What Kind of Trees to Plant in Clay Soil?

yugoslavaFebruary 26, 2012

I have a crab apple that needs to be moved and the most open space is sunny and it has clay. I mean I have amended it but it's still clay. The area is above lake Ontario and while I'm not right above the lake, a large area is clay. I have seen many trees growing well but what about my crab apple and Saskatoon berry which also needs to be moved. I'm also thinking of planting a Cercis canadensis (Redbud). I need some insight into growing trees and other plants in clay soil. I will appreciate reading your advice. Thank you

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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Depends on drainage. Clay makes an excellent medium unless it is in a poorly draining area.

The amendment you added, depending on how you did it and the specifics of the situation, may be a much bigger problem. In areas where drainage is poor or in cases where only a small area is amended, amendment can be a very bad thing.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 11:42AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Redbud is a poor choice for soils that do not drain very well. Crabapples and serviceberries are two of the better choices. What characteristics do you want the new tree to have?

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 1:51PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Aren't we jumping ahead a few steps to consider tree characteristics or specific species without knowing what conditions are present? For instance, in Tennessee we are well known to have clay soils but redbuds do spectacularly well here, in most locations. I have hundreds of them in my woods where the soil has various degrees of clay and clay loam. Without knowing specifics, we can't predict what is likely to do well.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 2:23PM
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But I'd say that since hundreds of plant varieties will perform well in clay-based soils, it first must be considered what characteristics are desired in this case. Leastways, that's the approach I would use.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 8:27PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Lets say that Yugoslava lists characteristics and we choose a tree or trees that fit that description. Say the trees we pick need well-draining soil (which is likely to be the case, since many trees fit that description). Then we find out that the site that Yugoslava has picked is poorly draining and stays wet most of the time. Aren't we back to square one?

I'd always prefer to know the conditions first and then pick the plant to match those conditions. That seems like the only logical way to approach it, to me.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 8:47PM
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Mike Larkin

Acer rubrum - tolerate wet soils, I believe that they will also do ok in clay soil.

Here is a link that might be useful: Acer

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 9:53PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Ditto what Brandon said (all three times). I have heavy red clay soil but it drains well. Everything I stick in the ground thrives without amendments of any kind.

But yugo's situation might be the same.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 1:34PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

>Everything I stick in the ground thrives without amendments of any kindSince amendments in planting holes reduce establishment success that is to be expected.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 2:40PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

I'd say we're going to need to know both the soil qualities AND the tree characteristics desired eventually anyway, so we might as well wait for both. ;-)


    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 7:18PM
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Of course we need both. But to suggest that there's some tiny little group of plants that are okay with a clay-based soil contradicts what I've been looking at my whole life.

Now soil pH might be a limiting factor worth noting beforehand. Someone suggested Acer rubrum, but if OP's clay is like my clay, neutral to slightly alkaline, that's not going to do well.

I maintain that the first question to answer is: What sort of plant do I want in that location: Tall growing deciduous tree? Short, wider than tall ornamental flowering tree? Narrow evergreen? Etc? Then using your knowledge of what plants thrive in your soil conditions, pick from the many choices. Why make it out to be so difficult?


    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 10:46PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Metasequoia is my answer!

Ok, I am biased and if the area is high and dry it might not be the best, but the things grow.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 11:22PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Toronado, don't worry about what the conditions are like, it doesn't matter...we're just picking out plants, so anything goes. Personally, I choose cacti! LOL

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 6:55AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i am of the opinion .... any tree can survive anywhere .. IF PROPERLY PLANTED ... [and we are talking about planting.. not zone.. etc]

and the issue is DRAINAGE... not the soil itself ...

most peeps in heavy clay .. plant high.. planting only half the root mass down into the clay ... while creating a berm of proper draining soil above ..

roots need air as much as water ... and by digging[and i use the term loosely with clay] ... a clay pot that retains too much water.. forever ... its the trapped or non-drained water.. that causes failure ... the roots drown basically

by allowing the top half of the roots to have the air they need ... you allow a recent transplant to survive.. and become 'established' ... and once it gets past that point.. past the transplant shock.. it can and will put its roots down into the clay ... and lead a long and happy life ...

its about giving the transplant the ability to live long enough to cope with the situation ...

if you stand in your yard.. i cant to believe.. rotating 360 degrees.. that you do not see a multitude of trees that planted themselves.. so the clay itself.. is not the issue ... you do not.. i presume.. live on a moonscape ... so the issue is ... to repeat and conclude .. is how we mess it all up by trying to plant them ....

dont you think??


    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 7:52AM
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Thank you all so much. I enjoyed reading your responses. I'm glad I asked so I could read differing opinions. I decided to transplant crab apples and saskatoon but not the redbud. I like looking at redbud but not cleaning after they bloom.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 10:56PM
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