Choosing Trees for Clay Soil
By Jason Marshall
, last updated August 4, 2011
Though clay soil proves inhospitable for many plants, there are numerous trees that thrive in it. Even the most dedicated gardeners are bedeviled by the hard packed earth and apparently sturdy trees faltering and dying in its alkaline soil. A large percentage of this soil is made up of clay that holds moisture longer than most soils, causing root rot in plants unsuited for it. Also years of slow drainage compacts the earth and the delicate roots of most young trees struggle to establish themselves. Knowing which trees prosper in clay soil will eliminate the stress of trying to save trees unsuited for your yard.
Some of the best trees for clay soil are those you can naturally find growing in wet ground. Willows, for example, prosper in slow draining soil. Though they naturally grow near bodies of water and wetlands, they can thrive in dryer locations as well. The Swamp White Oak is another wetland tree that enjoys diverse soil conditions, but it is especially happy in wet earth, like clay soil.
If you enjoy the annual shedding of leaves, there are many types of deciduous trees that will succeed in your clay soil. Elms, making a tentative comeback after decades of Dutch Elm Disease, are visually striking. These robust trees flourish in many types of soil conditions, and they will not balk when planted in clay. Also two types of maple trees, the Silver and Norway, love the moisture of clay soil. Other deciduous trees you might consider are the River Birch, Bur Oak, Eastern Pin Oak, and the European Larch. Each of these trees has the ability to overcome the usual drawbacks of clay soil and provide your yard with beautiful foliage, especially in the autumn.
However, if you prefer evergreens, the Norway spruce is a stunning choice. This evergreen will grow more than twenty feet, even in compact, moist clay soil. If your land is made up of extreme clay soil, don’t worry. The only drawback for the Norway spruce in that situation is it will grow more slowly, maybe half the rate of another in more hospitable soil.
If you thought you couldn’t enjoy produce fresh from your yard because of clay soil, think again. Apple trees grow well in soil types from a sandy loam to a sandy clay. The perennially stunning crabapple tree also does well in various soils, including clay. Other fruit trees like fig, apricot, and plum will tolerate clay conditions, but some treatment will be necessary to ensure their health. But that’s a small price to pay for the promise of tasty treats!
Non-optimum soil conditions do limit the choices of gardeners, but they don’t eliminate the possibility of vibrant, healthy trees and the beauty and shade they provide. These have been just a few examples of trees that feel right at home in clay soil and there are many others. Even the most extreme clay soil conditions can be overcome with the right choices.