The phrase "poor soil" has multiple meanings. Nutrient-rich clay drains poorly. Its microscopic, water-absorbing particles form nearly impenetrable masses in wet weather and starve plant roots of oxygen. Sand's good drainage leaches soil nutrients in wet weather. Nutritional or drainage amendments provide gardeners with two poor soil solutions. A third is to use plants that face poor soils without flinching.
Shrubs for Dry Poor Soil
The Aster family shrub damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) pairs spring-to-fall, yellow daisies with a mound of aromatic, green, finely textured foliage. The 1- to 2-foot-high shrub tolerates temperatures above -12.2 degrees Celsius. It loves sun, and thrives in well-drained, hot, dry soils from sand to clay. Rose acacia (Robinia hispida var.hispida), brings cascades of rose-pink blooms and fernlike, green foliage to hot, dry soils. The spring-blooming, bristly-barked shrub occasionally produces purple seedpods. Use the 2- to 10-foot bush to stabilise dry banks.
Shrubs with Fall Colour
Fringe-petalled, fragrant yellow flowers continuing to bloom after its golden autumn leaves have fallen make witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) an autumn garden star. The 10- to 15-foot shrub provides a pungently scented astringent ingredient. This shade performer tolerates poor, adequately moist soils. Velvet Cloak, a smoke tree (Cotinus coggyria) cultivar and Missouri Botanical Garden Plant of Merit, has deep purple-red, spring and summer foliage progressing to autumn's orange-red. Its leaves are calling in ideal make a striking backdrop for the downy flower stalks surrounding the shrub in a smoky, summer haze. Velvet Cloak grows 10 to 15 feet high. It accepts infertile, well-drained rocky soil in full sun.
Evergreen, olive-green-leaved southern waxmyrtle (Myrica cerifera) grows from 15 to 40 feet tall. Clusters of pale blue, wax-covered berry clusters appear on the pollinated, female white- to grey-barked shrubs during late summer and fall. The aromatic wax has a history as a candle and soap ingredient. Southern wax myrtle grows in partial shade. Plants in poor soils produce the heaviest berry crops. Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), a rounded, 6- to 10-foot shrub, has glossy, greyish-green foliage. Salt spray tolerance lets bayberry flourish in coastal regions. Its July to October flowers produce aromatic, waxy, grey berries. Birds consume them through the winter. Bayberry handles partial shade and infertile, wet soils.
Varnish-leaf shrub (Dodonaea viscosa) takes its name from the waterproof resin protecting its exceptionally glossy green leaves. The drought-resistant evergreen's spring and fall flowers open in 3-inch clusters. The yellow-green blooms give way to colour-changing fruit. Before ripening to brown, it progresses from green to greenish-yellow, pink and red. This full sun shrub stands 6 to 10 feet high. It tolerates salt, wind and rocky or sandy, dry soil. The bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) Big Bear cultivar reaches a 6- to 12-inch height and 3- to 6-foot spread. Dark green, glossy leaves with reddish winter tones pair well with its exfoliating, reddish-grey bark and bright red, summer-through-winter berries. Nodding clusters of white, urnlike flowers line its spring branches. Big Bear loves poor, dry sandy soil and sun to partial shade. Big Bear loves poor, dry sandy soil and sun to partial shade.
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- Oregon State University Extension Service Growing Your Own: Improving Garden Soil
- Texas A&M Native Plants Database: Damianita
- Missouri Botanical Garden Kemper Center for Home Gardening: Robinia Hispida Var. Hispida
- University of Texas at Austin Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Hamamelis Virginiana
- Missouri Botanical Garden Kemper Center for Home Gardening: Cotinus Coggygria 'Velvet Cloak'
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park Backyard Biology Plant of the Month February: Wax Myrtle