Amelanchier lamarckii

Small trees and shrubs for heavy and clay soils

Gardening on clay soil? Follow our expert advice on small trees and shrubs that will thrive in your garden.

Clay soil can feel like a blessing and a curse. On the plus side it’s very fertile and keeps plants moist. However it can be heavy and hard to work, and can bake solid in summer. Only certain plants will thrive in these conditions.

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Any clay soil will benefit from efforts to improve its texture. Mulch generously in spring with well-rotted organic matter, coarse grit or bark – around a barrowload per square metre.

More garden soil advice:

In the meantime, you can make a great garden with plants that thrive on heavier soils, including many shrubs and trees. Here are some of the best that will thrive on clay soil.

You can make a great garden with plants that thrive on heavier soils, including shrubs and trees.

Snowy mespilus

Amelanchier flowers
Amelanchier flowers

Amelanchier lamarkii is a very beautiful, small, North American tree that is attractive in all seasons, even in winter. In March the branches erupt with a froth of star-shaped flowers in lax conical heads, just as the coppery pink young leaves unfold – they later turn crimson.


Birch

Birch tree stems and foliage
Birch tree stems and foliage

Many birches (Betula) are grown for their snowy white bark. They looks stunning all year round, but especially in autumn when the foliage turns yellow and on winter days when they really stand out in the bare garden.


Cotoneaster ‘Hybridus Pendulus’

cotoneaster-8

Cotoneasters can be used in borders or as hedges and can be deciduous or evergreen. They have small, often white flowers, followed by masses of berries in autumn. Opt for one of the Cotoneaster species deemed to be non-invasive in the UK, such as Cotoneaster hylmoei, Cotoneaster amoenus or Cotoneaster rhytidophyllus.


Crab apple

Crab apple blossom
Crab apple blossom

Crab apples are compact trees have beautiful blossom in spring, and are flushed with pretty fruits, plus attractive fiery foliage in autumn. Malus ‘Evereste’ has a pleasingly conical shape, with red fruits.


Roses

Rose 'Suffolk'
Rose ‘Suffolk’

Roses thrive on clay soil, and there are many different types to choose from, including rambling roses, climbing roses and shrub and species roses. Discover 10 beautiful roses to grow or browse our plant database for over 250 roses to grow.


Hawthorn

Red hawthorn haws
Red hawthorn haws

Tough hawthorns are deciduous trees or shrubs, and a good choice for clay soils. Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ is a small tree that has pretty magenta blossom in springtime.


Holly

Holly 'Argentea Marginata'
Holly ‘Argentea Marginata’

Common holly is a useful evergreen shrub that can be grown as a specimen tree, clipped bushes or as a hedge. There are dozens of varieties, many with variegated leaves. Discover 10 hollies to grow.


Strawberry tree

Strawberry tree
Strawberry tree
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Arbutus unedo is a large, evergreen shrub or small tree, with lily-of-the-valley like flowers in autumn, and attractive, strawberry-like fruits, which are edible but not particularly tasty.