ProblemSolver Plants for Clay Soil - Trees
Acer campestre
Hedge maple

Adaptable to a variety of soils, hedge maple is generally tolerant of urban conditions and can be grown as a small tree (typically 25-35’ tall) or a large multi-stemmed shrub. It tolerates part shade but prefers full sun. As the common name suggests, it may be pruned to form a tall hedge.

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Acer griseum
Paperbark maple

This small, deciduous tree (usually 20-30' tall)  is particularly noted for its exfoliating copper orange to cinnamon reddish/brown bark and its showy orange to red fall color. Excellent small tree for small properties. Deserves a location where its ornamental features can be appreciated (near a deck or patio). Appropriate as an understory tree in a woodland garden or as a specimen in many locations around the home.
Acer saccharum subsp. nigrum
Black maple

Black maple is a Missouri native that is very similar in appearance to sugar maple but with superior heat and drought tolerance. Fall color is beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red. It is a large, deciduous tree that typically grows 60-75" tall. Its sap may be tapped for syrup that is equal in quality to that obtained from sugar maple.
Amelanchier canadensis
Serviceberry

This early-flowering, large shrub or small tree (typically 15-30' tall) features showy, slightly fragrant white flowers which appear before the leaves emerge in early spring. Edible  berries mature to a dark purplish-black in early summer, resembling blueberries in size and color. If birds and other wildlife don't get them first, the berries can be used in jams, jellies and pies. Beautiful orange, red fall color.

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Betula nigra
River birch

This Missouri native is vigorous, fast-growing, and can be trained as either a single trunk or multi-trunked tree. Salmon-pink to reddish brown bark exfoliates to reveal lighter inner bark. Excellent for wet areas in the landscape but will tolerate dry areas.

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Carpinus caroliniana
American hornbeam

An attractively shaped, low-maintenance understory tree for shady sites, this Missouri native is a slow-growing, small to medium-sized (20-35' tall) understory tree with an attractive globular form.  The smooth, gray trunk and larger branches of a mature tree exhibit a distinctive muscle-like fluting that has given rise to another common name of musclewood for this tree. Dark green leaves often produce respectable shades of yellow, orange and red in fall.
Carya ovata
Shagbark hickory

This native Missouri hickory is a large deciduous tree that typically grows 70-90’ tall with a trunk maturing to 2-3’ in diameter. Leaves turn yellow to golden brown in fall. Female flowers give way to edible nuts encased in a moderately thick husk which splits open when ripe in the fall. Nuts are attractive to a variety of wildlife.
Catalpa speciosa
Catalpa

Also called Northern catalpa, this Missouri native is a medium to large, deciduous tree (40-70’ tall). The leaves are large and heart-shaped; but the flowers can be a real showstopper. Bell-shaped, orchid-like white flowers (to 2” long) with purple and yellow inner spotting appear in panicles in late spring (late May to early June in St. Louis), then give way to long slender green seedpods that give rise to the common name of cigar tree.
Celtis laevigata
Sugarberry

Also a Missouri native, sugarberry is commonly called sugar hackberry or southern hackberry and is basically a southern version of common or northern hackberry (see C. occidentalis) with less warty bark and juicier fruit. It is a medium to large sized deciduous tree that typically grows 60-80’. Fleshy parts of the fruit are edible and sweet and attractive to a variety of wildlife.
Celtis occidentalis
Hackberry

Hackberry is a tough shade tree that grows in a wide range of soils. It is a Missouri native and typically grows 40-60'. It has good natural form and interesting warty bark. Fruits are attractive to a variety of wildlife. Birds consume the fruits and disperse the seeds. Fleshy parts of the fruit are edible and somewhat sweet.
Cercidiphyllum japonicum
Katsura tree

Native to Japan and China this single or multi-trunked, understory tree typically matures to 40-60’ tall. It is grown for its beautiful shape and its attractive foliage. Heart-shaped leaves emerge reddish purple in spring, mature to medium green with a slight bluish tinge in summer and turn quality shades of gold, orange and red in fall. Although not aromatic, the fallen autumn leaves have been varyingly described as smelling of cinnamon, burnt sugar or ripe apples.

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Cercis canadensis
Eastern redbud

This popular Missouri native typically grows 20-30’ tall with a slightly larger spread. It is particularly noted for its stunning pea-like rose-purple flowers which bloom profusely on bare branches in early spring (March-April) before the foliage emerges. It performs best in moderately fertile soils with regular and consistent moisture but is intolerant of wet or poorly drained soils. Since this tree does not transplant well, it should be planted when young and left undisturbed.

