19 Best Plants to Grow in Shallow Soil (For Urban Spaces!)

If you have a garden with shallow soil you know that not everything can grow well. The lack of depth is against the development of many plants that can only thrive if their roots grow deep. But no worries, not everything is lost. There are quite a few stunning plants that you can grow even in your shallow garden!

The 19 best plants to grow in shallow soil that is no deeper than 8 inches are

  1. Star tickseed
  2. Lettuce
  3. Spinach
  4. Blueweed
  5. Begonia
  6. Wallflower
  7. Smooth hydrangea
  8. San Jose juniper
  9. Limeglow juniper
  10. Catnip
  11. Mountain mint
  12. Blue sage
  13. Sedum
  14. Morning glory
  15. Heart-leaved goldenrod
  16. Smooth spiderwort
  17. Chives
  18. Aloe vera
  19. Oregano

Ground covers, shrubs, herbs, flowers, succulents, houseplants—the list goes on! You see, what most people don’t realize is we’re spoiled for choice even with a little bit of soil. Just check out the summary table below to see what I mean.

7 Plants for 4 in (10 cm) of Soil7 Plants for 6 in (15 cm) of Soil5 Plants for 8 in (20 cm) of Soil
1. Spinach
2. Mountain Mint
3. Sedum
4. Heart-Leaved Goldenrod
5. Smooth spiderwort
6. Chives
7. Aloe Vera
1. Star Tickseed
2. Lettuce
3. Begonia
4. Catnip
5. Blue Sage
6. Morning Glory
7. Oregano
1. Blueweed
2. Wallflower
3. Smooth Hydrangea
4. San Jose Juniper
5. Limeglow Juniper
19 Plants That Can Grow in Shallow Soil

Now, let’s dive into the topic!

1. Star Tickseed (Coreopsis pubescens)

Star tickseed is a native wildflower that can thrive in a wide variety of habitats that are rich with rocks but have shallow soil such as stream beds and rocky meadows. It is a herbaceous plant that can grow with about 6 inches of soil.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 5–9

Growing Habit: Erect

Flowers: Yellow, orange

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance flowering plant that will flourish in soil that’s shallow and rocky, then get yourself some star tickseed!

Yellow Star Tickseed
cole christina (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Yellow Star Tickseed

Native to America, the star tickseed or downy tickseed isn’t a fussy plant. It’s tolerant of so many unfavorable growing conditions such as heat and drought. But make sure it gets full sun and its soil stays well-draining.

This plant can grow up to 4 ft (1.2 m) tall and produce golden flowers with at least 7 petals throughout summer.

Pro Tip: Encourage bright star tickseed flowers to continue blooming for a long time by deadheading spent ones and cutting off excessive foliage and stem growth.

Check out other beautiful blossoms to grow in our article on the best flowers for dates!

2. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Lettuce is one of the few cool-season vegetables that can be planted in shallow soil that’s approximately only 6 inches deep. It can be grown in most American states and is relatively easy to cultivate.

Life Cycle: Annual

Hardiness Zone: 2–11

Growing Habit: Erect

Flowers: Yellow

One thing that many home gardeners don’t get to see is flowering lettuce. Lettuce can bloom small yellow flowers when summer comes. Just remember that bolting results in bitter lettuce eaves.

It also has plenty of cultivars with richly colored foliage like the New Red Fire and Red Sails which make each lettuce head look like a massive flower!

Lettuce in Shallow Soil
Lettuce in Shallow Soil

You only need 6 inches (15 cm) of soil to grow lettuce and have enough to harvest for salads and sandwiches. Lettuce is a rapid-growing compact crop that can grow well even with partial shade.

Some have even managed to grow them in less than 4 inches (10 cm) of soil too. Others have also successfully grown these leafy greens with no soil at all—through hydroponics!

3. Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)

One leafy cool-season vegetable that can be grown in only 4 inches of soil is spinach. It can grow rapidly with well-draining moist soil and full or partial sun exposure.

Life Cycle: Annual

Hardiness Zone: 2–11

Growing Habit: Erect

Flowers: Yellow, green

Similar to lettuce, spinach is an easy vegetable you can grow at home even with shallow containers and soil.

During hot sunny days, lettuce can survive with as little as only 2 hours of light. Otherwise, it will also bolt and bloom, turning the leaves pretty unpalatable.

But during cooler months, such as spring and fall, it’s best to give it at least 6 hours of light exposure.

Unlike lettuce, however, spinach is best eaten when cooked because doing so helps drastically reduce its oxalate content which could make it taste bitter.

