Ideas for Perennials in Acidic Soil in NH

HappilymarriedinNHJuly 31, 2014

Hi! My husband and I live in Northern NH, which can get down to -30 degrees F. in the winter.

We have a beautiful and very large spruce tree in our front yard which we want to keep. There is a sloping spot in front of the tree with soil that is quite acidic as a result.

I am looking to plant some perennials on that spot. It would have limited sun because of the tree, as well. I have tried hydrangeas, but they don't do very well.

Any ideas would be welcome. I would love to have some kind of flowering plant, but would be open to pretty much anything that won't die off!

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Are deer or other garden pests an issue? That will have an impact on what you can successfully grow, as will your hardiness zone. Have you checked to see what USDA zone you're in?

My soil is acid sandy loam. I have the following perennials growing in my shade bed under a mature crabapple tree:

Astilbe/false spirea
Hosta/plantain lily
Hakonechloa/Japanese forest grass
Carex morrowii/variegated Japanese sedge grass
Stokesia laevis/Stoke's aster
Alchemilla mollis/lady's mantle
Heuchera/coral bells
Hellebore/Lenten rose
Euonymus fortunei/wintercreeper
Tricyrtis hirta/toad lily

The only plants listed above that aren't hardy to Z3 or Z4 are Carex/Japanese sedge grass, Euonymus & toad lily. All three are rated as hardy to Z5.

The tree roots probably robbed your hydrangeas of water which would explain why they didn't thrive. Astilbe also likes moist soil but I have six or more of them growing under my crabapple that seem to be happy.

Hellebore, Columbine and Astilbe tend to bloom early in the season; turtlehead & toad lily bloom August-September. Stoke's aster & daylily are generally July bloomers in my Z6a garden.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 8:51PM
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I live in central NH, so am a bit warmer than you. I'd love to see a photo and know what direction the tree is in relationship to the planned planting spot. Also, I have several questions:
What does limited sun mean? (How many hours at this time of year?) The amount of sun will make a big difference to what you can grow.
How close is the planned planting spot to the tree? Often planting close to a large established tree is difficult since the tree's roots take up most of the water and nutrients in the area.
Is the area close enough to a water source so that you can set up some kind of watering system if you choose plants that need average moisture? (since the slope will make the area well-drained.)
Are you willing to mulch between and around the plants to help conserve moisture?

Your problem with the hydrangeas may have been that it was too dry for them due to the slope. It also may have been that you chose a variety of hydrangea that wasn't quite hardy enough. If you can set up a watering system, Hydrangea paniculata is fully hardy for you and it should do well if there's at least 5 hours of sun or a few more hours of really bright shade. Bobo, Limelight, Pinky Winky, Quickfire, Tardiva, and Strawberry Vanilla are all Hydrangea paniculatas with some differences in bloom time, color, and size.

I'll wait to suggest many plants until I have a better idea of your growing conditions.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 8:59PM
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Blueberries, ferns, Wintergreen, May Apple.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 9:57PM
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WOW! Thank you to all for the fantastic ideas! I definitely will start looking into some of these options.

Another question: should these be planted this fall, or should I wait until next spring?

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 8:54AM
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Spring and fall are generally considered the best times to plant as opposed to June/July/August when temperatures are highest. Although I will plant in Spring, I prefer fall planting because the plants will gradually go dormant with cooling temperatures which allows their root systems to mature rather than hot summer months when they must strive to support top growth and/or blooming.

Some plants will overwinter in pots but it can be risky so rather than lose them to a deep freeze, it's best to set them in the ground, even if you only dig a trench and set the pots in it for the winter until your garden bed is ready for you to plant them.

Do I have plants in pots that overwinter? Yes, lots of them on my east/west facing breezeway, some up against the house foundation, some not. It's sort of a game of Russian roulette however: I'm always surprised when some come through the winter as if they were hardy to Z3 and others don't.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 11:00AM
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