Point’Erigeron(glaucus (Beach Daisy), many  Sages (S.(leucophylla,(S.(brandeegii,(S.(spathacea,(S.(apiana), many Buckwheats (Eriogonum sp)., Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos)  such as ‘Louis Edmunds’, ‘Sunset’, ‘Carmel Sur’, ‘Austin Griffith’, ‘Dr. Hurd’, ‘Howard McMinn‘, California Lilacs (Ceanothus)  like ‘Joyce Coulter’, ‘Frosty Blue’, ‘Blue Jeans’, ‘Ray Hartman’, ‘Yankee Point’, as well as California Fuchsia (Epilobium,  Zauschneria sp).

Gabi McLean—I have good draining soils but I did give several natives to my son in Corona who had only very heavy clay soil. The one that survived best was Salvia apiana. He also grew several cacti Opuntia that did well.

Dennis Keagy—Our front, back, and side yards are naturalized 10-year-old natives.

We found that the best native plants are the ones that might have grown locally in our Irvine soil, right under our feet.

Those choices include: lemonadeberry, toyon, black sage, ceanothus, encelia, buckwheat, sugar bush, coyote bush, deergrass, scrub oak, monkeyflower, fuchsia flowering gooseberry, redbud, bladderpod, (and several annuals).

Dan Songster—Though normally I stand on the sidelines and watch, I cannot resist mentioning the Ribes family. Whether Gooseberries or Currants I find most of them (excepting straight R. sanguineum) do surprisingly well in clay. Many add a very welcome mid-winter flowering, which is attractive to hungry hummingbirds and in fall, delicious berries for birds and me. Oh, and did anyone mention Coffeeberries? Wonderful.

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