More importantly, though, oxalate can hinder us from absorbing other nutrients like calcium and iron from its leaves and stems.

4. Blueweed (Echium vulgare)

Blueweed, a naturalized wildflower in the United States, can be grown in shallow soils that are 8 inches in depth. However, this plant must be handled carefully as it can cause skin irritation and mild toxicity when eaten.

Life Cycle: Annual or biennial

Hardiness Zone: 3–9

Growing Habit: Clumping or erect

Flowers: Red, pink, blue

The blueweed is known by many names, including but not limited to

  1. Adderwort
  2. Blue devil
  3. Bugloss
  4. Snake flower
  5. Viper’s grass

Viper’s grass was named as such because its seeds look like the head of a viper. Moreover, its roots were also commonly used to treat people who were bitten by snakes.

Flowering Blueweed
Henk Van Lottum (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Flowering Blueweed

Blueweed isn’t troublesome to grow. Just five it full sun and good drainage. Gardeners won’t even really need to fertilize it since it can grow well even in poor shallow soil.

Then, expect it to grow steadily until it’s 3 ft (0.9 m) tall and produces vibrant trumpet-shaped flower clusters by its second year of development.

A fair warning though, blueweed contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are poisonous to livestock. So don’t grow these anywhere close to your chickens, pigs, or cows. For humans, it can cause contact dermatitis and stomach upset.

5. Begonia (Begonia spp.)

Foliage houseplants like begonia do not need to be kept in deep soil to thrive. A soil that’s only 6 inches shallow will provide sufficient space for this plant to grow.

Life Cycle: Perennial or annual

Hardiness Zone: 6–12

Growing Habit: Erect or clumping

Flowers: Yellow, red, pink, white

Do you think your house or room looks dull and dreary? Get a bunch of different begonia varieties and cultivars.

Begonias grow beautiful flowers during summer and fall but their vibrant foliage alone makes them a favorite of mine—though I’m still waiting for mine to get delivered.

With a bunch of interesting patterns and color combinations, begonias are truly a feast for the eyes.

However, what makes them even better is that you don’t need to grow them in a very deep pot with tons of soil!

Plus, begonias can grow prolifically without direct exposure to sunlight. They will do well with partial shade or even deep shade. In other words, they can live with only bright indirect light from northern and eastern windows.

Just keep this away from curious pets like rabbits, cats, and dogs, because its bulb can cause salivation and vomiting when eaten in large amounts.

6. Wallflower (Erysimum linifolium)

The herbaceous wallflower can thrive in shallow rocky soils that are approximately 8 inches deep. However, it must be closely monitored to prevent pest infestations.

Life Cycle: Perennial or annual

Hardiness Zone: 6–11

Growing Habit: Prostrate

Flowers: Brown, yellow, orange, purple, variegated

Also called an alpine wallflower, this low-maintenance plant produces purple flowers from spring to summer with either partial or full sunlight. It likes dry shallow soil and can survive poor soil.

Wallflower leaves are commonly green and flax-like. But if you want more pops of color, check out what cultivars are available in your nursery.

Blooming Wallflower
Klaus Hess (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Blooming Wallflower

Variegatum wallflowers, for instance, have yellow and green variegated leaves paired with purple-and-brown blooms.

If you want to enjoy its showy flowers for a long time, deadhead them as soon as they’re spent. This will allow your plant to redirect its resources into making new buds rather than keeping the old flowers attached to the stem.

The only downside to this plant is that it attracts quite a few pests including aphids, slugs, snails, and spider plants. It can also contract powdery mildew and rust downy.

7. Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)

Smooth hydrangeas can be grown in containers with more or less 8 inches of soil. It is an easy-to-grow clumping shrub that’s native to Eastern America.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 3–9

Growing Habit: Clumping

Flowers: Cream, red, pink, blue, green, white

Being both rapid-growing and low-maintenance, smooth hydrangeas are great flowering plants to cultivate in containers with 8 inches (20 cm) of soil. For these plants, wide and shallow pots are better than deep ones.

Smooth Hydrangea Flower Cluster
K O (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Smooth Hydrangea Flower Cluster

It’s also host to the hydrangea sphinx moth and attracts other pollinators such as butterflies and songbirds with its lively flower clusters from spring to summer.

But it’s more than just a simple ornamental plant. The Cherokees, in particular, use smooth hydrangeas as a poultice, laxative, antiseptic, stimulant, and for treating many other conditions.

Keep in mind, however, that smooth hydrangeas contain a cyanogenic glycoside which can be quite toxic for both humans and animals. Eating it could lead to nausea and diarrhea, among other things.

