27 Easy Ground Covers For Clay Soil (Sorted Choices)

Ground cover plants for clay soil are able to tolerate or thrive in clay conditions, and have a low height or spreading tendency. Nearly all of the options in this post are low maintenance since they are pretty hardy and adaptive in general.

Growing conditions will improve over time as you cover exposed ground, and most plants are reasonably adaptable if you can set them up for success.

Success in clay soil looks like amending it with plenty of organic matter and aerating it if it’s, compacted. After a single round of physical loosening, it’s better left undisturbed after being topped up with organic compost or mulch.

Related: 5 Phases to Create Well-Drained Clay Soil for Growing Food

These cover crops will help your soil retain moisture, gain pathways for water and air, suppress weeds once they establish, and provide habitat and food for pollinators.

Before planting any of these options check with your local invasive plant council or regional extension office for guidance on plants that may be invasive in your area.

Annual ground covers for clay soil

Annual ground covers need to be sown every year. They only live for a single season and need to be resown by seed.

Knowing about these clay-tolerant annual ground covers will allow you to experiment with color schemes, designs, and uses for the area at hand.

Annual ground covers are best for high-turnover areas to temporarily rest and regenerate a plot.

Every time you sow a ground cover on your clay soil and allow it to live out its life to death; you’re injecting compost into the ground. Roots grow and rot which creates room for air exchange and water absorption. These necessities allow insects and earthworms to pick up some jobs and get to work on further improving your clay conditions.


  • Grows well in clay, needs drainage, is low maintenance
  • Stands 6 inches high, and spreads up to 9″ wide
  • Short-living perennial in zone 9-11, grow as annual everywhere else
  • Attracts bees, flies, butterflies

Silver falls

Photo by: Teresa Grau Ros, Taken on August 23, 2016, Dichondra argentea
  • Prefers moist well-drained clay soils, low maintenance, can tolerate walking traffic
  • Stand 3-4 inches tall, and spreads 4 feet wide
  • Perennial to zone 10-12, grow as annual everywhere else
  • Covers flat surfaces gorgeously too!


Photo by: Jason Hollinger, Taken on January 29, 2013, “Common purslane”
  • Can grow in clay soil and prefers moist well-drained ground
  • Stands 4-8 inches tall, and spreads to 18 inches at maturity
  • Annual, high in omega-3’s, and low maintenance

Creeping zinnia

Photo by: F. D. Richards, Taken on August 17, 2016, “Trial Garden, Hidden Lake 2016 Sanvitalia ‘Mandarin Orange’ Creeping Zinnia All American Selection.”
  • Thrives in most soils even hard, heavy clay, and prefers drainage but can tolerate reasonable standing water for a short period, low maintenance, minimal care
  • Stands 6 inches tall, and spreads to 18 inches
  • Annual
  • Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds

Verbena (trailing)

Trailing verbena
  • Adaptable to clay if well-drained prefers moisture
  • Stands below 1 foot, and spreads 2-5 feet wide
  • Tender perennial to zones 8-11 but generally grown as an annual
  • Great for bees and other pollinators

See: Best Bee-Friendly Plants For Clay Soil Improvement

Perennial ground covers for clay soil

Perennials are generally less maintenance than annuals since they come back every year for 3 or more years.

Perennials are ideal (over annuals) for soil protection and erosion prevention of permanent or semi-permanent areas.

This is a list of deciduous perennial ground covers and I’ll detail their preference for clay, ground cover habits, growing zones, and when they flower.

Solomons seal

Photo by: kkmarais, Taken on May 19, 2015, “Variegated Solomon’s Seal
  • Tolerates heavy clay, low maintenance
  • Stands 1-2 feet tall, and spreads by rhizomes slowly
  • Zones 3-8
  • Blooms April to June, attracts a variety of bees

Ladies Mantle

  • Grows well in heavy clay soils and prefers drainage, requires little maintenance
  • Stands 12-15 inches tall, and spreads 2-3 feet
  • Zones 3-8
  • Blooms from June to September, and attracts butterflies

Siberian bugloss

Photo by: Patrick Standish, Taken on August 1, 2015, “Siberian Bugloss”
  • Can thrive in clay soil, prefers plenty of organic matter, moisture, and drainage, low maintenance
  • Stands 1-2 feet tall, and spread 2-3 feet wide, spreads by rhizomes
  • Zones 3-8
  • Blooms April to July, attracts bees


Photo by: Giles Watson, Taken on May 3, 2009, “Bugle”
  • Adapts well to clay, prefers good drainage, low maintenance
  • Stands 4-8 inches, and spreads 6 inches to two feet, spreads very easily
  • Zones 3-9
  • Blooms May to June, very attractive to bees


Photo by: Tim Green, Taken on September 4, 2021, “Bistort”
  • Tolerates clay soil, prefers plenty of moisture and reasonable drainage, very low maintenance
  • Stands 8-30 inches high, and spreads up to 35 inches wide
  • Zones 3-7
  • Blooms July to August, good for pollinators


Photo by: normanack, Taken on April 15, 2006, “lungwort”
  • Grows well in clay, prefers organic matter and moist conditions, low maintenance
  • Stand 15 inches, spreads 2-3 feet wide
  • Zones 5-8
  • Blooms end of February into April, attracts bees

Evergreen ground covers for clay soil

Evergreens retain their leaves throughout the year.

While some of the below evergreen ground covers truly stay green all year, some don’t in harsh winters but are still considered to be evergreen.

For each evergreen ground cover; I’ll detail their clay soil preferences, growing zones, and other relevant information.

Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)

Photo by: F. D. Richards, Taken on August 10, 2014, “Juniperus horizontalis”
  • Thrives in clay, can tolerate compaction, but requires reasonable drainage.
  • Zones 3-9
  • Smells and looks beautiful all year, is low maintenance, and has medicinal characteristics

Golden sedge

Photo by: F. D. Richards, Taken on November 16, 2013, “Morrow’s sedge”
  • Tolerates heavy clay soils and moderately wet conditions, low maintenance
  • Zones 5-8
  • Very showy and ornamental

Elephant’s ears (bergenia)

Photo by: daryl_mitchell, Taken on May 27, 2013, “Bergenia Flowers”
  • Tolerant of many soils. Grows well in clay, plenty of organic matter preferred, and enjoys moisture, low maintenance
  • Zones 2-9
  • Stand 1 foot high, and spreads 2 feet

If there is specific information missing about these plants that you’re looking for, please leave me a comment!

Creeping Phlox

Photo by: Lydia Fravel, Taken on March 30, 2022, “Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)”
  • Grows well in clay and prefers drainage, low maintenance
  • Zones 3-9
  • Attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and more, while blooming from May to September


Photo by: Patrick Standish, Taken on April 4, 2005, “Periwinkle”
  • Tolerates clay well, prefers rich slightly moist soil, low maintenance with good drainage
  • Zones 4-8
  • Can become a 2-foot mound but tends to spread out quickly, broadleaf evergreen


Photo by: Peter Stevens, Taken on May 24, 2016, “Bearberry”
  • Tolerates clay but prefers well-drained loose conditions, low maintenance
  • Zones 2-6
  • Attracts insects and birds

English Ivy

Photo by: James St. John, Taken on March 18, 2007, “Hedera helix (English ivy)”
  • Tolerates clay, and heavy clay and does better with plenty of compost, moderate maintenance
  • Zones 4-8
  • Vigorous climber and provides nectar to pollinators in fall

Japanese spurge

Photo by: Rob, Taken on May 18, 2011, “Japanese Spurge”
  • Grows easily in clay, prefers moisture and drainages, low maintenance
  • Zones 4-8
  • Rhizomatous ground cover and provides for pollinators in spring


  • Needs good drainage, can grow in aerated clay that has a foot of drainage, regular maintenance
  • Zones 3-9
  • Blooms early spring


Photo by: Melissa McMasters, Taken on July 13, 2016, “Wintercreeper”
  • Can grow well in organic-rich clay, prefers well-drained dry or moist soil, not suitable for heavy clay, low maintenance
  • Zones 4-9
  • Attracts birds with flowers and fruit, butterflies and bees too

Creeping jenny

Photo by: Deb Nystrom, Taken on May 17, 2013, “Groundcover, Creeping Jenny”
  • Thrive in moist well-draining soil including clay, low maintenance
  • Zones 4-9
  • A showy lime green or gold

Creeping rosemary

This article was originally published on foodforestliving.com. If it is now published on any other site, it was done without permission from the copyright owner.

