Missouri Natives and Other Plants for Clay Soil

Tiger lilies or ditch lilies– 1-2 ft tall greenery with flower stalks up to 5ft. They flower for a month or more and require next to no care. Like irises, they will need to be thinned out about every 3 years or so for best bloom. They are often seen along the sides of roads (Hence the nickname “ditch lilies) or in sunny places near water.
I got mine from my friend Shane; we dug up about 20 plants from his mom’s old house when she moved. I now have literally hundreds of plants and could have more if I divided them more diligently.

Honeysuckle vine– I have three of them against the back wall of a large crescent shaped bed I built into a hillside. They smell amazing when they flower from Mid-May to June and the pink to vanilla flowers are very pretty and delicate in appearance. Without a climbing support, I’ve seen people grow these in their yards as shrubs. I’ve also seen plenty of them growing wild the same way. Also very low maintenance and seem to be one of the few things the deer leave alone in my yard.

Roses– Are said to do well in clay soils. Their roots are woody and strong enough to penetrate it, the clay provides the needed nutrients and deeper water supply that they crave and it prevents wind rock of the roots by giving them a strong anchor. I’ve personally only tried a few different varieties and have the best luck with climbers and wild roses. Most roses are too much maintenance for my taste, with their tendency to get black spot, powdery mildew and a host of other diseases and pest issues. I do intend to try some of the knockout roses in the future; as I hear that they require very little maintenance and don’t have most of the usual rose afflictions. If you’ve had good luck with them, share your experience, please!

Oriental Poppy– The big, red showy ones are best for clay. I’ve personally never grown them, but my grandmother had a small bed of them for years that absolutely flourished. They like full sun and tolerate the drier clay soils, not so well the wet, waterlogged clays. They also spread over time and will need to be divided when the clumps become overcrowded.

Hollyhocks– I’ve seen these grow prolifically in places where even some weeds feared to tread. My mom has them growing right out of the gravel in her driveway, next to her garage. The look great in rows or bunches and put out tons of seed each year (they are annuals). They do require plenty of sun and some water if the leaves begin to droop.
Purple Coneflower– 3-4 ft tall perennial, attracts butterflies, great for borders, wildflower meadows, prairie style gardens. It grows wild in Missouri, in fields and along roadsides. The plants bloom a long time before going to seed, from midsummer to fall. They are drought tolerant, relatively pest free and unattractive to deer. The most common colors in the wild are purple and white. There are also pinks, rose and a new orange variety. Will tolerate clay soils but thrives in well-drained average soils.

False Indigo– This small shrub is often found naturally in Missouri along streams and in the woods. The flowers are clusters of purple flowers, similar to those on Butterfly Bush. False Indigo is in the legume (bean) family; legume plants are able to help restore nitrogen depleted soils- they are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that the plant can use. I ordered about 20 False Indigo plants from the Missouri Conservation site several years ago. They’ve never had pest problems, require no maintenance, watering or pruning to stay healthy and are all thriving several years later.

Dogwood– Another shrub/tree that grows wild in our area. Mine came from the Arbor Day Foundation as bare root trees only about 6 inches high. I planted them directly into the ground, haven’t bothered to fertilize, seldom water and have only mulched them a couple times. It had a slow start, but after about 5 years, is now nearly 6 foot tall and seems to be well established. Dogwood trees bloom in spring near the end of April; they may have pink or white blooms, although the whites are much more common. The leaves will burn and shrivel in full sun. They are naturally under story trees and prefer at least partial shade.

Lilac– I got my lilac start from a friend’s large established bush. I dug up a small start, about a foot high with some root, brought it home and planted it directly in our yard; it tripled in size the first year with only a little watering and some mulch. It isn’t high maintenance, although it has had occasional issues with some powdery mildew on the leaves during especially hot/rainy summers. (A cup of milk in a gallon of water, sprayed on the leaves will help get rid of mildew spores) My only other problem with my lilac is that they are sometimes plagued by weevils. So far, I have only sprayed these with the water hose to discourage them from the plant and they’ve caused little damage. I’m not a fan of pesticides in the garden if it can be avoided.

Persimmon– These are a deer favorite when they fruit, so if you take issue with them being in your yard, I’d steer clear. I planted them in hopes that the deer would eat them instead of my other plants (the deer are coming in our yard regardless; we have 50 acres of woods in our back door). They also attract birds and other wildlife. Male and female trees should be planted near each other; they like the company and it’s how they have little fruits.

Redbud– I got 5 of these from the Arbor Day Foundation the first year we moved to our house. Most of them I planted directly into the ground in various places around our property, it’s taken them a long time to establish any real growth. Two of them however, I over-wintered in pots, brought out the following summer and then planted that fall. These two are now about 15 feet tall and absolutely covered in blooms every spring. One of them I had to stake until the roots were deeply established, it grew in height much too quickly for the small feeder roots to support the trunk’s weight. The only maintenance I’ve done to them outside of staking is an occasional watering and some pruning of the lower sucker branches.

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