Originating from the eastern parts of the U.S., this species of hydrangea is especially well-suited for cool and warm growing conditions. It does great in moist rocky soil so long as it is not alkaline and the plant gets partial to full sun.

8. San Jose Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘San Jose’)

Either as bonsai or ground cover, the San Jose juniper can be cultivated well in shallow soil that’s 8 inches in depth. It can be used to prevent soil erosion.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 3–11

Growing Habit: Erect or spreading

Flowers: None

Despite being a shrub, this evergreen juniper variety doesn’t need very deep soil to root and grow in. It’s also a pretty low-maintenance plant.

But make sure it gets either partial or full sunlight. Make sure that its soil also stays moist while being able to drain well.

San Jose Juniper Shrub
Rita S-P (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – San Jose Juniper Shrub

The San Jose juniper, unlike the earlier plants that I’ve mentioned in this list, doesn’t produce any flowers.

However, its gorgeous soft sage-green leaves—resembling pine needles—make it a great candidate for bonsai projects.

Making a San Jose Juniper Bonsai

If you’re successful, this could serve as your little Christmas tree substitute for a lifetime!

Alternatively, this particular Chinese juniper can be grown into a dense mat-like ground cover for your lawn which will suffocate pesky weeds.

9. Limeglow Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Limeglow’)

The limeglow juniper is a spreading plant that can be grown as either a low-growing shrub or ground cover with only 8 inches of soil.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 3–9

Growing Habit: Spreading

Flowers: None

As a slow-growing plant that isn’t high maintenance, limeglow juniper is a popular ground cover option among my friends since it can tolerate shallow rocky soils.

Wild limeglow junipers can be naturally found around stream banks and rocky slopes and cliffs—even on sand dunes!

Creeping Juniper Fruit
Maarten Vanhove (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Creeping Juniper Fruit

It will keep your garden space looking lush and well-kept year-round even if you don’t prune it regularly. The yellow-green feathery leaves of this creeping juniper can also have a golden tint to them.

Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) - Plant Identification

Limeglow juniper grows best with full sun and moist well-draining soil. However, this dwarf shrub can withstand having its soil dry out from time to time. This plant can develop blue cones which look a lot like blueberries though it’s rarely seen on cultivated specimens.

By contrast, this creeping juniper can’t handle wet soil that well. Rather, such conditions can put it at risk of developing root rot. They can also suffer from blight.

Look out for aphids, bagworms, scales, and webworms that could damage your juniper as well.

10. Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Catnip is a low-maintenance herb that grows very fast in various types of shallow soil. This plant from the mint family can be grown with only 6 inches of well-draining soil.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 3–9

Growing Habit: Erect or spreading

Flowers: Purple, white

If you’re looking for a long-blooming herb that will not only be great for cooking but can also help you have a virtually endless treat supply for your cats, go for some catnip!

Catnip can continuously produce flower stalks from spring to fall when they are regularly sheared once spent. These can then be dried and occasionally given to your kitties.

Like other mints, catnip or catswort has a refreshing minty flavor that’s great for brightening up stews, soups, and sauces. You could also add it to pasta and vegetable dishes.

It’s not that difficult to find young plants for garden centers and groceries. But if you do want to grow your catnip plants from seed, it’s a fairly easy task to do!

Catnip in Shallow Soil
Catnip in Shallow Soil

They aren’t that troublesome to take care of either. Catnip will grow well with full sun and shallow well-draining soil. It can also tolerate different soil types and partial shade. However, it doesn’t handle high humidity and heat.

11. Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)

Mountain mint is a flowering herb native to North America that can readily grow in shallow rocky soils. Even with only 4 inches of soil, this local mint spreads rapidly.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 4–8

Growing Habit: Erect or clumping

Flowers: Pink, purple, white

Like catnip, mountain mint doesn’t need deep soil to grow well. In fact, it can become lush quickly in shallow soil with very little maintenance. You might even find wild specimens along roadsides!

I would further argue that such herbs are best kept in containers as they can become weedy and destructive when planted directly in gardens.

Place it in an area that gets full or partial sun. Keep its soil moist but not too wet or it may decline and die pretty fast. You want a soil mix that drains well and doesn’t retain too much water.

Learn more in our article on the most common growing mediums!

With proper care, you can harvest its minty leaves and edible flowers to add interest to otherwise boring-looking dishes.

You can also crush up its leaves and rub them on your skin as a natural mosquito repellent. Just do a patch test first to see if your skin will react negatively to its oils.

