Native Plants for Clay and Heavy Soils

Amending clay soil can be a difficult process. If it is not done properly, it can make growing conditions worse. Too little sand added to clay can result in a decrease in permeability (clay plus sand equals concrete). Sometimes amending heavy soil can lead to difficult drainage problems at the interface of the amended soil and the native soil. Water can collect in this area further aggravating poor drainage.

Because of this we recommend using plants that are adapted to your native soil and being especially careful with your gardening practices. Heavy soils often have poor aeration and a high water-holding capacity. For success with these conditions, water carefully. Watering too often will lead to root rot problems. Water well and slowly, allowing the water to fully permeate the soil without running off. Be sure to allow the soil to dry, though it is best not to let it become bone dry since this condition will pull water from the plants and can result in crusting and cracking of the soil.

The following is a list of native plants that can grow in soils with less than excellent drainage.  

Plant Names

Common Names

Chlorogalum pomeridianum

Coreopsis maritima

Dichelostemma pulchellum

Epilobium canum

Erigeron sp.

Erigeron glaucus

Eriophyllum confertiflorum

Eriophyllum nevinii 'Canyon Silver'

Fragaria chiloensis

Grindelia robusta

Heuchera maxima

Heuchera micrantha 'Martha Roderick'

Iris douglasiana

Iris douglasiana 'Canyon Snow'

Iris longipetala

Juncus patens

Keckiella cordifolia

Lilium humboldtii

Mimulus aurantiacus

Mimulus cardinalis

Nolina parryi

Oenothera hookeri

Oxalis oregana

Penstemon centranthifolius

Penstemon heterophyllus

Penstemon spectabilis

Polypodium californicum

Potentilla glandulosa

Ranunculus californicus

Salvia spathacea

Satureja douglasii

Sisyrinchium bellum

Solidago californica

Tanacetum camphoratum

Tellima grandiflora

Thalictrum fendleri var. polycarpum

Triteleia laxa

Woodwardia fimbriata

Yucca whipplei


Woody Shrubs and Trees

Acer macrophyllum

Alnus rhombifolia

Berberis fremontii

Calocedrus decurrens

Cercis occidentalis

Cercocarpus betuloides

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana

Chilopsis linearis

Cupressocyparis leylandii

Cupressus forbesii

Forestiera pubescens

Fraxinus dipetala

Isomeris arborea

Juniperus californica

Lavatera assurgentiflora

Lithocarpus densiflorus

Lonicera interrupta

Lonicera involucrata

Mahonia 'Golden Abundance'

Mahonia 'Skylark'

Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia nevinii

Mahonia pinnata

Mahonia repens

Pinus attenuata

Pinus coulteri

Pinus sabiniana

Pinus torreyana

Potentilla fruticosa

Quercus agrifolia

Quercus chrysolepis

Quercus lobata

Rhamnus californica

Rosa californica

Washingtonia filifera

soap plant

sea dahlia

blue dicks

California fuchsia


seaside daisy

golden yarrow

Canyon Silver island snowflake

beach strawberry

gum plant

island alum root

Martha Roderick alum root

Douglas iris

Canyon Snow Douglas iris

coast iris

wire grass

heartleaf keckiella

Humboldt lily

bush monkeyflower

scarlet monkeyflower

Parry beargrass

Hooker’s evening primrose

redwood sorrel

scarlet bugler

foothill penstemon

showy penstemon

California polypody

sticky cinquefoil


hummingbird sage

yerba buena

blue-eyed grass

California goldenrod

dune tansy

Forest Frost fringe cup

meadow rue


giant chain fern

chaparral yucca



big-leaf maple

white alder

Fremont barberry

incense cedar

western redbud

birch-leaf mountain-mahogany

Lawson cypress

desert willow

Leyland cypress

Tecate cypress

desert olive

California ash


California juniper

tree mallow

cutleaf tanbark oak

chaparral honeysuckle


Golden Abundance barberry (RSABG Introduction)

Skylark barberry

Oregon grape

Nevin’s barberry

creeping barberry

creeping barberry

knobcone pine

Coulter pine

foothill pine

Torrey pine

shrubby cinquefoil

coast live oak

canyon live oak

valley oak


California rose

California fan palm