Amelanchier lamarckii

Small trees and shrubs for heavy and clay soils

Gardening on clay soil? Then get 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.


Discover 10 flowers for clay soil.

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. Watch our video on mulching beds and borders.

Not sure what soil your have? Find out your soil type.

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 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.



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’


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.

Crab apple


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 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.



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.



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


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.