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Get to know your Garden intimately. Part -2 Acidic and Clay Soils.

Updated on October 5, 2015

Rhododendron in bloom



In part one of the series we discovered how our gardens are like us,unique,with their own character,and how to recognize the type of soil that we had in our garden,for example sandy,gravelly,peat,or clay etc. . We also found out, through taking a pH test, if our soil was Acidic, Neutral or Alkaline and the importance of this as regards which plants we chose for our particular situation. In the rest of this series we shall consider what plants are best suited for various types of soil and situations,for example plants for shade ,plants for full sun and so on.

Today we deal with Acidic soils and clay soils.

Acidic soils and suitable plants

After completing our soil test pH level we found that the reading was pH 7.0 or lower we now know we have acidic soil and as such we need to consider which plants will grow in that medium without showing signs of weakness and ill health which would also encourage attack by insects and fungi. There is a diverse range of plant species which at the end of the day comes down to personal choice. Here I give a few suggestions which may help you decide which type of plants you will choose.

Rhododendrons such as the one pictured above and the many other coloured varieties and the smaller Azaleas and Heathers thrive in acidic soil indeed they would suffer if they grew in any other medium. But we do not need to rely on those old faithful's alone as we shall see. many other types of plants thrive in acidic soils,however,as with all plants they also prefer the situations they have adapted too,such as moist,damp,dry soils and sunny or shady situations.

One such plant which will do well in acidic soil is Acanthus mollis whose common names include Bear's Breech{es},Sea dock, Bear's foot and Oyster plant. It is a herbacious perennial with an underground rhizome. It is a native to the Mediterranean regions fro Portugal to North West Africa,east to Croatia. It has been cultivated for centuries and it is a plant that will tolerate some drought and shade. This species and its close relative A.spinosa are the two most widely grown species in the UK.

In respect of the garden Acanthus spinosa is more rewarding to the grower as it produces more flower spikes. They bloom from June onwards,handsomely set off by the their dark green , shiny, deeply cut foliage. They have the added bonus of attracting bees. Acanthus will tolerate low temperatures providing the roots are well established, and the drainage is good. A good mulch is recommended during the first two winters.

Although they will grow in the shade this will affect the production of flowers and in deep shade they will produce their impressive foliage but not many if any flowers. the easiest way to increase your stock of Acanthus species is by taking cuttings in late autumn and early winter. Sections of the root laid in a seed tray{pan} of compost will begin to sprout in a few weeks.

These plants are large and make a statement and deserve a 'starring role' by the sides of a pathway or at the front of the border. Do not plant near your favourite small plants as this species will draw attention away from them. Good companions for these species are Crososmia masonicum and Phlomis rusellana, all these species retain good winter foliage. they thrive in soils with a pH reading of 05-06 and in the USA -USDA Zones 08a-11.

For an in depth article on this species visit my hub-Acanthus mollis {past and present medicinal uses}

Acanthus spinosa

Transferred to Commons by Magnus Manske.
Transferred to Commons by Magnus Manske. | Source

Ajuga reptans makes an impressive carpet display


Ajuga reptans

Ajuga reptans whose common name is Bugle or Bugleweed {USA} grows well in soil which has a pH reading of 05-06. { USDA Zones 03a-09b}.

This creeping bedding plant produces spikes of blue feathers that make an impressive display when established. They live for up to ten years but produce new plants regularly from their creeping rooting stems. They are perennials that can withstand cold temperatures. They do well in full sun to partial shade. These plants require a moist but well drained soil. propagation will not be necessary, indeed a certain amount of control will be needed as they can , if left to their own devises, become invasive.

There is an in depth article on this species in my Hub-{ Ajuga ,call of the Bugle.}

Digitalis grandiflora



The common Foxglove Digitalis purperea is another species that does well in acidic soil.they produce impressive foliage and beautiful bell shaped flowers,it has long been a cottage garden favourite. they attain the height of two to six feet.

They thrive in moist well drained soil and will self seed readily. They are visited and pollinated by Bumble bees.

Another species Digitalis grandiflora known as the Yellow foxglove grows to the height of three feet and lives for about ten tears. As its common name suggests it produces beautiful yellow bell shaped flowers with brown markings forming a netted pattern on the interior of the bloom. Both these species are poisonous in ingested. Always wash your hands or wear gloves when handling these species.

Galax urceolata

Southern Weed Science Society.Bugwood .org.
Southern Weed Science Society.Bugwood .org. | Source

Celmisia walkeri | Source

Larger plants for the rock garden

Plants that like acidic soil include species that have adapted to grow in rockeries. Here we look at some larger rockery plants.Celmisia walkeriis an evergreen ,loose, spreading perennial with long oval or lance shaped leaves.The foliage is glossy green above and hairy white beneath. They produce large daisy-like flowers in summer. They attain the height of nine inches {twenty three centimetres and have a spread of up to two meters { Six feet+} They prefer a moist soil and are very frost hardy.

