What types of native and/or cultivated plants will thrive in clay, mostly shaded soil?
The Gardener’s Answer
Hello, Ginger in Kentucky: Clay soil does have its challenges when it comes to gardening, and here in Kentucky this is the soil type that we are dealing with. Clay soil does hold moisture and nutrients better than silt or sandy soils do, but if compacted, clay soil can make it difficult for roots to spread, air to circulate, and excess moisture to drain. If you are gardening in new construction or if your soil has never been amended, it would be beneficial to add some organic matter to the existing soil. Working compost as well as an expanded slate product such as Permatill into the soil will help to break up the clay and improve drainage. Once your soil has been amended and you are ready to plant, there are many options for a shade-loving garden. Visit your local garden centers to see what they carry. Any reputable garden center/nursery will only carry plant material that will do well in your area. Some native perennial options include: Tiarella (foam flower), Dicentra (bleeding heart), Mertensia (bluebells), Aquilegia (columbine), Asarum (wild ginger), Spigelia, and Podophyllum (May apple). Some other shade-loving perennials that you might consider are of course ferns and hostas, lily-of-the-valley, plumbago, Euphorbia, and Helleborus (Lenten rose). Some of these will do better than others depending on the available sunlight as well as nutrients. Some shade-loving shrubs include: azaleas, pieris, hydrangea, aucuba, boxwood, taxus and mahonia.