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Plants for different soil types

Plants for different soil types


Have you ever tried to grow a plant which just simply doesn’t thrive? It could be due to your soil type! We all have slightly different soil depending on where we live, from dry sandy soil to heavy, wet clay. Many plants just can’t cope with the extreme conditions these soils provide, which is why it’s important to assess your soil before planting. It’s also a good idea to consider your soil pH (acidity or alkalinity) as this will affect certain plants too. Read on to learn all about your soil type and find plants suitable for your garden.


What type of soil do I have?

Soil type (texture) is defined by the percentage of clay, silt and sand it contains. These three ingredients form a ‘loam’. There are many variations of loam so you may well find your soil falls somewhere in-between the types described below.

Clay soil

Clay soils are composed of lots of tiny mineral particles which reduces the air space in the soil. This causes the soil to retain water and become easily compacted. You can tell if you are gardening on clay soil as it will be sticky, heavy and easily moulded into a shape when rubbed between your fingers. If you have hard soil in the garden during the summer this could be another clue that you have clay soil. Dry weather causes clay soil to bake hard and crack on the surface. These soils are very fertile but require some improvement to ‘unlock’ the nutrients for plants to use.

Silt soil

Silt soils have slightly bigger particles than clay soils so are more free-draining but are still at risk of compaction. They are fertile and drain more effectively than clay but hold more moisture than sandy soils. You can tell if you are gardening on a silty soil as it can be moulded into a shape but will feel smooth rather than sticky. It won’t hold its shape as easily as clay and will crack or crumble if rolled too thinly between the palms of your hand.

Sandy soil

Sandy soils have the largest particles (up to 1000 times bigger than clay) and are very free-draining due to the big air spaces between particles. You can tell if you are gardening on a sandy soil as it will feel light and gritty and cannot be moulded into a shape. Although easy to work and cultivate, sandy soils dry out very easily and often have poor fertility as the nutrients are simply washed away.


Whatever type of soil you have it’s a good idea to incorporate lots of organic matter each year to improve or maintain the soil structure. Organic matter will aid drainage on clay and silt soils and help retain more water on sandy soils. It will also improve the fertility of any soil type. To find out more about improving your garden soil take a look at our ‘how to improve your garden soil’ article.


Acid and alkaline soils

Some plants are particularly sensitive to the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and will grow poorly if given the wrong conditions. You can determine your soil pH with simple garden soil test kits available at most good garden centres. There are substances available which allow you to change the pH of your soil but these measures are temporary and repeat applications would have to be made annually to maintain this. It is best just to grow plants suited to your soil type. Some popular plants such as Camellias, Rhododendrons and Heathers need an acid soil and cannot tolerate chalky (alkaline) soils. If you’re unable to grow these plants in the ground try growing them in large containers using ericaceous compost.


What plants can I grow?

A good place to start when choosing plants for your garden is to look at your neighbour’s gardens. You will probably start to notice certain plants being grown in every garden, or spot a plant which you know needs a particular soil to thrive. This should give you some clues as to what will grow in your garden soil!

With the addition of organic matter, any plant could potentially be grown in your garden soil. However, we’ve put together a list of plants below which prefer, or can cope with, the extremes of a clay or sandy soil. Plants for silt soils have been placed with those for clay, as their qualities are similar. However with some improvement (see ‘How to improve your soil’) a silt soil can support the plants listed for sandy soils. We have also identified the preferred soil pH of each plant.


