Almost all acid soil lovers listed are ideal for cultivating in containers planted up with Ericaceous compost: the plants in pots look superb on a patio or ‘dotted’ and moved around to fill up colour gaps in borders. The only other alternative to the chalk soil problem is to have a genuine raised bed into which chalk soil cannot run. It is no good digging a large hole in limey soil, filling it up with Ericaceous compost and ‘hoping’ – the chalk will always leach into the soil and eventually kill the plants.
Although acid-loving plants will not tolerate chalky soils at all, plants that thrive in chalky conditions will generally grow in acid soils. You will find most shrubs that must have acid soils on display in our A to Z of shrubs beds in the winter and on a separate bed in the summer months. Azaleas, Camellias, Magnolias & Rhododendrons have their own bed.
You can view many of the plants mentioned in this guide on our Plant Finder.
FLOWERS FOR ACID SOILS
The following all insist on acid soils: They are mostly alpines but could be planted anywhere in an acid soil garden. If you live in a chalky area, you could try planting them in an old sink, manhole cover containers or shallow terracotta pans using alpine flint grit which does not contain lime.
- Gentiana (Gentian): The varieties asclepiadea, sino-ornata & stevangensis must have lime-free soil; the varieties acquiis, gracilipes, septemfida and verna will tolerate neutral soils. (P)
- Liriope muscari (Autumn Grape hyacinths): With their blue flower spikes and grass-like leaves, they will only tolerate a very low lime content. Flower Oct-Nov. (P) (▼)
- Lithospermum: These deep blue flowering trailing alpines need an acid soil, particularly L.Diffusum and its forms. (P)
- Lilium (Lily): A neutral soil (PH 6.5) is generally safe for all kinds so avoid thin chalky soils. All soils should be enriched with leaf mould, well-rotted compost or peat. (P) (▼)
- Rhodohypoxis: Long-flowering (April-Sept), alpines that require well-drained lime-free soil. (P)
- Saxifrage: S. uacina grows best in lime free soil. Other varieties tolerate lime soils. (P)
(P) Perennial – come back every year.
(A) Annuals – need planting every year.
▼ Ideal for containers
SHRUBS FOR ACID SOILS
- Arbutus (Strawberry tree): The variety A.Unedo does tolerate lime but others do not.
- Arctostaphyias (Bearberry, Manzanita): Hardy, berrying shrubs useful for ground cover.
- Azalea: Deciduous and evergreen Japanese varieties hate lime but look superb planted up in containers using Ericaceous compost. As they are woodland shrubs they need a shady or semi-shady position. (▼)
- Camellia: Hardier than generally realised but disliking biting cold winds. Avoid an easterly position in morning sun as, following a frost, the flowers may go brown. Must have a cool root run. Again, ideal for container gardening. (▼)
- Corylopsis: Early flowering shrubs with fragrant pale yellow scented flowers in March & April. Lime soils are only tolerated if heavily enriched with peat and leaf-mould.
- Crinodendron hookerianum (Lantern tree): Half hardy shrub of upright and dense bushy growth. Waxy, Crimson, urn-shaped flowers from April to June. (▼)
- Desfontainea spinosa: Dense compact shrub of slow growth with scarlet and yellow waxy flowers in June & July or later.
- Enkianthus: Grown for their profusion of small bell-shaped flowers and brilliant autumn leaves. Likes moist, lime free woodland soil.
- Erica, Cailuna & Daboecia (Heather): Summer flowering heathers insist on peaty acid soils. E. carnea / darteyensis, which are winter flowerers, tolerate chalky soils. All varieties are ideal for container culture but need ericaceous compost added. (▼)
- Eucryphia: Pyramid shaped tall-growing evergreens with large white flowers. Aug-Sept.
- Fothergilla: Generally low-growing shrubs with creamy ‘bottlebrush’ like flowers and brilliant autumn colours. Light moist soil.
- Gaultheria: The widely available creeping form G. procumbens has small urn-shaped flowers and winter berries.