12. Blue Sage (Salvia azurea)

With only 6 inches of shallow, rocky, and dry soil, the clumping blue sage can quickly get established. It is a flowering herb native to Central and Southern America.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 4–9

Growing Habit: Clumping

Flowers: Blue

Also called pitcher sage, this low-maintenance herb is always a great addition to small urban gardens. You can also keep them in containers on your patio or balcony.

Its delicate-lipped blue blooms will attract numerous pollinators, like bees and butterflies, to your home. So they’re incredibly beneficial if you are growing fruiting plants and vegetables at home!

Blue sage will do great will full sun but can still thrive with partial shade. Its shallow soil should be kept moist and well-draining. Add some sand or rocks to its soil if it tends to hold too much water.

For a bushier blue sage, regularly cut its stems back by half its height by late spring. Otherwise, its stems will likely droop and flop from the weight of all the tiny flowers on its spikes

13. Sedum (Sedum spp.)

Succulents in the Sedum genus can grow very well in rocky soils 4 inches deep or shallower. They can be cultivated as low-maintenance ground cover or houseplants.

Life Cycle: Perennial or annual

Hardiness Zone: 3–11

Growing Habit: Erect or spreading

Flowers: Yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, green, white

Are you in the market for a unique-looking plant that is both slow-growing and low-maintenance? Sedum is perfect for you!

There are plenty of colorful sedum varieties to choose from, including

  1. African Sunset
  2. Hopewell
  3. Garnet Brocade
  4. Rock Star
  5. Chocolate Drop
  6. Rosy Glow
  7. Birthday Party
  8. Dazzleberry
  9. Firecracker
  10. Matrona
  11. Twinkling Star

Some of these succulents can grow very compact, while others can reach heights of 16 inches (40 cm) once they are fully mature.

However, sedum plants don’t need very deep soil to firmly anchor themselves and grow sturdy. They don’t need super-rich loamy soil either. Cactus soil will work just fine for them.

Sedum can thrive in soils much shallower than 0.5 in or approximately 1 cm!

Provide them will relatively dry soil and full sun exposure whenever possible, for good growth and color. They can produce star-shaped flowers from spring to fall.

14. Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.)

Vining morning glory plants can rapidly grow and spread with soils as shallow as 6 inches. They can do so with minimal maintenance as they grow aggressively.

Life Cycle: Perennial or annual

Hardiness Zone: 2–11

Growing Habit: Climbing or spreading

Flowers: Yellow, red, pink, purple, blue, green, white, variegated

Morning glory is well known for producing stunning—though short-lived—trumpet-shaped flowers with a huge selection of colors under ideal growing conditions.

Blooming Morning Glory
Monteiro Henrique (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Blooming Morning Glory

This vining wildflower has spread its way from Latin America, naturalizing itself in most parts of the United States.

As long as you make sure its soil drains well and it receives full sun every day, you can expect it to pop out new flowers daily with little maintenance throughout summer—or longer.

But this can be damaging for local flora and fauna when left unchecked. They can suffocate and kill off nearby plants in just a matter of days when they aren’t grown in pots.

So make sure to check with your Extension office to see whether or not they are considered invasive in your area before you grow them at home.

15. Heart-Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’)

The dwarf heart-leaved goldenrod is a low-maintenance herb that can grow lush with only 4 inches of shallow rocky or sandy soil. It attracts pollinators such as birds with its tiny golden flowers.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 3–9

Growing Habit: Erect or spreading

Flowers: Yellow

Regardless of whether you’re looking for a fun border plant or a stunning centerpiece for your garden, the golden fleece goldenrod will not disappoint with its bright blossoms.

Heart-leaved goldenrod is native to the United States so you can grow them in pretty much every state. Normally, however, you will find this compact plant in dry and rocky forests

For best growth, give it full sun and moist soil—be it grown in containers or directly in the ground. This low-growing herb can also serve as a charming groundcover.

It also draws many helpful pollinators to the garden once in full bloom, such as the larvae of wavy-lined emerald moths. This goldenrod can put out flowers from summer to fall.

16. Smooth Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

Smooth spiderwort is a native clumping wildflower that can grow in more or less 4 inches of shallow soil. It grows 3-petaled day-long flowers in spring and summer.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 3–10

Growing Habit: Erect or clumping

Flowers: Red, pink, purple, blue, white

Sometimes called blue jacket, the Ohio spiderwort originates from the eastern and central regions of North America.

As such, it can thrive in a variety of growing conditions. You can give it full sun, deep shade, or a mix of both. It can also tolerate loam, clay, sandy, or rocky acidic soils.

