Acid-loving plants and those that tolerate a soil pH that's more than a little acidic come in a variety of sizes. We'll start with examples of relatively short stature: perennials (including one popular ground cover and another that is lesser-known) and one annual. Next, we'll move up the ladder to shrubs, before concluding with examples among trees.
Plants, generally speaking, are most likely to thrive in soils that have a neutral pH (a reading of 7 is considered neutral since the acid-to-alkaline scale runs from 0 to 14) to one that's slightly below neutral. The plants on this list either tolerate a reading below this middle ground or actually thrive in a soil pH that dips below this range. Thus, as examples, Dicentra spectabilis tolerates such a soil, while Ilex thoroughly prefers it.
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Dicentra spectabilis is popular and has been around forever, but we never tire of it. One look at its flower explains why. Not only is its heart-shaped bloom fabulous, but it's also one of the best perennials for shade. An added benefit is that 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' popular in the northeastern U.S. Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) is another ground cover that can be grown in acidic soils, but it isn't generally recommended, because it's invasive.
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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 don't mind the acid, else they wouldn't 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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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. Golden Oriole (Rhododendron Golden Oriole) is a nice choice if you're 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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The namesake member of the heath family is winter heath (Erica x darleyensis), an evergreen shrub similar in appearance to heather (Calluna spp.). Gardeners love the fact that this shrub keeps its pink blooms during the winter, even in a cold area such as New England. That's why it's a great idea for a flower bed where the goal is to have something flowering year-round.Continue to 5 of 13 below.
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You're 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 doesn't apply to all types of hydrangeas: For some types, the color is set and doesn't change according to soil pH.
The flower color of oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) doesn't change based on soil pH. But this white-flowering 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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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 (Myrica pensylvanica); both are acid-loving plants.
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There's much to like about Daphne x burkwoodii Carol Mackie. It's one of the deer-resistant shrubs, is variegated, and has white, highly fragrant flowers. All in all, it's 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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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 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.Continue to 9 of 13 below.
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There's one more example from the shrub world before we move on to acid-loving plants in the tree category.
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Both evergreen and deciduous trees furnish examples of acid-loving plants and specimens tolerant of acid. Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) is most famous for its use as a Christmas tree. Other evergreen trees for acidic soil are the Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and eastern white pine (Pinus strobus).
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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 (Quercus spp.) grow well in acidic soil and provide color in late fall (through November in planting zone 5).
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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 spring herald that tolerates acidic soil: pussy willow (Salix discolor). Magnolia x Jane, like star magnolia, is often grown as a shrub.Continue to 13 of 13 below.
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Dogwoods (Cornus) are a diverse group of plants. The white sepals and variegated leaves of Cornus kousa Wolf Eyes make it a bright plant. The pink dogwood trees (Cornus florida) 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:
Most plants like the middle of the road when it comes to soil pH: not too acidic (sour), not too alkaline (sweet). But just as some plants will grow in soil too sour for most, others can be located in ground that is too sweet for most. Luckily (for those with alkaline soil), these include some of the most beautiful perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees used in landscaping.