  • Grows well in drained soils, including clay as long as it isn’t waterlogged, occasional maintenance
  • Zone 8-10
  • Attracts bees and butterflies, and smells great!

Celtic Pride Siberian cypress

  • Prefers well-drained moist soil and can grow in clay, moderate maintenance if shaping is desired
  • Zones 2-7
  • Very deer resistant
  • Photo

Brass buckle ilex

  • Prefers organic matter, tolerates reasonable drainage, and moderate moisture, and can grow in clay, low maintenance
  • Zones 6-8
  • Bright showy foliage
  • Photo

Ajuga burgundy low

  • Prefers soil high in either clay or sand, moisture, and drainage
  • Zones 3-9
  • Deer resistant, low maintenance, tolerates walking traffic
  • Photo

Coral bells

Photo by: Patrick Standish, Taken on June 18, 2006, “Coral Bells
  • Tolerant of clay, prefers even moisture, organic matter, and drainage, low maintennace
  • Zones 4-9
  • Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds

Ground covers for clay soil in full sun

The best ground covers for full sun and clay have all been sorted into this list:

  • Creeping juniper
  • Ladies mantle
  • English Ivy
  • Creeping Phlox
  • Bearberry
  • Candytuft
  • Wintercreeper
  • Creeping jenny
  • Creeping rosemary
  • Celtic pride Siberian cypress
  • Brass buckle ilex
  • Alyssum
  • Silver falls
  • Purslane
  • Creeping zinnia
  • Verbena
  • Elephants ears

Zone 2 Forest Garden Full Plant List (Sorted By Layer)

Low plants that grow in clay soil and shade

The best ground covers for shade and clay soil have all been sorted into this list:

  • Solomons seal
  • Siberian bugloss
  • English Ivy
  • Bugle
  • Bistort – can be in full sun, but roots become invasive easily (not bad for an edible if you plan to consume it though!)
  • Lungwort
  • Periwinkle
  • Japanese spurge
  • Celtic pride Siberian cypress
  • Ajuga burgundy low
  • coral bells

Zone 3 Forest Garden Edible Plant List (Sorted By Layer)

Edible ground covers for clay soil

The best edible ground covers for clay have all been sorted into this list. Now you can see which of your favorites can double-function as an edible or medicinal element in your landscape.

Disclaimer: Food Forest Living or its authors are NOT responsible for your consumption of any “edibles.” You must do your own research to make your own sole decision on what you do and don’t eat.

Creeping Juniper edible/medicinal berries

Solomons seal edible berries

Bugle – root, tubers, young shoots, and leaves

Bistort – leaves and shoots, roots can be cooked and dried into flower.

Chemical composition of edible aerial parts of meadow bistort (Persicaria bistorta (L.) Samp.), Food Chemistry, Volume 230, 2017, Pages 281-290,

Japanese spurge – fruit

purslane – all edible

Ladies’ mantle – bitter

Verbena – medicinal

Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) – edible leaves

Candytuft – entirely edible and medicinal

Creeping rosemary – leaves

Bearberry – berries

It was a lot of work sorting this many plants into categories!

Would any other categories be helpful to add to this page (other than annual, perennial, evergreen, sunlight, and edibility)?

Leave me a comment to let me know!

I hope you were able to find the best cover crop choices for not only your clay soil but you too!

Up Next:

Evergreens & Perennials to Improve Poor Draining Clay Soil

Prepare the Ground for a Food Forest Properly (Full Guide)


While Rachelle's hands are clean for the keyboard, she enjoys writing and designing creative content and resources. You will most likely find her outside planting a cabbage, foraging berries for breakfast, and collecting herbs for year-round tea or making food.

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