Hardy trees are surprisingly tolerant of soil conditions provided drainage is good. Many come from mountains where soil is not deep, except in the river valleys.
Where the soil is well drained, the limiting factor for a number of species is the amount of lime present. Many trees growing naturally on acid or neutral soils will grow equally well on soils with a moderate lime content, particularly if the soil is deep and fertile. But a certain number are, like rhododendrons among shrubs, strongly calcifuge (lime-hating) plants, particularly on rather shallow, chalky soils as are found in many fine gardens in such areas as the Chilterns, Cotswolds and South Downs.
Apart from the degree of soil alkalinity (see pH) depth and soil structure affect the kind of trees that can be grown. In general, with certain notable exceptions, conifers prefer acid or neutral soils. The Rosaceae, however has many genera that are often associated in nature with alkaline soils such as Malus (apples), Prunus (cherries, plums, peaches, almonds, etc), Pyrus (pears), Crataegus (thorns) and Sorbus (rowans and service trees).
It is curious that though many calcifuge plants will not live in calcareous soils (containing lime), most of those that are calcipholous (lime-loving) will grow well in neutral and acid soils.
The following list indicates the preferences of some commonly cultivated genera, particularly those that will, or will not, grow on soils with a moderate lime content, and those that on no account thrive on shallow, chalk soils.
Broad leaved trees
ACER Most maples thrive on lime and chalk, including natives and those commonly planted. The Chinese species, such as AA, capillipes, daaidii, ginnala, griseumand rufinerve, make a splendid display in chalk gardens. A. palmatum and its cultivars need more fertile soil. The American A. rubrum will not grow on chalk.
AILANTHUS Tolerates lime.
ALNUS All alders will grow well on lime but must have moisture, with the exception of A. cordata and A. incana, which will stand drier situations. The former is good on chalk.
AESCULUS The horse-chestnuts and buckeyes do well on lime and chalk, though preferring fertile soils.
AMELANCHIER Though naturally growing on light acid soils, these will tolerate some lime.
ARBUTUS One of the few Ericaceae that grows well on lime.
BETULA The birches do well on lime.
BUXUS Good on lime, the common box grows naturally on chalk.
CARPINUS All the hornbeams are successful on either heavy alkaline soils or light chalk.
CARYA Will tolerate some lime in deep fertile soils.
CASTANEA. The sweet chestnuts do not like lime, but will tolerate it in small quantities on well-drained fertile soils.
CATALPA Lime tolerant.
CELTIS Will tolerate some lime in deep, fertile soils.
CERCIDIPHYLLUM Lime tolerant.
CERCIS The Judas trees do well on lime and chalk.
CORYLUS Hazels do well on lime, including chalk.
COTONEASTER. Most kinds do well on lime, including chalk.
CRATAEGUS All thorns will grow on lime and chalk.
DAVIDIA The dove tree does well on lime and chalk.
EUCALYPTUS There is still some doubt as to which species will grow well on lime.
EUONYMUS The tree-like species thrive on lime and chalk.
EVODIA Does well in shallow chalk soil.
FAGUS The beeches have a shallow root system and thrive on well-drained soils with high lime content and on chalk.
FICUS The fig-tree grows well on lime and chalk.
FRAXINUS The ashes thrive on soils with high lime content as long as they are fertile.
GLEDITSCHIA Will tolerate a little lime in fertile soils.
GYMNOCLADUS The Kentucky coffee needs a rich, loamy soil and will tolerate some lime.
HALESIA The snowdrop trees will not tolerate lime.
IDESIA This rare tree is good on chalk: ILEX Hollies are good on lime and chalk. JUGLANS Walnuts will thrive on lime soils and chalk if it is not too thin.
KOELREUTERIA The golden rain tree will grow in any well-drained soil.
LABURNUM Will grow anywhere.
LIQUIDAMBAR Dislikes more than a trace of lime and will not grow on chalk. LIRIODENDRON The tulip trees will grow on fertile soils with high lime content but are not happy on chalk.
MAGNOLIA Magnolias are not happy on limy soils, the exceptions among the tree-sized species being MM. delavayi, x highdownensis, kobus, sinensisand wilsonii.
MALUS In varying degrees the ornamental species and hybrids of apples are satisfactory on lime, and the majority do well on chalk.
NOTHOFAGUS The southern beeches so far in cultivation in Britain will, on fertile soils, stand a little lime in the soil but cannot be grown on chalk.
NYSSA A lime hater.
OSTRYA The hop-hornbeams will grow on lime.
OXYDENDRUM A lime hater.
PARROTIA Is not successful where there is more than a trace of lime.
PAULOWNIA Good on lime and chalk.
PHELLODENDRON Good on lime and chalk.
PLATANUS The planes do well on lime. POPULUS Poplars in general need fertile moist soil and will not object if there is a lime content, but, except for PP. alba, canescens and lasiocarpa, they will not grow on chalk.
