ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Prairie Plants for Heavy Clay Soil

Updated on May 20, 2009
Photo by tlindenbaum
Photo by tlindenbaum

Most native prairie plants prefer well-drained, or even dry, soils. However, if you are interested in a native prairie border or restoration project on your land and are stuck with heavy clay or poorly drained soil, don't despair! There are many beautiful prairie plants that tolerate and even thrive in heavy clay. These clay-busting plants can even improve your soil's drainage and soil structure.

Prairie plants have extraordinary root structures. The compass plant, one of the tallest of native wildflowers at 6-8 feet, has roots that stretch twice as deep into the ground. When you take into account the thousands upon thousands of tiny rootlets, if you laid every piece of root from a single compassplant end to end, they would encircle the earth.

These incredible prairie root systems help clay soil in many ways. As they grow, they plow through the soil, breaking up clods and hardpan. Throughout their lives, they pull nutrients from deep in the soil closer to the surface where plantscan use them. And when they die, they rot in the soil, providing organic matter and food for earthworms and other decomposers. The empty space left by the decomposed rootlet allows air and water to flow more easily through the soil, improving drainage and soil structure.

It is no coincidence that the land once covered by tallgrass prairie is the breadbasket of the world.

Black-Eyed Susan, by pellaea
Black-Eyed Susan, by pellaea
Purple Coneflower, by Barefoot Gardener
Purple Coneflower, by Barefoot Gardener
Rattlesnake Master, by
Rattlesnake Master, by

Native Wildflowers for Heavy Clay

  • Bergamot, a unique flower that is popular with butterflies and hummingbirds
  • Black-eyed Susan, an extremely popular and easy-to-grow native wildflower
  • Compassplant, a tall wildflower with lots of small, yellow daisy-like flowers, very popular with birds and butterflies
  • Lanceleaf Coreopsis, lots of cheery yellow flowers
  • New England Aster, masses and masses of small, daisy-like flowers, very popular with birds and butterflies
  • Pale Purple Coneflower, attractive flowers and seedheads, very popular with birds and butterflies
  • Partridge Pea, a nitrogen-fixing legume with cheery yellow flowers
  • Prairie Blazing Star, highly ornamental
  • Prairie Dock, small, yellow daisy-like flowers, popular with birds and butterflies
  • Purple Coneflower, attractive flowers and seedheads with medicinal value for humans, very popular with birds and butterflies
  • Purple Prairie Clover, a nitrogen-fixing legume
  • Rattlesnake Master, unique and interesting flowers
  • White False Indigo, masses of showy white blooms
  • Yellow Coneflower, cheery yellow blooms

Indiangrass, by amy_b
Indiangrass, by amy_b

Native Prairie Grasses for Heavy Clay

  • Big Bluestem, the king of the tallgrasses, an attractive blueish-green grass that turns red-bronze in autumn and has a characteristic "turkey foot" seedhead
  • Canada Wild Rye, attractive seedheads resembling cultivated rye
  • Indiangrass, beautiful golden seedheads
  • Switchgrass, lacy seedheads and attractive blue-green coloring in summer, gold in winter

Seed Mixes for Heavy Clay

A number of nurseries offer special seed mixes for heavy clay soils, including:

Prairie Nursery offers its popular "Clay Buster Mix," as well as special mixes for detention basins, rain gardens,and moist meadows.

Prairie Moon Nursery offers mixes especially for exposed clay subsoil, marshy and poorly drained soils, and detention basins.

Ion Exchange offers a number of mixes prepared for various wet and clay soil types.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      9 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Excellent ideas for those of us in heavy clay soil. Wildflowers and natural species are a terrific choice that really brings out the colors all through the summer heat.

    • Jule Romans profile image

      Jule Romans 

      9 years ago from United States

      This is a great hub. I hope more people read it. So many beautiful plants are so easily adapted to the soil we already have.

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 

      10 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      I find that adding some sand to the clay when tilling also helps the root systems spread out. If it's possible to add some sand, that is a good way to get a head-start on a project like this.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)