ProblemSolver Plants for Clay Soil - Evergreens, Grasses and Vines

Broadleaf and Needled Evergreens

Ilex opaca
American holly

This Missouri native is the Christmas holly whose berry-laden boughs are typically collected at Christmas time each year for ornamentation ("decking the halls" as it were). It slowly matures to 15-30' in cultivation. Bright red or orange fruits ripen in fall on pollinated female trees, and persist on the tree through winter. Birds love the fruit.

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Magnolia virginiana 'Jim Wilson' MOONGLOW
Sweet bay magnolia

This cultivar is a medium-sized tree with an oval to vase-shaped form. It typically grows 35’ tall with a spread of 18’. The creamy white, waxy flowers are cup-shaped and sweetly fragrant (lemony), appearing in mid-spring (May-June) for about one month and sometimes continuing sporadically in summer. The semi-evergreen leaves are glossy dark green above and silvery-green below. Cone-like fruits with bright red seeds mature in fall and can be showy.

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Thuja occidentalis
American arborvitae

Also called, Eastern white cedar or Northern white cedar, this evergreen is a dense, conical tree that matures in cultivation to 20-30' tall. Aromatic, yellow-green to green foliage appears in flattened sprays. Red-brown bark will exfoliate on mature branches and trunks. Appreciates light afternoon shade.


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Lonicera sempervirens
Trumpet honeysuckle

Trumpet honeysuckle is a vigorous, twining vine which typically grows 10-15' and is one of the showiest of the vining honeysuckles. Large, non-fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers are scarlet to orangish red on the outside and yellowish inside. Flowers appear in late spring and are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. The small red berries, which mature in fall, are attractive to birds. This vine is evergreen in the warm winter climates of the deep South. Native to Missouri and not invasive.

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Buxus sinica var. insularis 'Wintergreen'
Korean boxwood

This Korean boxwood cultivar is a mounded evergreen shrub which usually has a loose and open habit. It grows slowly (2" in height per year), and typically reaches 2-4' tall and a somewhat larger spread. An extremely hardy plant that is a good choice for northern climates. Flowers are insignificant but quite fragrant.

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Buxus sempervirens 'Vardar Valley'
Boxwood

'Vardar Valley' is a dense, broadly mounded evergreen shrub. It grows slowly (1.5" per year). It typically grows as a 2-3' tall shrub with a larger spread. Flowers are sparse and insignificant, but fragrant. Small, medium green leaves have a blue hue. Avoid full sun.

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Juniperus virginiana
Red cedar

This Missouri native is easily grown in average, dry to moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates a wide range of soils and growing conditions, from swamps to dry rocky glades. It prefers moist soils, but has the best drought resistance of any conifer native to the eastern U.S. Berry-like cones are attractive to many birds.

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Ornamental Grasses

Sporobolus heterolepis
Prairie dropseed

A very attractive grass, prairie dropseed forms clumps of fine-textured, hair-like, medium green leaves that typically form an arching foliage mound to 15" tall and 18" wide. Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates wide range of soils, including heavy clays. Prefers dry, rocky soils. Good drought tolerance. Slow-growing and slow to establish.

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Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'
Eulalia

'Morning Light' is a cultivar noted for its very narrow green leaves with white variegation on the margins. The foliage has an overall silvery, fine textured appearance. It typically forms an upright, rounded clump of foliage growing 4-6' tall. Tiny reddish-copper flowers appear in long tassel-like inflorescences above the foliage in mid to late September, gradually turning into silvery white plumes as the seeds mature. Flower plumes persist well into winter providing good winter interest.

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Schizachyrium scoparium
Little bluestem

Native to many of the prairie states including parts of Missouri, little bluestem can be grown in average, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions including clay soils. Performs well in poor soils. Good drought resistance once established. Tolerates high heat and humidity.

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Panicum virgatum
Switch grass

Another grass native to Missouri, switch grass is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. It tolerates a wide range of soils, including dry ones, but prefers moist, sandy or clay soils. Tends to flop in rich soils. Generally best in full sun. Grows primarily in clumps, but may naturalize by rhizomes as well as self-seeding to form sizable colonies. Several colorful cultivars are available.

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Vines

Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris 
Climbing hydrangea

Subspecies petiolaris matures to 60’ long with large fragrant flower clusters (10” diameter) and excellent winter hardiness. Exfoliating, reddish brown bark of mature plants is attractive in winter. Tolerates full sun only if grown with consistently moist soils.

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Bignonia capriolata 
Cross vine

This vigorous, woody vine is grown primarily for its attractive flowers and its ability to rapidly cover structures with attractive foliage.  Foliage remains evergreen in the South, but turns reddish-purple in fall with subsequent leaf drop in the colder winter areas of its range. The fragrant, trumpet-shaped, orange-red flowers appear in spring and are attractive to hummingbirds.
Aristolochia tomentosa 
Dutchman's pipe

This Missouri native is a deciduous woody vine which can rapidly grow 20-30'. It features large, heart-shaped leaves, which can quickly cover an arbor or trellis. Commonly called Dutchman's pipe because the unusual, 2" long, curved-trumpet flowers superficially resemble Dutch smoking pipes. Blooms appear in mid to late spring in the St. Louis area. Although the flowers make interesting conversation pieces, they are usually hidden by the dense foliage and are somewhat inconspicuous. This is a larval host plant for the beautiful pipe vine swallowtail butterfly.