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.


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:

You can make a great garden with plants that thrive on heavier soils, including many shrubs and trees. In this video, Alan Titchmarsh offers some advice on planting a tree in clay soil.

Here are some of the best small trees and shrubs that will thrive on clay soil.

Snowy mespilus

Amelanchier flowers

Amelanchier trees are very beautiful, small, North American trees that are attractive in all seasons, even in winter. They're some of the best trees for small gardens. 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 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'

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 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.


Ground cover 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.


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 '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

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.