Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

Support the plant database you love!

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
6 ratings

Friday - March 14, 2008

From: Durham, NC
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Soils, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs
Title: Plants that will grow in clay in North Carolina
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a small fenced back yard, predominately hard red clay, that is a major focal point. I am designing my own garden/yard area (to cut cost) and have a list of plants that will grow in this soil with minimum care. Could you please recommend plants or small bushes that will both survive the soil (or lack thereof) and maintain some beauty during the winter months? Thank you for your assistance and your website. I have to comment that I love your name as well.

ANSWER:

The important thing is that you use native plants, especially plants native to your area. They are already accustomed to your soil, your average annual moisture, etc. Furthermore, they will need less (or no) fertilizer. And clay soil is not all bad-it tends to have more nutrients in it than sandy soils. Improving clay soil can be a long-running project, involving getting more organic matter into it, not so much for nutrition, but to help the clay particles separate and allow for more drainage. Providing good drainage, such that water does not collect and stay around roots, as is often the case with clay soils, is essential. We found this article from Fine Gardening magazine on Improving Clay Soils. It was written by Keith Baldwin, who mentions living in the Piedmont. The best we can figure out, Durham is also located in the Piedmont, a plateau which crosses several states, so his experience with clay soils seems to apply to your situation. His solutions are pretty labor intensive, and the article is fairly long, but it would be worth your while to absorb some of his suggestions and modify them to suit your energy and time levels. Another, less intense article, Clay Busters, lists some native plants that will grow in clay soil. We are going to give you a list of plants that will grow naturally in your area, most of which are on the Clay Busters list and all recommended for North Carolina. We've added a couple of native grasses, which are often overlooked but are valuable for adding texture and shape to a perennial garden. When you click on the plant name, it will take you to a webpage describing the optimum conditions for each plant; all that we have selected are perennials.

Finally, here is a list of Native Plant Suppliers in North Carolina. Many more commercial nurseries are now offering at least some native plants, and you can probably find one in your area.

Flowering Perennials

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed)

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed)

Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower)

Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot)

Penstemon digitalis (talus slope penstemon)

Rudbeckia triloba (browneyed Susan)

Shrubs

Rhus glabra (smooth sumac)

Amelanchier arborea (common serviceberry)

Erythrina herbacea (redcardinal)

Physocarpus opulifolius (common ninebark)

Grasses

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)


Asclepias tuberosa

Coreopsis lanceolata

Echinacea purpurea

Monarda fistulosa

Penstemon digitalis

Rudbeckia triloba

Rhus glabra

Amelanchier arborea

Erythrina herbacea

Physocarpus opulifolius

Andropogon gerardii

Sorghastrum nutans

 

 

 

More Soils Questions

Fruit in the compost bin
June 07, 2009 - I have a compost bin and I use the pulp from fruits and vegetables as one of the ingredients in my compost pile. We juice everyday so will all this pulp be too potent for new seedlings?
view the full question and answer

Limp leaves on Texas purple sage in Magnolia TX
July 22, 2010 - Recently planted Texas purple sage, some of it looks healthy and has new blooms, but a few of the plants have limp leaves and are thin at the bottom. I read the article on cotton root rot, but am not ...
view the full question and answer

Plants for steep slope in Pittsburgh PA
April 25, 2013 - I have a similar question to one from SC. I live in Pittsburgh, PA. We have a steep slope behind a newly built in pool. What type of plants can I put on the hillside to hold the soil. It gets a ...
view the full question and answer

Fireplace ash as soil amendment in Maine
September 28, 2011 - It seems that the custom where we summer in Maine is to dispose of wood ash from the fireplace on the plants around the outside of the house. I think this is not a good idea. What is your opinion? I w...
view the full question and answer

Need help growing plants in red dirt in Mount Pleasant, NC.
September 17, 2011 - I live in N.C. and I have had the hardest time getting plants to grow;I have red dirt at my house. Can you suggest a few colorful plants that would do real well in red dirt? Thank You So Very Much!!!!...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.