What You Add To Soil To Grow Acid Loving Plants

You always start with a soil test and move forward from there

Photo by Farsai Chaikulngamdee on Unsplash

So You Want to Grow Blueberries and Rhododendrons.

If you are trying to acidify your soil for growing acid-loving plants such as blueberries and rhododendrons, it has been traditional to recommend adding either sulfur or acid–based organic material such as pine needles or oak leaves.

Recent research has shown that adding sulfur will drop pH over the course of a year, but that combining the sulfur and the organic material drops the pH much faster and much more.

Bottom line:

If you want to grow blueberries or other acid–loving plants, add both the sulfur and the organic matter for best results.

Suitable organic matter would include ground-up lemons, pine needles, oak leaves or peat moss among other things.

How Much To Add?

I know I’m going to get this question and the answer is, “It depends.”

It depends on the soil test you’re going to do and then you’ll have to repeat this test yearly to judge how your soil pH is progressing as you add material to it

A soil test will give you the exact numbers you’ll need to know.

Remember one really important point. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it thing.

Modifying soil pH is an ongoing garden chore requiring ongoing testing and modifications because the underlying soil parent material will want to revert to its natural state.

And Yes, You Can Mess About Without A Test

Different websites will tell you to add 1 pound or x ounces per 1000 square feet of garden soil but I’m sure you’ll understand that if your soil is a bit more alkaline than mine, that 1 pound will have a different effect for each of our gardens.

Get a soil test – even if it’s one you purchase from a garden center – do one.

“Organic Amendments and Sulfur in Combination Reduce Soil pH,” Maren J. Mochizuki (University of California Extension, Ventura, CA), A. James Downer, and Ben Faber.

Here’s How You Can Improve Your Garden Plants Yourself

I wanted to make a few points about plant selection in your own gardens. This is not only for those few advanced gardeners but rather, it’s for every gardener out there.

Better Perennials

I want you to imagine you have Aquilegia in your garden. This is a self-sowing sweetheart that … well, let’s just say it’s promiscuous and self-sows everywhere it can. And like all flowers, there are a few really good blooms that emerge from the seeds and a few duds

When I see a dud (a flower I don’t like) in my garden, I dig it up, weed it out immediately. I don’t allow it to set seed and give me even more duds. I only allow the plants I want to thrive and set seed.

Better Vegetables

This is true for all plants. Mayo has been selecting some of the tomatoes we grow for earliness as well as the more traditional characteristics of the variety. Over a few years, we’ll have a somewhat earlier strain of these plants.

The nice part of this is we get to both save the seeds and eat the tomatoes.

Better Flowers Too

Think of all the self-sowing plants you might have (hollyhocks, lupines, digitalis, etc) and then start doing the same thing.

  • Pick the colors you really like, allow those to set seed.
  • Dig out the others as soon as you decide you don’t like them.
  • Over the years, more and more you’ll get the color of plant you really like.

Maple Tree Evaluation

I had a pic of a nice red maple seedling here – it was red well before others in my garden. But in moving the websites, the image disappeared.

It’s red before any of the other seedlings. I’m saving some of them as well because I want some more maples around the property but this one was given special treatment and planted into my new micro-nursery bed as the first plant to be grown there. (Update on the seedling – it was eaten by voles in winter ’19. It was a nice try but…)

But just because it’s red before the others doesn’t make it a great tree. It may not repeat this performance next year. It may be a really slow grower or .. well, it could have a lot of things wrong with it.

But for now, it turned red first, well before the others and this might make it special in the garden

And it’s the “mights” that gardeners get to dream on. 🙂

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