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If you want to add an evergreen shrub to your garden, consider planting a leucothoe. It adds bold color in the form of its bright leaves, which can be green, red, or purple, before turning into autumn colors when the weather cools. However, when planting this evergreen shrub, you might wonder if it can grow and thrive in neutral soil.
Leucothoe will grow in neutral soil, as it’s a plant that can grow in various soil pH values, from neutral to acidic soils. However, it performs best when planted in slightly acidic soil.
In this article, I’ll explore what you need to know about planting leucothoe in neutral soil and how to ensure it gets everything it needs to grow healthy. Keep reading for more information.
What Is the Best Soil for Leucothoe?
Leucothoe is a shrub that requires an ideal soil pH that’s slightly acidic, such as a soil pH of 6.0. Conveniently, this is also the soil pH in which most landscape plants thrive.
The reason why leucothoe needs slightly acidic soil is because of its origins. It originates from the acidic and moist woods in eastern North America, with two main shrub species, L. fontanesiana, and axillaris, being the most popular for use in home gardens (source).
If you live in an area that’s quite dry, your soil might already be slightly acidic. However, it might have an even higher acidity as soils in these areas can reach a pH of up to 9.0. Therefore, whether or not you live in a dry area, you can’t assume that your soil will be favorable for leucothoe.
To test your soil pH, I’d recommend purchasing a meter like the Sonkir Soil pH Meter (link to Amazon). It has double-needle detection technology to give you accurate information about your soil’s pH level, moisture level, and how much sunlight it’s getting.
To use it, simply sink it into your soil and toggle the switch to choose the pH-testing option.
How To Increase Soil Acidity for Leucothoe Plants
Although your leucothoe will grow in neutral and acidic soils, it should never be in alkaline soil, such as a soil pH above 7.0. If you’ve planted your leucothoe in this type of soil, it will display symptoms of nutrient deficiencies that occur because of the soil pH being too high.
One of the main symptoms is yellow leaves that have dark green leaf veins (source).
Make sure that the area you’ve chosen to plant your leucothoe isn’t within close proximity to plants that require a different soil pH value. It’s a good idea to plant it with other shrubs or plants that thrive in acidic soil, such as azaleas and rhododendrons.
To lower your soil’s alkalinity and make it more acidic, you should follow these methods.
Use a Soil Acidifier
A soil acidifier is specially formulated to decrease the soil pH so that acid-loving plants can grow and thrive. I recommend trying Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier (link to Amazon).
Although it appears to be marketed towards hydrangeas, the manufacturer states that it’s ideal for acid-loving plants and includes leucothoe in its list. It contains sulfur derived from gypsum and elemental sulfur, so it’s natural and doesn’t contain chemicals.
Add Compost To Your Garden
When you add organic matter to your garden, such as in the form of compost, this naturally lowers your soil’s pH and makes it more acidic over time. It also brings microorganisms into the soil that benefit the general well-being of your plants.
Therefore, make sure you add compost to your garden every spring.
Mulch Your Plants
Another easy way to increase the acidity of your garden soil is to add mulch to your plants. However, you should use the correct organic materials in your mulch, as some can decrease soil acidity.
Pine bark is a good mulch choice as it’s more acidic than other types of bark, such as hardwood (source). Make sure you spread the mulch to a depth of around 3” (7.62 cm).
Add Sulfur to the Soil
Although sulfur decreases soil pH so that it becomes more acidic, it needs to be added to your soil the year before you plant in it. You’ll want to add sulfur to your soil in the fall or summer before the planting season, and you should add it by digging deeply into the soil.
When you add 2 – 4 lbs (0.9-1.8 kg) of sulfur to 100 sq ft (9.3 sq m) and mix it about 8” (20.32 cm) into the soil, it will successfully lower your soil pH by approximately one point (source).
Sphagnum Peat Moss Mulch
This type of peat moss is the most reliable to boost soil acidity because it has a pH between 3 and 4.5. When you add 2.5 lbs (1.13 kg) of peat moss per square yard (0.8 sq m) to your soil, you’ll increase its pH by approximately one unit.
You can add sphagnum peat moss to your soil or add it to compost beforehand.
See our guide to managing alkaline soil.
Other Soil Tips for Leucothoe
Although leucothoe requires an acidic soil pH to grow and thrive, there are some other important soil tips to bear in mind when planting this shrub in the garden:
- The soil needs to be moist. Water it weekly as it doesn’t perform well in dry conditions. Don’t let it become completely dry between waterings.
- It requires partial-shade conditions. However, if you provide it with enough moisture, it will grow in full-shade or full-sun conditions (source).
If you want to grow beautiful leucothoe in your garden, ensure it has the right soil pH to thrive. Although leucothoe can grow in neutral soil, it will thrive when planted in slightly acidic soils.
If your soil has a high alkaline pH, you can increase its acidity by:
- Adding sulfur to the soil in your planting site.
- Adding sphagnum peat moss mulch to your plants.
- Adding compost to your garden.