Horticulture Magazine

72 Ericaceous Plants That Love Acidic Soil

pink azalea flowers

Acidic soil is sometimes seen as an impediment, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to grow plants that love acidic ericaceous soil.

Rather than trying to amend your garden to fit the plants you like, it is almost always the best policy to choose plants that suit the conditions in your garden.

That means that if you have acidic soil, you choose plants that love acidic, ericaceous soil – or at least plants that will tolerate those conditions.

pink flowering magnolia tree

In this article, you will find a list of some plants that will work well if you have acidic soil in your garden.

In any garden, the soil pH will either be acidic, neutral or alkaline.

If the pH is much below 7, your soil is acidic and the plants listed below could all be an excellent choice.

If your soil has a pH below 5, it is extremely acidic and some remediation might be required.

Do You Have Acidic Soil?

soil being held on a garden spade

First things first, work out whether you actually do have acidic soil in your garden.

The easiest way to check is with a pH test; these are fairly affordable to buy online.

The pH may vary even from one part of your garden to another, so to get more reliable results you should take readings from more than one spot.

Home Testing

a soil pH meter showing an acidity score of 6.5

You can also do a simple home test to see if your soil is acidic – this will not tell you your soil pH level, but could give you more of a clue about conditions in your garden.

Simply mix some soil with water to make a muddy mix, then add bicarbonate of soda. If the baking soda froths up, this dictates that the soil is acidic.

If instead, the soil mix reacts when vinegar is added then it is alkaline.

Another way to get some clues about the soil in your garden is to simply look around.

The plants already growing in your garden and your neighbour’s gardens could help you work out which plants will thrive and what soil conditions are like.

Acidic Soil Benefits

broad beans sown outside in rows

If you do have acidic soil, especially soil that is mildly acidic, then this is wonderful.

Extremely acidic soil can be a problem, because most plant nutrients will be washed away more easily.

Phosphates will be less available to plants. And when acidity is even more extreme, bacteria cannot rot organic matter and there are far fewer nutrients available to plants.

But mildly acidic soil is beneficial and in fact, a slightly acidic soil might be close to 6.5, which is said to be the very best pH for gardens.

Plants For Acidic Ericaceous Soil

But with acidic soil, which plants should you choose?

Here are some lists that might help you to begin to find the right plants for your garden:

Trees

First of all, when planning a garden, one of the things that you should think about is trees.

There are trees which will suit even the smallest of gardens.

Here are some trees which like or at least can easily tolerate acidic soil conditions:

Alder
alder tree with hanging catkins
Acers
Acer palmatum in a park with dark red leaves
Beech
view of beech tree from below
Cedar
cedar tree
Dogwood
large variegated dogwood tree
Douglas Fir
douglas fir tree
Magnolias
pink flowering magnolia with fallen flowers
Pin oak
pin oak tree
Rowan
single rowan tree atop a hill
Willows
willow trees by the water with hanging foliage

Shrubs

Once you have any trees in place, you should next move on to consider the shrub layer.

Shrubs can be the backbone of a garden – providing height and structure in beds and borders, and filling in the gaps between the height of any tree canopy and herbaceous and ground cover planting.

Shrubs are often wonderful for a low maintenance garden – especially if you choose the right ones for your soil type and conditions.

To help you plan your shrubberies and borders, here are some of the shrubs that like acidic soil conditions:

Azaleas
orange azalea blooms
Berberis
berberis with red berries
Camellias
pink flowering camellia shrub
Crinodendron hookerianum
Crinodendron hookerianum with hanging pink flowers
Fothergillas
Fothergillas shrub with red and orange foliage
Gardenias
gardenias with white flowers
Heathers
pink flowering heather
Holly
holly plant with bicoloured leaves
Hydrangea
purple flowering hydrangea starting to bloom
Lithodora diffusa
small blue flowers of Lithodora diffusa
Pieris japonica
pieris japonica bush
Rhododendrons
pink Rhododendrons behind a park bench

Edible Plants

The shrub layer in a garden can also be very productive.

In an acidic soil garden, there are a number of fruiting shrubs and fruiting canes/brambles which can be good choices.