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Chionanthus virginicus
Fringe tree

Plant this small Missouri native (typically 12 to 20' tall) in full sun for the best flowers, which are intensely fragrant and can be smelled before the tree is seen. The unusual delicate ‘strap-like’ flower petals hang from the ends of stout branches. At the peak of its bloom the whitest white petals cover and hang from the tree rivaling a snowstorm.
Cornus florida
Flowering dogwood

Though the Missouri native dogwood grows as an understory tree in shady areas, many cultivars were developed for planting in yards where the numerous flower bracts and berries are unrivaled. The crimson fall leaf color and tight, blocky bark are also unique. Though transplanting a native tree may be tempting, the fine cultivars available are a better choice. In the East, a disease, a type of anthracnose, has killed many dogwoods…but not in Missouri.

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Cornus kousa
Kousa dogwood

A stunning flowering tree (15-30’ tall) or large shrub with vibrant red fall color, a layered habit and bark that is richly mottled with grey and green spots. It blooms later than our native dogwood and is more sun tolerant and disease resistant. The berry-like fruits mature to a pinkish red in summer and persist into fall. Although edible, the fruit  usually goes to the birds.
Cornus officinalis
Japanese cornelian cherry

Japanese cornelian cherry is usually grown as a large multi-stemmed shrub (15-25’ tall) but may be grown as a small tree. It is very similar to Cornus mas, except it grows with a slightly more open habit, flowers one week earlier and has more attractive bark, exfoliating in tones of gray and brown.Variable fall color ranges from drab pale yellow to attractive reddish-purple. Yellow flowers appear in late winter to very early spring before the leaves. Flowers are followed in fall by oblong red fruits (drupes) that are technically edible but astringent.
Cotinus obovatus
American smoke tree

This small Missouri native tree or upright shrub typically grows 20-30' tall and gets its common name from the billowy hairs (attached to elongated stalks on the spent flower clusters) which turn a smoky pink to purplish pink in summer, thus covering the tree with fluffy, hazy, smoke-like puffs. Bluish green leaves turn a variety of colors in the fall (including yellow, red, orange and reddish purple), and produce some of the best fall color of any of the native American trees and shrubs.
Gingko biloba
Maidenhair tree

The fan-shaped leaves of the maidenhair or gingko tree turn a spectacular bright yellow in fall. Easily grown in a lawn or as a street or shade tree, it tolerates the difficult city conditions of compacted soil and air pollution. Male cultivars are preferable as the fruit-like covering on the seeds produced by the female trees is unpleasantly odorous. Mature size can reach 100'.

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Liriodendron tulipifera
Tulip tree

This fast-growing, straight-arrow tree has beautiful flowers to decorate the tree and lawn in spring. Tulip-shaped leaves inspire its common name, tulip tree. Though a fast-growing tree, it has few pests impacting the wood, but tulip-tree scale is a pest of the tree AND the home/car owner. Sucking sap from twigs and leaves, they deposit their ample. sticky discharge on cars and furniture.

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Magnolia x soulangeana
Saucer magnolia

This hybrid magnolia is the most commonly grown deciduous magnolia. It is a broad shrub or small tree that typically grows 20-25’ tall with a rounded crown. Large fragrant flowers bloom in early spring (late March to mid-April in St. Louis) before the foliage emerges. Flowers are pink with white interiors. A large number of hybrid cultivars are now available featuring flowers in various shades of white, pink, rose, purple, magenta and burgundy.

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Magnolia stellata
Star magnolia

This Japanese native is a small deciduous tree that typically grows 15-20’ tall with a spreading, rounded crown, but it is also often grown as a large oval to rounded shrub. It is noted for its compact size and late winter to early spring bloom of star-shaped white flowers. The leaves are nice and glossy.

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Magnolia virginiana
Sweet bay magnolia

This small tree (15-20' tall) or multi-stemmed shrub features sweetly fragrant (lemony), creamy white, waxy flowers which appear in mid-spring and sometimes continue sporadically throughout the summer. The shiny green foliage is silvery beneath and evergreen to semi-evergreen in the South, but generally deciduous in the St. Louis area. Cone-like fruits with bright red seeds mature in fall and can be showy.
Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Dawn redwood

This deciduous conifer grows in a conical shape to 100’ tall. It is related to and closely resembles bald cypress (Taxodium) and redwood (Sequoia). It features feathery, fern-like foliage that is soft to the touch. The foliage emerges light green in spring, matures to deep green in summer and turns red-bronze in fall. As the tree matures, the trunk broadens at the base and develops attractive and sometimes elaborate fluting.