PRUNUS Almonds, apricots, bird cherries, cherries (including the Japanese cultivars), laurels (common cherry and Portugal) and peaches, all grow on soils with a lime content and, in varying degrees, are also successful on chalk.
PTEROCARYA The wing-nuts will stand lime if the soil is fertile and moist. PYRUS The pears will all grow on soil with a high lime content, including chalk.
QUERCUS Most oaks do well on soils with a high lime content, including chalk, if there is sufficient depth for their tap-roots. Particularly good are QQ. canariensis, cerris, . frainetto, hispanica`Lueombeana’, ilex, macranthera, robur and petraea. Willow oaks, Q. phellos, and cork oaks, Q. suber, are not good on lime.
RHUS The tree-like species will grow on lime, including chalk.
ROBINIA The false acacias will grow on lime soils and chalk, but are not at their best on them.
SALIX The tree-sized willows tolerate lime, but all need abundant moisture, and will not thrive on dry, chalk soils.
SAMBUCUS The common elder will reach tree size on lime and chalk.
SASSAFRAS Requires lime-free soil.
SOPHORA Tolerates lime on well drained fertile soils.
SORBUS The rowans and service trees are all good on lime, including chalk.
STYRAX The snowball trees will not grow on lime.
TETRACENTRON This rare Chinese tree does well on lime and chalk.
TILIA The commonly cultivated lime trees grow naturally on limestone formations, but need moderately fertile soils.
ULMUS All elms will grow well on lime and in varying degrees on chalk.
UMBELLULARIA The Californian laurel will tolerate some lime but will not thrive on shallow chalk.
ZELKOVA The ironwoods will tolerate lime but must have deep fertile soils.
ABIES Most silver firs need deep, moist soil and in such will tolerate lime. AA. amabilis, braeteata, forreshi, grandis, magnifica, proceraand Veitchii are not good on soils with much lime. AA. cephalonica and pinsapo, however, will grow on chalk.
ARAUCARIA The monkey puzzle given fertile soil will tolerate lime.
CEDRUS All the cedars, especially C. atlantica, will tolerate lime on fertile soils.
CEPHALOTAXUS These small trees grow well on lime.
CHAMAECYPARIS CC. lawsoniana and nootkatensis and their cultivars do well on soils with high lime content. CC. obtusa, pisifera and thyoides are not good on lime and will not thrive on shallow chalk.
CRYPTOMERIA The Japanese cedar will tolerate lime if grown in deep, moist soil.
CUNNINGHAMIA The Chinese fir is not happy on lime soils.
x CUPRESSOCYPARIS The Leyland cypress grows well on lime and chalk..
CUPRESSUS The hardy cypresses will tolerate lime, and C. macrocarpa does well on chalk.
GINKGO The maidenhair tree grows well on fertile soils containing lime.
JUNIPERUS The numerous species and their cultivars grow well on lime.
JARIX Larches grow well on lime.
LIBOCEDRUS The incense cedar needs deep moist loam and will tolerate some lime.
METASEQUOIA The dawn redwood does best on fertile soils, with or without some lime, and will grow slowly and healthily on chalk.
PICEA The spruces are not happy on shallow, dry soils, though most will tolerate some lime, including the much cultivated common spruce, P. abies. An exception is the striking Serbian spruce, P. omorika, which grows on limestone rocks.
PINUS Though many of the pines grow naturally on light, mountain soils and many will tolerate a little lime, the majority dislike it. Even the Scots pine, P. sylvestris, is not at its best on lime. PP. armandii, contorts, pinaster, radiata,and strobus are unsatisfactory on lime. The handsome stone pine, P. pinea, will stand a little. The Austrian pine, P. nigra austriaca is good on chalk, as to a slightly lesser .extent is the Corsican pine, P. nigra maritima. P. mugo, often no more than a spreading shrub, will also grow on chalk, as will the rare P. bungeana.
PSEUDOTSUGA The Douglas firs thrive on fertile, moist, well-drained soils, on which they will stand some lime but not chalk.
SCIADOPTYIS The umbrella pine will not grow on chalk.
SEQUOIA The giant redwood will tolerate lime if there is a good depth of fertile soil but will not grow on chalk.
SEQUOIADENDRON The wellingtonia also will grow well in deep fertile soils but will not grow on chalk.
TAXODIUM The swamp cypress will not tolerate lime.
TAXUS The yews grow naturally on limestone formations and chalk, and are equally on good acid soils.
THUJA The western red cedar will grow on soils containing lime, as will the Chinese and American arborvitae and their cultivars.
THUJOPSIS This needs fertile, moist soils and thrives better on neutral or acid sites than on limestone.
TORREYA These yew-like trees do well on limestone and chalk.
TSUGA The western hemlock will not thrive on shallow soils containing lime or on chalk, nor will the other species occasionally planted. The eastern hemlock, T. canadensis, will,however, grow under these conditions.