Plants for clay and silt soils

 Plants for clay
and silt soils 
 Plant
Type 
  Suitable for 
 acid soils 
  Suitable for
 alkaline soils  
  Suitable for
 neutral soils  
 Extra features 
Acer (Japanese Maple)Tree Interesting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowers
Crab AppleTreeInteresting Features - Colourful berries or fruitInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowersInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
LaburnumTreeInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
MagnoliaTree Interesting Features - Spring Flowering
Sorbus (Rowan)Tree Interesting Features - Colourful berries or fruitInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowersInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
BerberisShrubInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Colourful berries or fruitInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
CamelliaShrub Interesting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
HydrangeaShrub Interesting Features - Summer Flowering
Lilac (Syringa)Shrub Interesting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
MahoniaShrubInteresting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Colourful berries or fruitInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
PyracanthaShrubInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Colourful berries or fruitInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
RoseShrubInteresting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
SambucusShrubInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Colourful berries or fruitInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
Vitis (Grape Vine)Shrub Interesting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowers
WeigelaShrubInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
AconitumPerennialInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
Aster novi-belgiiPerennialInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowers
AstilbePerennialInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
AstrantiaPerennialInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
BluebellsPerennialInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
CalamagrostisPerennialInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
Carex elataPerennialInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
DeschampsiaPerennial Interesting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
FilipendulaPerennialInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
FoxglovePerennialInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
HostaPerennial Interesting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
OphiopogonPerennial Interesting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
PeonyPerennialInteresting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
RodgersiaPerennialInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
RudbeckiaPerennialInteresting Features - Summer FloweringInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowers
SolidagoPerennialInteresting Features - Summer FloweringInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowers

Plants for sandy soils

 Plants for
sandy soils 
 Plant
Type 
  Suitable for 
 acid soils 
  Suitable for
 alkaline soils  
  Suitable for
 neutral soils  
 Extra features 
EucalyptusTree Interesting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Architectural
Hamamelis (Witch Hazel)Tree Interesting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowersInteresting Features - Winter Flowering
JuniperTreeInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Architectural
Pinus (Pine)TreeInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Architectural
Acacia (Mimosa)Tree Interesting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
BuddlejaShrubInteresting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
CotoneasterShrubInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Colourful berries or fruitInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowersInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
Erica carneaShrub Interesting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Winter Flowering
HelianthemumShrub Interesting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
LavenderShrubInteresting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
PerovskiaShrubInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
PierisShrub  Interesting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
RhododendronShrub  Interesting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Spring Flowering
RosemaryShrubInteresting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - Evergreenherbs for full sunInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
AchilleaPerennialInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
AlliumPerennialInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
AnthemisPerennialInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
DianthusPerennial Interesting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
EchinopsPerennialInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
EryngiumPerennialInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
Festuca glaucaPerennialInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
GaillardiaPerennialInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
IrisPerennial Interesting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
Leymus arenariusPerennialInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
OenotheraPerennialInteresting Features - ScentedInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
OsteospermumPerennialInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
PoppyPerennialInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
Red Hot PokerPerennial Interesting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
SagePerennialInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive Foliageherbs for full sunInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
SalviaPerennialInteresting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Summer FloweringInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowers
SedumPerennial Interesting Features - Summer FloweringInteresting Features - Autumn leaf colour or flowers
StipaPerennialInteresting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
ThymePerennial Interesting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Attractive Foliageherbs for full sunInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
VerbascumPerennial  Interesting Features - Attractive FoliageInteresting Features - ArchitecturalInteresting Features - Summer Flowering
WallflowerPerennial Interesting Features - EvergreenInteresting Features - Spring Flowering

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Plants for different soil types - Extra features - Evergreen, scented, attractive foliage, autumn leaf colour/flower, spring flowering, summer flowering, winter flowering, herb





Weigela is ideal for clay or silt soils and is suitable for all types of soil pH

Weigela is ideal for clay or silt soils and is suitable for all types of soil pH.







Camellia grow well in clay or silt soils but prefer an acidic or neutral soil pH

Camellia grow well in clay or silt soils but prefer an acidic or neutral soil pH.







Verbascum plants thrive in poor, gravelly and alkaline soils

Verbascum plants thrive in poor, gravelly and alkaline soils.







Herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary are ideal for sandy soils

Herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary are ideal for sandy soils.