Smooth Spiderwort Flowers
K O (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Smooth Spiderwort Flowers

Don’t touch the dainty blooms of this spiderwort variety. If you do, it will shrivel up and fall much earlier than normal. It’s best to appreciate its beauty with our eyes alone.

Prune your smooth spiderwort in the middle of summer to about 6–12 in (15–30 cm) to induce fall blooming and promote denser growth.

They develop plantlets along their stems after blooming in the summer. You could cut and place these stem cuttings in water or soil to propagate your spiderwort.

17. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Gardeners can grow chives in wide but shallow containers with 4 inches of soil. This is a cool-season culinary herb that can easily be grown indoors.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 4–8

Growing Habit: Clumping

Flowers: Pink, purple

As a low-maintenance herb, chives can grow well without much fuss in moist soil. Just make sure that it gets direct sun exposure outdoors or a full-spectrum grow light indoors.

Discover more in our article on practical tips for thick chives!

By doing so, you’re sure to have enough to harvest regularly for salads, soups, dips, cheese dishes, and egg dishes, to name a few.

Remember, you can eat its flowers too. Don’t let them wilt and go to waste!

Compared to the leaves, however, the flowers of chives have a mild bitterness when raw. So if you aren’t using them for garnish, cook them first to make them more palatable.

18. Aloe Vera (Aloe vera)

Many aloe vera cultivars can be planted in 4 inches of shallow soil. They are easy-to-grow succulents that can handle high temperatures and dry soil very well.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 7–12

Growing Habit: Erect

Flowers: Yellow, orange, red

Known as the medicinal plant in some regions, aloe vera has long been used to treat various skin conditions in different cultures around the world.

More specifically, the soothing and moisturizing properties of its gel have often been used to treat burns and cuts.

Before applying heaps of it on your skin though, patch-test it first. Some people can experience contact dermatitis from aloe vera.

Aloe Vera Flowers
Kuz Cat (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Aloe Vera Flowers

Another thing that not many people seem to know is that aloe veras can also produce flowers. In fact, they can bloom in warmer areas at any time of the year—from spring to fall!

Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise as they naturally come from tropical regions. From the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia. It grows well with full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

19. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

Oregano, a culinary herb with woody branches, can be grown in soil as shallow as 6 inches. Its leaves and flowers can be used to flavor many savory sauces and dishes.

Life Cycle: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 4–10

Growing Habit: Erect or spreading

Flowers: Pink, white

Most commonly priced for their tasty leaves, the compact oregano is a herb commonly used to create flavorful dishes containing meats and vegetables of almost any kind!

But if you want to add a surprising kick to your dish for get-togethers and parties, throw in some of its teeny tiny flowers too. Just make sure to rinse and dry them beforehand.

Grow oregano at home—outdoors or indoors—with direct sunlight. They’ll do well in south-facing windows and gardens.

But if you want a sturdy ground cover that can handle some foot traffic while also repelling pests such as termites, plant your oregano outside. You can keep them in containers or grow them directly in the ground.


What plants can’t grow in shallow soil?

Deep-rooting woody trees, tall shrubs, and vegetable crops—especially large tubers—are the worst plants to grow in shallow soil as they require at least 1–3 ft (30–90 cm) of soil for proper anchorage and growth. These include mangoes, avocados, melons, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, potatoes, sweet corn, cabbage, and beans.

Can I grow shallow and deep-rooting plants together?

Planting together shallow and deep-rooting plants are done through intercropping. In doing so, people can maximize their usable garden space by planting such crops beside each other, allowing harvest throughout the growing season of different fruits and vegetables. Radishes and lettuce, for instance, can grow between onions, carrots, and tomatoes.

What does shallow soil mean in agriculture?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, shallow soils are no deeper than 9.8 inches (25 cm). Shallow soils specifically found on top of any bedrock are particularly referred to as Leptosols. Such soils have been used for pasture which then encouraged the cultivation of perennial plants in such areas.

Summary of Best Plants to Grow in Shallow Soil

A wide variety of perennial and annual plants with different growing habits—erect, spreading, climbing, etc.—can thrive in soils no deeper than 8 inches (20 cm). Such native and naturalized plants include shrubs, ground covers, flowering plants, herbs, houseplants, and succulents.

Star tickseed, lettuce, spinach, blueweed, begonia, wallflower, smooth hydrangea, San Jose juniper, limeglow juniper, catnip, mountain mint, blue sage, sedum, morning glory, heart-leaved goldenrod, smooth spiderwort, chives, aloe vera, and oregano can grow in soils as shallow as 4–8 inches (10–20 cm).


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