Most times, if you have acidic soil, it’s better to find plants that thrive in acidic soil rather than fighting a constant battle to amend the soil that you have. Rarely is soil amendment a permanent fix, and there are plenty of plants for acidic soil to choose from (including both fruits and vegetables).
That said, there are times when trying to change your soil pH is your best option, and that’s primarily when your soil is extremely acidic or extremely alkaline. Few plants thrive in highly acidic soils (or highly alkaline soils, for that matter) because the extreme environment impedes nutrient uptake (primarily phosphorous, which is vital for plant growth) and inhibits microbial activity needed for nutrient cycling. When your soil pH is too extreme, it’s just rarely worth the effort.
So, what’s extreme and what’s workable? Soil with a pH below 7 is considered acidic, and most acid-loving plants thrive in soil with a pH of about 5.5 to 7.0, which is a pretty good range for most gardeners. If your soil has a pH of 4.0 or less, however, you’re going to find growing most things, including even those plants that tolerate acidic soil, pretty difficult.
What Causes Acidic Soil?
There are a number of causes for acidic soil, some of which you can control and some of which you can’t.
Things you can control include the composition and amount of organic matter in your soil and the fertilizers you use. In general, high-nitrogen fertilizers and ammonia increase soil acidity. Things that you really can’t control (unless you’re blessed with plenty of greenhouse space) are high rainfall and acid rain.
If you don’t know if you have acidic soil because you’re new to gardening or new to your area, there are two, easy ways to tell:
- Test your soil. You can either pick up a soil testing kit (there are plenty to choose from) or most state university systems offer comprehensive soil testing for a fee.
- Take a look at your neighbors’ gardens. If you see a lot of blueberry bushes, azaleas and rhododendrons, the soil in your area is probably pretty acidic.
The Best Plants for Acidic Soil
Unless noted otherwise, the following fruits and vegetables do well in soil with a pH between roughly 5.5 and 6.5.
High in dietary fiber and vitamin C, these dark berries are both nutritious and delicious. There are many varieties to choose from, so choose carefully, being sure to pick a variety that is appropriate for your zone, growing conditions, and space considerations. All varieties will need annual pruning to control growth. Stiff-caned varieties (those that grow erect) tend to be hardier and easier to protect during winter months than trailing varieties.
With one of the highest antioxidant capacities of all fruits, blueberries are consistently ranked as one of the world’s healthiest foods. Better yet, blueberries are one of the few plants for acidic soil that can still thrive in soil with a pH as low as 4.5. There are many, many (many) varieties to choose from, and growing multiple varieties can help pollination.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a bog to grow cranberries. Cranberries can be grown right in the ground like other garden fruits. And, they’ll even grow in acidic soil with a pH as low as 4.0. Growing cranberries isn’t typically easy, however, so be prepared for experimentation and potential failure.
One of my favorite vegetables due to their high nutritional profile and great flavor, sweet potatoes are one of the few vegetables that grow in acidic soil. Plant in fertile, loose soil in a location that gets plenty of sunlight for best results.
Although potatoes often get a bad rap for being a bad “white” food, potatoes are actually quite nutritious. And, these Nightshade family plants thrive in acidic soil with a pH from 4.5 to 6.5 (although scab can be a problem if pH is above 5.5).
Easy to grow and fast growing, radishes are great plants for acidic soil. They can be grown in the ground or in containers, and there are loads of varieties to choose from. From spicy and peppery to mild and sweet, there’s a type of radish for every palate.
Add another berry to your list of acid-loving plants. Close relatives of blackberries, raspberries come in red, yellow, black and purple varieties. Grow red and yellow varieties for highest production (25-35 pounds per 10-ft row!).
Great if you’re into pies and jams, rhubarb is easy to grow, harvest and store. But, beware: Rhubarb takes up a lot of space, is hard to get rid of once it’s established in a place it likes, and has poisonous leaves. Plant rhubarb with care if you have children or animals who may ingest leaves when you’re not looking.
When it comes to nutritional density, few plants can complete with peanuts. They’re high in fats, fiber, protein, iron, B-6 and magnesium. Plus, they’re pretty easy to grow. This legume does best in soil with a pH range of 6.0-7.0.
Don’t like anything on that list but still want to find something that you can grow in acidic soil? Try growing some of these fruits and vegetables which are known for tolerating acidic soil: strawberries, grapes, beans, broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and onions.
For more in-depth information on keeping a productive garden, check out the Gardening Guides page for growing tips and more.