- Halesia (Snowdrop tree): Woodland shrub that enjoys moist sou in sheltered positions.
- Hamamelis (Witch Hazel): A real gem for the winter garden with it’s small strap-like flowers. Like neutral to add moisture retentive soil.
- Kalmia (Calico bush): Shade lovers that associate well with Rhododendrons. (▼)
- Leucothoe: ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Scanetta’ both grown for their ornamental very long fine pointed leaves.
- Magnolia: Familiar spectacular shrubs and trees with fine blooms sometimes damaged by frost in early morning sun. M. stellata is more compact and will tolerate a neutral soil. (▼)
- Menziesia: Slow growing shrubs with tubular flowers for peaty gardens.
- Pernettya: Hardy, low growing shrubs for ground cover in sun or shade and generally grown for its colourful fruits – red, pink or white. P. macronate needs male P. masculata to berry. Likes moist peaty loom. (▼)
- Philesia: Marginally hardy dwarf flowering shrub with bell-like rose red flowers. Needs a sheltered position.
- Phyilodace: Hardy evergreen heath-like sub-shrubs, mainly dwarf. Flowers vary from deep pink to greeny-yellow.
- Pieris (Andromeda): Handsome shrubs of dense compact habit with red bracts when leaves are young and waxy, white floors in spring. Sheltered position in partial shade.
- Rhododendron: A wide range from small to very large flowering shrubs for a sheltered position in partial shade. Superb in containers for spectacular spring colour. (▼)
- Skimmia reevesiana ‘Fortunei’: Low growing shrub with creamy-white flowers in spring followed by crimson fruits which ripen in August. S. reevesiana ‘Rubelia’ is a male form with crimson flower buds. These forms prefer neutral to acid soils, other varieties will tolerate lime. (▼)
- Spiraea: S. billiardii & S. douglasii, two varieties of these medium sized shrubs with flat topped flower heads prefer a neutral to lime-free soil. All other varieties will tolerate lime. (▼)
- Staphylea (Bladder Nut): So called because of its bladder like fruits up to 10cm long. S. rosea has young bronze leaves with drooping panicles of rose-pink flowers in May / June.
- Vaccinium (Bilberry): Mainly dwarf creeping shrubs with box like leaves – pink bell shaped flowers in summer followed by dark red berries.
CONIFERS FOR ACID SOILS
- Cryptomerla japonica ‘Elegans’: large shrub or small tree with bushy habit Foliage brawny-green in summer turning copper-bronze in autumn & winter. Best on lime-free soils.
- Larix (Larch): one of the few deciduous conifers Prefer moist peaty soils.
- Picea pungens ‘Glauca Koster’ (Colorado Blue Spruce): glaucous blue conical shaped conifers. Other varieties of Spruce than ‘Pungens’ will tolerate neutral but moist soils.
- Pinus (Pine): most varieties demand well-drained acid soils but some, notably, P. leucodermis and P. sylvestris grow equally well on chalky soils.
- Taxodium Distichum (Swamp or Bald Cypress): tall growing deciduous conifer for wet acid soils.
TREES FOR ACID SOILS
- Koelreuteria paniculata (Pride of India / Golden Rain Tree): grown for its handsome foliage and yellow star-shaped flowers. Full sun.
- Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweet Gum): slender pyramidal tree with spectacular autumn leaves.
- Nyassa sylvatica (Black Gum): large shrub or small tree best in full sun. Brilliant red-yellow autumn colouring.
We try hard to stock as many of the items mentioned as possible but, as we are in a chalky area, cannot guarantee availability. We’re always happy to try and obtain a particular plant – if you can’t find it in stock, just ask.
‘PICK AND POT SERVICE’
Many acid-loving shrubs are superb for planting in frost resistant terracotta, stone or glazed containers, and for a small charge, we can plant them for you. They look very attractive on patios and make ideal gifts.
Please ask a member of our friendly and knowledgeable plant teams for advice.