Choosing Acid Loving Plants
Trees and Shrubs

Choosing acid loving plants is the way to go if you have acidic soil. Although most ornamental plants tolerate a range of soil pH values, and many actually prefer a slightly acid soil, most of the trees and shrubs listed below are true lime haters and will not thrive in any but acidic conditions.

I recently carried out a quick (and very unscientific!) survey of my friends and neighbours and asked them to name some acid loving plants.

Most of them had only one or two suggestions: rhododendrons and heathers! Of course, both of these are excellent choices but there are plenty of other options as you can see in the list below.

These acid loving plants include trees and shrubs with a range of form and foliage types that are invaluable for creating interest and variety in your garden throughout the seasons.

Most of them also have truly spectacular flowers and/or autumn colour and are capable of making a real impact.

If you are looking for acid loving perennials and climbers, you will find some suggestions at Choosing Acid Loving Plants: Perennials and Climbers.

Acid Loving Trees

Arbutus unedo 'Elfin King' (Strawberry Tree)

Acid Loving Plants, Arbutus unedo Elfin King, Strawberry Tree
  • Form: tree
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 7 to 9
  • Soil: prefers fertile, humus rich, acid soil
  • Situation: full sun
  • Height: 2m (6.5ft)
  • Spread: 1.5m (5ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: An unusual and hard working small tree with ornamental bark and glossy evergreen leaves. Clusters of urn shaped white flowers open during autumn at the same time as the previous season's unusual strawberry-like red fruits are ripening.

Although the fruits look tempting, I wouldn't bother eating them as they taste pretty awful!

Also consider: Arbutus unedo is the larger form with a height and spread of 8m/25ft.

Embothrium coccineum (Chilean Fire Thorn, Flame Flower)

Trees For Acid Soil, Embothrium coccineum, Flame Flower, Chilean Fire Thorn
  • Form: tree
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 8 to 10
  • Soil: moist well drained fertile neutral to acid soil
  • Situation: full sun or partial shade
  • Height: 10m (33ft)
  • Spread: 5m (16ft)

Reasons to grow: The attractive lance shaped mid to dark green leaves disappear under swathes of brilliant scarlet flowers in late spring and early summer - hence its common name of Flame Flower.

Also consider: Embothrium Lanceolatum Group 'Norquinco' is hardier in colder areas.

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon' (Sweet Gum)

Liquidambar styraciflua Worplesdon, Sweet Gum
  • Form: tree
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 6 to 9
  • Soil: reliably moist well drained acid soil
  • Situation: full sun
  • Height: 20m (66ft)
  • Spread: 10m (33ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Glossy, deeply lobed, mid green foliage turns purple then a truly spectacular glowing orangey red from autumn to winter, often persisting on the branches until Christmas. The bark has an attractive cork like texture.

Also consider: Liquidambar styraciflua 'Moonbeam' is slower growing and smaller (10x6m, 33x20ft), with creamy yellow leaves turning yellow, red and purple in the autumn.

Picea pungens 'Koster' (Koster's Blue Spruce)

Acid Loving Conifers, Picea pungens Koster, Koster's Blue Spruce
  • Form: coniferous tree
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 3 to 7
  • Soil: moist well drained fertile neutral to acid soil
  • Situation: full sun
  • Height: 10m (33ft)
  • Spread: 5m (16ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: A graceful conical tree with attractive blue green needles and cylindrical cones.

Also consider: Picea pungens 'Hoopsii' is similar with blue white foliage. It is slower growing.

Acid Loving Shrubs

If you have acid soil you are in the happy position of being able to grow the many varieties of Rhododendron. As well as true Rhododendrons, this genus also includes the evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous Azaleas.

Rhododendrons are the acid loving plants par excellence for adding structure, foliage and seasonal colour to your garden. Choose your varieties carefully and you will have a display of sensational blooms over a long period in spring and early summer. The evergreen foliage gives shape and form to the garden, and acts as a foil for later flowering plants.

However, Rhododendrons are by no means the only shrubs suitable for acidic soil:

Camellia x williamsii 'Anticipation'

Acid Loving Shrubs, Camellia williamsii Anticipation
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 7 to 9
  • Soil: moist well drained humus rich acid soil
  • Situation: partial shade sheltered from morning sun
  • Height: 4m (13ft)
  • Spread: 2m (6.5ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Another well known acid loving plant, the glossy evergreen foliage acts as a perfect foil for the glorious double, deep pink flowers which appear in late winter and early spring.

Also consider: Any of the other C. x williamsii or Camellia japonica cultivars.

