Acid-Loving Plants

Perennial, Shrub, and Tree Examples

Heather in flower.
David Beaulieu

Acid-loving plants and those that tolerate a soil pH that is more than a little acidic come in a variety of sizes. We'll start with examples of relatively short stature: namely, perennials (including one popular ground cover and another that is lesser-known) and one annual. Next we will move up the ladder to shrubs, before concluding with examples among the trees.

Note that plants, generally speaking, are most likely to thrive in soils that have a neutral pH (a reading of 7 is considered...MORE neutral, since the acid-to-alkaline scale runs from 0 to 14) to one that is slightly below neutral. The plants on this list either will tolerate a reading below this "sweet spot" or actually thrive in a soil pH that dips below this range. Thus, as examples, Dicentra spectabilis will tolerate such a soil, while Ilex thoroughly prefers it.

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    Closeup image showing what bleeding heart's flower looks like.
    David Beaulieu

    Dicentra spectabilis is omnipresent in people's landscaping and has been around forever, but we never tire of it. One look at its flower explains why. Not only is its whimsically-shaped bloom fabulous, but it is also one of the best perennials for shade.

    In case you did not know it, you can now add the following benefit to this perennial's resume: It grows just fine in a soil on the acidic side of the pH scale. 

    One of the ground covers to grow in acidic soil is Pachysandra. As a deer-resistant ground cover, it is popular in the northeastern U.S. Lily-of-the-valley is another ground cover that can be grown in acidic soils, but it is not generally recommended, because it is invasive.

    The annual that makes it onto the list is Ageratum. For an inexpensive, quick injection of blue into your landscape color scheme, few plants can beat it.

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    Bunchberry (a type of dogwood) is a short plant, not a tree or shrub.
    David Beaulieu

    If the ground in your region is acidic and you find yourself restricted in your perennial options, expand your horizons by considering native plants. They obviously do not mind the acid, else they would not be growing in your part of the country. In addition to the native ground cover, bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), acid-loving native plants in the New England region of the United States, for example, include:

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    Golden Oriole azalea in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    The very first acid-loving plants that come to mind for most gardeners are the shrubs in the heath family. Azaleas and rhododendrons are the most widely-used of these in North American landscaping. The azalea named Golden Oriole (Rhododendron Golden Oriole) is a nice choice if you are seeking flowers in the yellow-to-orange range. Its flower buds are orange, but they open up to be golden-colored blooms. Other members of the heath family that look a bit like azaleas and rhododendrons include:

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    Winter heath in flower.
    David Beaulieu

    The namesake member of the heath family is winter heath (Erica x darleyensis), a shrub similar in appearance to heather (Calluna spp.). Gardeners love the fact that this shrub stays in bloom during the winter, even in a cold area such as New England. That is why it is a great idea for a flower bed where the goal is to have something flowering year-round.

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  • 05 of 13
    Oakleaf hydrangea displaying fall color. This photos shows why it is an excellent 4-season plant.
    David Beaulieu

    You are probably familiar with blue hydrangeas resulting from acidic soil (and changing to pink if grown in alkaline soil). The fact that you can change the color of such hydrangeas by adjusting soil pH is an interesting phenomenon, but it does not apply to all hydrangeas: For some types, the color is set and does not change according to soil pH. The flower color of oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) does not change based on soil pH. But this shrub, a North-American native, performs just fine in acidic soils. Oakleaf hydrangea is especially valued for its wonderful fall foliage.

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    Blue Princess holly produces a lot of berries (image) for me. Blue Prince is the male.
    Blue Princess is an evergreen holly. David Beaulieu

    There are many kinds of holly (Ilex), most of which are shrubs. While the evergreen types such as Blue Princess are best known, there are also deciduous kinds, such as winterberry. In the wild, the latter grows in the same swampy areas as does bayberry; both are acid-loving plants.

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    What's not to like about daphne (Daphne x burkwoodii)? This plant is one of the deer-resistant shrubs. It is also variegated and has white, highly fragrant flowers. All in all, it is a favorite plant in spring (when it blooms). Some resources list it as a plant for alkaline soils, but it can also tolerate a soil pH as low as 5.0

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    Fothergilla shrubs in bloom.
    Maria Mosolova/Getty Images

    Another shrub with white blooms that makes the list is Fothergilla gardenii. Its common name, "bottlebrush shrub," reveals the shape of its flower clusters. But like the oakleaf hydrangea, the standout feature of this one is its fall color. As with most shrubs grown for their fall foliage, the autumn leaves of your bottlebrush shrubs will be at their most colorful if you give them full sun.

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  • 09 of 13
    Doublefile viburnum gets its name from the flowers lining up double-file along branch.
    Doublefile viburnum derives its name from the way its flowers line up double-file along its branches. David Beaulieu

    One more example from the shrub world before we move on to acid-loving plants in the tree category.

    Viburnum shrubs can boast attractive flowers, berries, and fall foliage. Doublefile viburnum is one of the best bloomers, but other types include:

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    Colorado blue spruce tree.
    David Beaulieu

    Both evergreen and deciduous trees furnish examples of acid-loving plants and specimens tolerant of acid. Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) is perhaps most famous for its use as a Christmas tree. Other evergreen trees for acidic soil are the Canadian hemlock and the eastern white pine.

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    Robin eating berry from mountain ash tree.
    Don Johnston/Getty Images

    Mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is most often grown for its berries, although its flowers are moderately attractive, as well. Among the true ashes (Fraxinus spp.), white ash (F. americana) is one of the better choices for fall color. Oak trees grow well in acidic soil and provide color in late fall (through November in planting zone 5).

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    Jane magnolia flower.
    Jane Magnolia is a popular cultivar. David Beaulieu

    These next two examples are among the most widely-grown trees in eastern North America. Southern magnolia is iconic, but there are other kinds of magnolias, as well. The saucer type (Magnolia soulangiana) is very popular, as is one of the favorite heralds of spring, the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata), whose furry buds resemble another vernal standout that tolerates acidic soil: the pussy willow (Salix discolor). Magnolia x Jane, like star magnolia, is often grown as a shrub.

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    Wolf Eyes dogwood has bright sepals and leaves. The foliage is variegated.
    Wolf Eyes is bright, with white sepals and lots of white in its variegated leaves, too. David Beaulieu

    The dogwoods (Cornus) are a particularly diverse group of plants. The white sepals and variegated leaves of Cornus kousa Wolf Eyes make it a bright plant. The pink dogwood trees may be even more popular. Then there are the shrub-form members of the Cornus genus. These are best known for the color of their bark and include: