10 Best Nut And Fruit Trees For Clay Soil

Clay soil has a variety of troublesome traits. This soil expands and retracts depending on how moist it is. In addition, clay soil is prone to compaction and slow to warm up. These are challenging conditions that not many crop-bearing plants can adapt to. Fortunately, some species of fruit and nut trees are capable of living in clay soil! We've done the research and can tell you which fruit and nut trees you can plant in clay soil.

These are some great fruit and nut tree options for clay soil:

  1. Apples (Malus domestica)
  2. Star fruit (Averrhoa carambola)
  3. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
  4. Fig (Ficus carica)
  5. Peach (Prunus persica 'Redhaven')
  6. Pear (Pyrus communis)
  7. Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
  8. Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
  9. Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
  10. Cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera)

Having clay soil doesn't mean you can't have beautiful trees that produce food! Keep reading to learn more about these trees, how to prepare clay soil, and more!

Dozens of ripe peaches at a peach tree, 10 Best Nut And Fruit Trees For Clay Soil

Nut and Fruit Trees For Clay Soil

1. Apples (Malus Domestica)

Apple trees are the most widely grown plant in their genus. When grown from seed, they can reach up to 30 feet. Cultivated apple trees typically grow between 6 and 15 feet tall. Apple trees can tolerate a variety of soils, including clay and sand. They are hardy for USDA zones 4 through 9.

A healthy blooming apple tree

2. Star Fruit (Averrhoa Carambola)

Lots of ripe star fruits at a star fruit tree

Star fruit trees are small trees that are best suited for warmer climates. These trees will grow between 16 and 39 feet tall. They require full sun to partial shade. It's imperative to protect this tree from the afternoon sun. Star fruit trees are hardy for USDA zones 10 through 13.

These trees are relatively tolerant of all soils. However, it should be well drained. After the star fruit tree is established, it can withstand flooding for up to two weeks.

3. Common Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis)

A small bunch of black elderberries

The American elderberry or common elderberry is a shrub or small tree. It reaches heights between 9 and 12 feet. This plant is adaptable to many soil types. However, it prefers rich, moist soil in full sun. The common elderberry is hardy for USDA zones 4 through 9.

Keep in mind that elderberries are edible after they've been cooked. Raw elderberries, their leaves, roots, and stems are poisonous to humans. Eating them can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and lead to a coma.

4. Fig (Ficus carica)

Ripe green figs photographed at a plantation


The fig tree is a small tree or large shrub. It grows between 23 and 33 feet tall. It can tolerate a wide range of soils, including clay and other nutritionally poor soil. Fig trees are hardy for USDA zones 7 through 10. They prefer full sun to partial shade. It will be essential to protect this tree from the afternoon sun.

Fig tree roots can be invasive. Depending on your rootstock, these roots can grow between 1 and 3 feet deep and spread up to 50 feet. Fig trees also love water and could compete with nearby plants for it.

5. Peach (Prunus persica 'Redhaven')

A huge plantation of peach trees

Peach trees are deciduous trees that grow up to 23 feet tall. These trees prefer well-drained soil. However, their specific requirements vary depending on the cultivar.

Prunus persica 'Redhaven,' or Redhaven peach, are easy to grow plants that require little maintenance. This cultivar is tolerant of clay and sand soil as long as there's good drainage. It's hardy for USDA zones 5 through 9.

6. Pear (Pyrus communis)

Ripe peaches at a peach tree

The Pyrus communis or common pear can reach heights up to 50 feet. These trees are adaptable to many soil types including clay and sand. They are hardy for USDA zones 4 through 8. You should give your pear tree full sun. For best results, make sure to have between 12 and 24 feet for this tree.

Pears are usually teardrop shaped. However, there are some differences in size, shape, and color depending on your cultivar. When picking pears, it's best to pick them before they're ripe. Once pears ripen, they tend to fall or bruise when picked.

7. Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

A small pomegranate tree filled with its bearings

Pomegranates grow on small trees or shrubs. They can reach heights between 16 and 33 feet. These plants are hardy for USDA zones 8 through 10. They prefer full sun to partial shade. Pomegranate trees can tolerate clay soil as long as it's well drained.

You can expect your pomegranate tree to last for a while. Some of these plants have been known to live for over 200 years. Pomegranates typically bear fruit from October to February or March to May, depending on if you live in the northern or southern hemisphere.

8. Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

A small bunch of Pecan Walnut at a tree

Pecan trees are large deciduous trees. In rare instances, they can reach up to 144 feet in height. However, they're typically found at heights between 66 and 131 feet.

The pecan tree is hardy for USDA zones 5 through 9. You should plant them in an area where they'll receive full sun. These are large trees. You should be able to give them up to 60 feet of space.

You can grow pecan trees in a variety of soils. It can adapt to clay, sand, loam, alkaline, or acidic soil types. The important thing is that your soil is well drained.

9. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Unripe walnuts at a walnut tree

The black walnut is a large tree that can reach up to 75 feet. These trees live around 130 years. Black walnut trees will take some patience. It can take them up to 20 years to get large yields of nuts.

Black walnut trees are tolerant of many soil conditions. It tolerates anything from clay to sand and soil that is occasionally wet to very dry. This tree prefers full sun and isn't tolerant of much shade. The black walnut is hardy for USDA zones 4 through 9.

10. Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera)

Harvesters picking up red plums at a tree filled with it

Cherry plum is a large shrub or a small tree. It can reach heights between 25 and 40 feet. This tree flowers early, usually around mid-February. The cherry plum bears edible fruit from July to September. Cherry plums vary from sweet to sour. They are an excellent choice for making jams.

This tree is hardy for USDA zones 5 through 8. They are adaptable to clay soils as long as it has good drainage. You should plant cherry plums in locations that receive full sun.

Unfortunately, cherry plums are a problem for some species. It can be toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. It is also poisonous to humans. The stems, leaves, and seeds all contain cyanide. It is also a short-lived tree. Cherry plums usually only live up to 20 years.

How Do You Prepare Clay Soil For Fruit And Nut Trees?

One of the most important things for these trees to thrive is well-drained soil. Unfortunately, clay soil is comprised of tiny particles. These particles make it harder for water to pass through, making the earth stay saturated for long periods.

You can add in compost, wood shavings, or other organic matter to help your soil drain better. You can use a layer of compost on top. However, if it's your first time amending the soil, you may want to incorporate it into the top 12 inches of soil. 

Ever considered adding sand to clay soil? Check out this post before you do: Should You Add Sand To Clay Soil?

Check out this organic compost on Amazon.

What Is The Best Soil For Fruit And Nut Trees?

Typically, most fruit and nut trees will prefer a loamy soil type. However, there will be different requirements depending on the type of tree you're planting. 

It's also important to know the pH level that your tree requires. Many fruit trees require a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. Nut trees tend to prefer soils with a pH between 5.8 and 7.0.

Test your soil to determine its pH level. This will help you determine how to amend your soil and can help you decide which plants to choose.

You can also test your soil's drainage with a hole and some water. Dig a hole at least 12 inches deep and up to 12 inches wide. Fill the hole with water, let the water drain, and then fill the hole again.

If the water drains in two to three hours, it means your soil has good drainage. If it takes less than two hours or longer than ten hours to drain, this is an indicator that your soil has drainage problems.

Check out this soil pH tester on Amazon.

In Closing

Dozens of ripe peaches at a peach tree

Clay soil doesn't have to prevent you from growing beautiful trees that produce food! Depending on your conditions, you may need to amend your soil.

You can add in organic matter to help your soil drain better and add nutrients. With the proper care, you can have your own fruit or nut-bearing tree in your clay soil garden!

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