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Top 5 Plants That Thrive in Clay for Your Southwest Michigan Landscape

Southwest Michigan is full of many different types of soils. Some homeowners find themselves with a lot of sandy soil that doesn’t hold water well, yet others find themselves with clay (which can be easy or very difficult to work with). If you find yourself with very hard compacted clay, you may find it necessary to give us a call, because it can be very difficult to shovel within. After the clay soil is amended, you will find that it has become a great growing medium for many types of plants. Here we have our top 5 plants that thrive in clay soil for your Southwest Michigan landscape.


Butterfly Milkweed

Low Maintenance Plants Sun Kalamazoo Butterfly MilkweedButterfly milkweed can grow in nearly any condition that your Southwest Michigan landscape may have.

  • It is very drought tolerant and doesn’t require the rich soil that many other plants need.
  • It’s also deer resistant (bonus!).
  • As the name suggests butterflies are attracted to this plant, as well as hummingbirds.


Isn’t that a fun word to say? “PerOVskia”…as said with a Russian accent, it’s just more fun that way. 😉

  • Also known as Russian Sage, is an ideal plant for any hot and dry location.
  • It’s deer resistant and will attract hummingbirds.
  • Perovskia should flourish in pretty much all soil conditions (poor, fertile, acidic, alkaline).
  • The leaves are also fragrant.


Clay soil plants Grand Rapids Kalamazoo Michigan Clethra Summersweet One of my personal favorite shrubs, Clethra, also known as Spicebush. It is a super easy shrub to grow and maintain in nearly any Southwest Michigan landscape.

  • It grows in a lot of different conditions; clay soil, wet soil, heavy shade, full sun.
  • It doesn’t get too big, only reaching 3-8′ tall (most averaging around 5′ tall) and  4-6′ wide (average would be around 4′ wide).
  • It is fragrant so plant where you will be able to enjoy the scent.


Clay soil plants Grand Rapids Kalamazoo Michigan SmoketreeAnother personal favorite is the Smoketree, or Smokebush

  • A large deciduous shrub that can get between 10-15′ wide and tall over time.
  • In summer, the spent flower clusters turn into these purplish pink smoky puffs, making the tree look like a big soft cotton ball.
  • The leaves are also really beautiful, which are a bluish-purplish-green color in spring and summer, then turn to vibrant shades of yellow, orange and purple-red in the fall.
  • The smoketree doesn’t need much maintenance, and will perform well in full sun, even in poor rocky soil.


There are many different varieties of arborvitae available, some being short and skinny, others round, and some tall with a pyramidal shape (like most of us are used to).

  • The arborvitae enjoys fulls sun to part shade.
  • It will tolerate clay soil,  and will typically grow in a wide range of soil conditions.
  • It provides some needed winter interest when the snow falls, but the deer may also be interested in munching on the leaves of the arborvitae when food is scarce.


While clay soil can be very difficult to work with, once amended, there are many great plant choices we can recommend for your Southwest Michigan landscape. Contact us today to get started on your next project, or landscape design. Be sure to check out some recent projects for additional inspiration!

Don’t have clay soil? No problem, we have additional ideas for sandy soils, as well as drought tolerant plants, and deer resistant plants.