Here are some to consider for a garden with acidic soil:

Bilberries/Blaeberries
bilberry plant
Blueberries
a blueberry bush
Cranberry
cranberry fruits on the plant
Cowberry
cowberry shrub with red fruits
Gaultheria humifusa (Alpine Wintergreen)
alpine wintergreen
Blackberry
blackberry fruits in black and red
Raspberry
raspberry fruits

If you would like to grow vegetables in the ground in acidic soil, then it is also worth noting that unless the acidity is particularly extreme, potatoes are likely to be one of the best-performing crops for you.

You may not do quite as well with Brassicas, these members of the cabbage family will do best in slightly alkaline conditions.

Flowers

To beautify your garden and bring in the wildlife, you will also, of course, wish to include plenty of flowering plants.

Here are some excellent options for acidic soil conditions:

Andromeda polifolia
Andromeda polifolia flowers
Begonia
pink begonia flowers
Caladium
huge caladium leaves
Irises
dark purple and yellow iris flowers
Japanese anemones
white flowering japanese anemones
Kirengeshoma palmata
yellow flowers of Kirengeshoma palmata
Lewisia x Cotyledon
Lewisia Cotyledon flowers
Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)
upright purple flowers of Liriope miscari
Meconopsis cambrica
yellow flowers of Meconopsis cambrica
Trillium erectum
red flower of Trillium erectum

If you want to establish a wildflower meadow in acidic soil conditions, some wildflowers that are tolerant of acidic conditions include:

Autumn Hawkbit
autumn hawkbit flowers
Black Knapweed
magnified view of black knapweed flowerhead
Devils Bit Scabious
devils bit scabious
Foxglove
towering foxglove flowers with pink flowers
Heath Bedstraw
Heath Bedstraw groundcover plant
Meadow Buttercup
meadow buttercup with small yellow flowers
Musk Mallow
musk mallow in bloom
Oxeye Daisy
oxeye daisy flowers
Ribwort Plantain
Ribwort Plantain
Self Heal
self heal flower with burgundy and lilac blooms
Sorrel
sorrel growing in a vegetable patch
Vipers Bugloss
butterfly sitting on vipers bugloss
White Campion
white campion flowers
Wild Carrot
umbels of wild carrot flowers in white
Wood Avens
yellow wood avens
Yarrow
umbels of white yarrow flowers

Grasses

If you want to choose ornamental grasses for your garden then you should have no trouble finding grasses that work well in the soil where you live.

Phormium (New Zealand Flax) is something that should thrive in your soil.

Many other grasses (either for ornament, or as a lawn) will also cope with acidic soil conditions.

If you want a grass mix for acidic soil (perhaps to be grown along with the wildflowers mentioned above) then here is a mix for acidic soil gardens:

Agrostis capillaris
Agrostis capillaris grass with dragonflies
Anthoxanthum odoratum
Anthoxanthum odoratum grass
Cynosurus cristatus    
magnified view of Cynosurus cristatus
Deschampsia flexuosa
Deschampsia flexuosa
Festuca rubra ssp. litoralis
Festuca rubra ssp. litoralis
Poa pratensis
meadow of Poa pratensis grass

(Try 35% Festuca trachyphylla with lower proportions of all the other grasses.)

Ferns

If there is a shady spot to fill in your acidic soil garden, then you should also consider adding some ferns.

Great ferns for acidic soil conditions include:

Blechnum spicant
Blechnum spicant in a dark forest environment
Cryptogramma crispa 
Cryptogramma crispa surrounded by slate
Blechnum chilense
Blechnum chilense
Blechnum penna-marina
Blechnum penna-marina
Woodwardia virginica
Woodwardia virginica fern

Acidic soil is also tolerated by:

Athyrium filix-femina
Athyrium filix-femina in woodland setting
Dryopteris species
Dryopteris fern
Gymnocarpium dryopteris
ground covering Gymnocarpium dryopteris ferns
Osmunda regalis
large Osmunda regalis plant
Phegopteris connectilis
fronds of Phegopteris connectilis
Polypodium vulgare
Polypodium vulgare growing in woods

The options listed above are by no means your only options, but this list may give you a place to start when planning a planting scheme for your garden.

One final note of caution however – remember that soil pH is only one of the criteria you should look at when choosing plants for your garden.

So not all of the above will be suitable for all gardens with acidic soil – you also need to look at other factors alongside pH to make the right choices.

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