Galux urceolata, produces rounded leaves of a mid-green colour. The stems turn bronze in autumn and winter. They produce dense spikes of small white flowers in late spring and early summer. They grow to the height of six to eight inches with a spread of twelve inches {30 cm }.

They like full sun and moist soil and are fully hardy.

Small Rockery plants for acidic oil include Androsace vandellii which is frost hardy. It requires a little more care than other types and a deep collar of grit under the cushion. One inch high the plant has a four inch spread. It requires full sun and well drained soil. This plant produces a mass of small five petalled flowers and is well worth the little extra maintenance.

Androsace vandellii is well worth the extra TLC required. | Source

Need something taller for acidic soils ?

If your garden requires some height the Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo,may fit your needs. It is an evergreen tree which attains the height of thirty feet and spreads an equal distance. This species is not dependent on acidic soil but grows well in it. They produce hanging urn -shaped flowers as the previous seasons strawberry like fruits begin to ripen.

I have an in depth article on the Strawberry tree see Strawberry Tree { A study of Trees -19 }

Strawberry tree in flower

originally posted to Flickr transferred to Commons by Tm {talk}
originally posted to Flickr transferred to Commons by Tm {talk} | Source

Google a full list of acidic loving plants.

The plants featured above are only suggestions and you can Google a full list of acidic loving plants to suit your requirements. if your soil is not acidic the plants can still be enjoyed by planting them in containers large enough to hold them, filled with recommended drainage,and Ericaceous compost.

Clay is heavy and hard to work


Clay soils-which Plants?

Clay soils are a challenge to the gardener. it is heavy and more difficult to work than other types of soil. Clay tends to get water logged in winter and it may crack during the heat of summer. In spring and summer clay soils warm up more slowly and may therefore delay plant growth. if possible do not tread on clay soils { use a plank of wood to walk on} as clay soil very easily becomes compacted and thus makes it more difficult to work.

All that said there is still a good variety of plants that will grow very well in clay soils. On the plus side clay soils retain nutrients better than lighter soils because they do not drain away as easily. If you have clay soil and love Roses you are in luck for Roses thrive in this medium. Hosta's and some ferns which compliment each other well in a garden setting grow well in clay soils. vegetables may be more of a challenge but main crop vegetables tend to do well and produce high yields.

If you require taller subjects such as shrubs and trees hawthorn,Birch,Japanese maple may well suit your needs along with shrubs such as Hydrangea,Mahonia, and Buddleja Some Fuchsia's,Viburnum,Juniper and Spiraea

Herbacious perennials such as Lady's mantle,Solidago,Kniphofia and Astrantia will also do well.

I have done an in depth article on Lady's Mantle. { See Lady's Mantle past and present medicinal uses}.

Clay soil can be improved by adding grit and compost ,but this is only worth the effort on small areas. if your garden is clay it is better to work with it by choosing the plants that will grow in this medium. As with acidic soil you can Google plants that love Clay. You will be surprised at the diverse range of plants available.

In the next part in this series I will look at sandy soils and the plants that love to grow in such conditions.

Roses thrive in clay soils.


Solidago [Goldenrod } will brighten a clay garden


This series is aimed at the garden beginner and those that are unsure.

How much time to you spend in your garden ?

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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb,nature has a way of adorning everything with her beauty. Thank you for your kind comments. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Another very nice piece. I never realized that there were plants that liked clay.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika, Thank you for your encouraging comments and for the additional information. Look forward to seeing some of your garden images later in the season. Best wishes to you.


      Hi jandee,

      Your welcome-When you get back to Liverpool, you can guarantee the weeds will be there to welcome you home . Another season another challenge ! Best wishes to you.


      Hi, You are very welcome, I hope this has been some help to you. Thank you too, for the votes,much appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 

      3 years ago from Jaipur

      Hi Dal,

      Thanks for publishing a hub about gardening. Its useful for a gardener to know about soil for better results.

      I got the chance to rate it first as useful and up!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I won't be there for another month or so,Brothers house, the weeds grow fantastically in the clay sole ,they would wouldn't they! They'll be waiting for me ! I know now how to deal with that clay. many thanks Dal,will read more about it,best from jandee..

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Brilliant! You have created a well-formatted hub and to the point. I spend more time during the summer and I made my job around the garden much simpler. It is easy to maintain. Interesting follow up here


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