Plants that don’t like growing in soils that contain lime are called ericaceous plants, acid lovers or lime haters. This means they won’t grow well in soils that have a high pH - such soils are referred to as alkaline.
Ericaceous plants include rhododendron, camellia, azalea, pieris, summer-flowering heathers (calluna) and even Japanese maples (acer) among others. This also applies to blueberries.
If you try growing ericaceous plants in alkaline or limey soils, they start to produce yellow leaves - a condition known as lime-induced chlorosis, don’t grow or flower well and usually, finally die. The main reason for this is that they need plenty of iron and other soil nutrients that become insoluble or ‘locked up’ in the soil at high pH, so the plants can’t absorb them.
If your soil is alkaline clay, you could try digging a large hole, lining it with plastic sheeting, making some drainage holes in the plastic, and then filling with a lime-free soil. However, this doesn’t always work very well and is a bit of a risk.
Container growing is best
Instead, it is much better and easier to grow ericaceous plants in large pots filled with Levington ericaceous (lime free) compost.
Growing ericaceous plants in containers also allows you to grow them in the right place in the garden. Most of the plants listed (apart from calluna and blueberries) prefer a position in light shade or out of direct sunlight - especially early morning sunlight, which can cause the flower buds and flowers to turn brown and drop off.
Good feeding is the key
The other thing you need to ensure for fabulous, healthy growth is to feed the plants with a suitable fertiliser. Whereas many plants can be fed with a general-purpose fertiliser, ericaceous plants really do much better if fed with a specific ericaceous plant fertiliser. This can either be a granular feed or a liquid feed - whichever you prefer. These contains all the specific nutrients needed for great green leaves and masses of fabulous flowers.
Because rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias set their flower buds from June to August, it is essential to keep them well fed during this period.
Water well too
Because most ericaceous plants - especially rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and heathers - are shallow rooted, they are prone to drying out during prolonged dry periods. So it is very important to keep the soil or compost moist. This is particularly important during the flower bud setting period in summer; if allowed to dry out at this time bud set can fail.
Water weekly during dry periods and mulch the soil well.
Ericaceous plants and other acid lovers
Plants, like rhododendrons, are classed as ericaceous. Others are acid loving and prefer to grow in an acidic soil.
Azalea, Blueberry, Camellia, Calluna, Enkianthus, Gaultheria, Kalmia, Pieris, Rhododendron
Acer (Japanese maple), Magnolia (except M. X Loebneri and M. Stellata), Raspberries, Skimmia