Erica carnea 'December Red' (Winter Flowering Heath)

Erica carnea December Red, Winter Flowering Heath
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 5 to 6
  • Soil: moist well drained, fertile acid soil
  • Situation: sun or light shade
  • Height: 25cm (10in)
  • Spread: 60cm (24in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Dark green foliage and contrasting spikes of urn shaped flowers which begin as a pale pink and deepen to rich pinkish red. Flowers from mid winter to mid spring. Excellent ground cover.

Also consider: Any of the other varieties of E. carnea - 'Foxhollow' has golden, bronze tipped foliage, 'Springwood White' has abundant white flowers. All varieties look good combined with dwarf conifers in a low maintenance planting scheme.

Hamamelis mollis 'Coombe Wood' (Chinese Witch Hazel)

Hamamelis mollis Coombe Wood, Chinese Witch Hazel
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 4 to 7
  • Soil: well drained, neutral to acid soil
  • Situation: full sun or partial shade
  • Height: 4m (13ft)
  • Spread: 4m (13ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Enchantingly fragrant, shred-like yellow flowers in winter and good autumn colour provide interest and cheer in the darker months when the garden can sometimes seem a little bleak.

Also consider: The many Hamamelis x intermedia varieties: 'Arnold Promise', 'Barmstedt Gold' and 'Pallida' have flowers at the yellow end of the spectrum; 'Diane' and 'Jelena' have rich red to burnt orange flowers.

Kalmia latifolia 'Olympic Fire' (Calico Bush, Mountain Laurel)

Plants For Acid Soil, Kalmia latifolia Olympic Fire, Calico Bush, Mountain Laurel
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 5 to 9
  • Soil: moist humus rich acid soil
  • Situation: sun or partial shade
  • Height: 3m (10ft)
  • Spread: 2m (6.5ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: This delightful acid loving plant takes the form of a well behaved dense bushy shrub with attractive long, glossy, lance-shaped leaves.

Dark red buds open to glorious 10cm/4in clusters of cup-shaped pink flowers from late spring through to mid summer.

Also consider: Kalmia latifolia 'Dollar Spot' for white flowers; Kalmia latifolia 'Bullseye' for white flowers with deep red banding.

Magnolia liliiflora 'Nigra' (Lily Flowered Magnolia)

Magnolia liliiflora Nigra, Lily Flowered Magnolia
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 6 to 9
  • Soil: moist well drained humus rich acid soil
  • Situation: sun or partial shade
  • Height: 3m (10ft)
  • Spread: 4m (13ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: One of the longest flowering magnolias with exotic, goblet shaped, purple red flowers from late spring through summer. As a bonus it begins to flower whilst still young. One of the best acid loving plants.

Also consider: The delightful Magnolia stellata for its delicate star shaped white blooms.

Rhododendron 'Purple Splendour'

Rhododendron Purple Splendour
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 5 to 7
  • Soil: moist well drained humus rich acid soil
  • Situation: light shade
  • Height: 2.5m (8ft)
  • Spread: 2.5m (8ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: An excellent acid loving plant with a bushy, compact habit and attractive glossy dark green foliage. Dramatic trusses of wavy edged, rich purple flowers in spring and summer.

Also consider: Rhododendron 'Christmas Cheer' for pale pink flowers from mid winter to mid spring; Rhododendron 'Praecox' for rose purple flowers from late winter to early spring; Rhododendron 'Hydon Dawn' for profuse pink flowers in May.

Caution: all parts are toxic to humans and animals.

Rhododendron luteum (Deciduous Azalea, Pontic Azalea, Honeysuckle Azalea)

Acid Loving Rhododendron luteum, Deciduous Azalea, Pontic Azalea, Honeysuckle Azalea
  • Form: shrub
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 6 to 9
  • Soil: moist, well drained humus rich acid soil
  • Situation: prefers light to partial shade
  • Height: 4m (13ft)
  • Spread: 4m (13ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: I love this Azalea with its delightful, very fragrant, funnel shaped yellow flowers in spring and good autumn colour.

Also consider: Rhododendron 'Homebush' for a smaller deciduous shrub (1.5x1.5m, 5x5ft) with dense clusters of semi-double, trumpet shaped, rose pink flowers in late spring. Attractive dark foliage with good autumn colour.

Caution: all parts are toxic to humans and animals.

Need More Information?

More ideas for acid-loving plants can be found at Choosing Acid Loving Plants: Perennials and Climbers.

Not looking for acid loving plants? Head over to plant guides for links to all the 'plants for places' pages on this site.

You can find information and advice about garden soil, including links to other soil-related pages, at garden soil.





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