Horticulture Magazine

76 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 which love acidic, ericaceous soil – or at least plants that will tolerate those conditions.

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 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?

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.

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.

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.

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 For Acidic Ericaceous Soil

Acer palmatum in a park with dark red leaves
Acer palmatum

First of all, when planning a garden, one of the things that you should think about are 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
  • Acers
  • Beech
  • Cedar
  • Dogwood
  • Douglas Fir
  • Magnolias
  • Pin oak
  • Rowan
  • Willows

Shrubs For Acidic Ericaceous Soil

pink Rhododendrons behind a park bench
Rhododendrons

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
  • Berberis
  • Camellias
  • Crinodendron hookerianum
  • Fothergillas
  • Gardenias
  • Heathers
  • Holly
  • Hydrangea
  • Lithodora diffusa
  • Pieris japonica
  • Rhododendrons

Edible Plants for Acidic Ericaceous Soil

a blueberry bush
Blueberries

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
  • Blueberries
  • Lingonberry
  • Cranberry
  • Cowberry
  • Gaultheria humifusa (Alpine Wintergreen)
  • Blackberry
  • Raspberry

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 For Acidic, Ericaceous Soil

upright purple flowers of Liriope miscari
Liriope muscari

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
  • Begonia
  • Caladium
  • Irises
  • Japanese anemones
  • Kirengeshoma palmata
  • Lewisia x Cotyledon
  • Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)
  • Meconopsis cambrica
  • 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
  • Black Knapweed
  • Devils Bit Scabious
  • Foxglove
  • Heath Bedstraw
  • Meadow Buttercup
  • Musk Mallow
  • Oxeye Daisy
  • Ribwort Plantain
  • Self Heal
  • Sorrel
  • Vipers Bugloss
  • White Campion
  • Wild Carrot
  • Wood Avens
  • Yarrow

Grasses For Acidic Soil

Agrostis capillaris grass
Agrostis capillaris

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
  • Anthoxanthum odoratum
  • Cynosurus cristatus    
  • Deschampsia flexuosa           
  • Festuca trachyphylla  
  • Festuca rubra ssp. litoralis     
  • Festuca rubra ssp. rubra         
  • Poa pratensis  

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

Ferns For Acidic Ericaceous Soil

Blechnum spicant in a dark forest environment
Blechnum spicant

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
  • Cryptogramma crispa 
  • Blechnum chilense
  • Blechnum penna-marina
  • Polypodium scouleri
  • Woodwardia virginica

Acidic soil is also tolerated by:

  • Athyrium filix-femina
  • Dryopteris species
  • Gymnocarpium dryopteris
  • Osmunda regalis
  • Phegopteris connectilis
  • Polypodium vulgare

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 decisions.

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