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Nyssa sylvatica
Black gum

This Missouri native is a stately tree with a straight trunk and rounded crown (more pyramidal when young) that typically grows 30-50' tall. Although the flowers are not showy, they are an excellent nectar source for bees and the fruits which are technically edible but quite sour are attractive to birds and wildlife. Good tree for wet, periodically flooded conditions. Spectacular scarlet fall color. It is NOT related to sweet gum.
Ostrya virginiana
Eastern hop hornbeam

This Missouri native typically grows 25-40' tall with a slightly smaller spread. Female catkins are followed by drooping clusters of sac-like, seed-bearing pods which, as the common name suggests, somewhat resemble the fruit of hops. Also commonly called ironwood because of its extremely hard and dense wood.
Parrotia persica
Persian ironwood

Persian ironwood is a small tree (typically 20-40' tall) or a large, multi-stemmed shrub (15' tall). Flowers are generally considered to be somewhat insignificant. New foliage emerges glossy red then matures to a lustrous, medium to dark green. Fall color is variable shades of yellow, orange and red. Bark of mature trees exfoliates to show green, white or tan patches beneath and provides good winter interest.
Quercus alba
White oak

This Missouri native is a large impressive tree (50-80' tall) with a wide-spreading, rounded crown. Leaves emerge pinkish in spring, but mature to dark green. Variable fall color ranges from uninteresting browns to quality shades of dark red. Widely used in landscapes, but slow growth rate and large size has somewhat tempered its popularity.
Quercus bicolor
Swamp white oak

This Missouri native oak is a medium sized tree (50-60') with a broad, rounded crown. The leaves are dark, shiny green above and silvery white beneath. Fall color is yellow, but sometimes reddish purple. It adapts well to wet conditions, but also has surprisingly good drought resistance.
Quercus lyrata
Overcup oak

Another Missouri native this oak gets its common name from the distinctive bur-like acorn cup that typically encloses 2/3 to almost all of the nut. It is a medium sized tree (40-60' tall) with a straight trunk and broad rounded crown. Leaves turn shades of yellow-brown (sometimes with orange and red) in fall. Tolerates wet poorly drained soils and occasional flooding.
Quercus macrocarpa
Bur oak

Bur oak is one of the most majestic of the native North American oaks. It is a medium to large sized deciduous oak that typically grows 60-80’ tall with a broad-spreading, rounded crown. Bur oaks can live for hundreds of years and become giants; many have legendary or historic status. The acorns are very large, hairy and edible.
Quercus phellos
Willow oak

This Missouri native oak is a medium to large tree (40-75’ tall) that is noted for its oak shape, willow-like leaves and relatively fast growth rate. Leaves turn an undistinguished yellow-brown or dull gold in fall. Acorns can be an important source of food for wildlife. Tolerates somewhat poor drainage and urban pollution.
Sassafras albidum
Sassafras

Sassafras is also a Missouri native, small to medium-sized tree. It spreads by root suckers to form large colonies in the wild. Attractive, greenish-yellow flowers appear in clusters at the branch ends in spring. Flowers on female trees (if pollinated) give way to small pendant clusters of bluish-black berries, each in a scarlet cup-like receptacle on a scarlet stalk. Leaves are in three shapes (ovate, mitten-shaped and three-lobed) and are bright green above and white below. Excellent yellow, purple and red fall color.
Syringa reticulata
Japanese tree lilac

This small tree or large shrub typically grows to as much as 30’ tall and 20’ wide with an oval-rounded crown. Its best ornamental feature is its showy, fragrant, creamy white flowers that bloom in late spring to early summer (later than most other lilac species). Reddish-brown peeling bark is attractive on younger branches, gradually turning gray with age.

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Taxodium distichum
Bald cypress

Bald cypress is a long-lived conifer that grows 50-70' tall. Although it looks like a needled evergreen in summer, it is deciduous ("bald" as the common name suggests). It is native to the southeast corner of Missouri. Although it can be found growing directly in swampy water, it also grows very well in drier, upland soils. Trunks are flared or fluted at the base. Distinctive, knobby root growths (cypress knees) may also develop around the tree, protruding above the water or soil surface. Soft, feathery, yellowish-green foliage turns an attractive orange to cinnamon-brown in fall.

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Tilia americana 'Redmond'
American linden

This Missouri native (sometimes called  American basswood) is noted for its fragrant pale yellow flowers in late spring, small nutlets with attached leafy wings and large ovate dark green leaves. It is a medium to large deciduous tree, typically growing to 50-80’ tall with a rounded crown. In June, when a tree is in full bloom, bees often visit in such abundant numbers that humming can be heard many feet from the tree. Honey made from these flowers is a prized gourmet food item. Flowers have also been used to make tea.Winter twigs and buds are red. A syrup may be made from the sweet sap in somewhat the same manner as maple sugar.

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Ulmus parvifolia
Chinese elm

Also called lacebark elm because of the multi-colored mottled bark, Chinese elm is resistant to Dutch elm disease which decimated the American elm. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree that typically grows to 40-50’ with  a rounded crown and long pendulous branching. On mature trees, bark flakes to reveal attractive patches of gray, cream, orange, brown and green. It grows rapidly. 

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