By Mary Lu Wells Cornell University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener

This is a tale of the little plant that couldn’t. Eight or so years ago, I bought a small wintergreen plant from a good nursery. This wild ground cover from Northeast forests loves the humus rich, acidic soil found in the shade of our deciduous forests. I assumed acid meant a pH of 6 or so and that our Allegany County soil would be perfect since are native soils are mid to high 5.0s.

The wintergreen was planted on the north side of my house with my other woodland wildflowers. There it sat, neither dying nor growing. Wintergreen is a lovely ground cover growing 4-6 inches tall with small, shiny evergreen leaves. In June, the small, very pale pink bell flowers appear to be followed in late summer by scarlet berries. Both leaves and berries make a delicious wintergreen tea.

The mystery of “survive but not flourish” was solved when I researched this plant in a wild flower book. Wintergreens do need an acidic soil as I thought, but not 6 — it wanted 4.5-5!

This is very acidic, think blueberries. So, I bought some pure sulfur and added it to the soil in the fall. This I now do every October according to my soil pH test, then mulch with pine needles. Amazing! My little plant that couldn’t now covers a square yard and blooms heavily.

The moral of this story: Never assume; always check your facts. Supply what your plants need and they will respond. If you covet blueberries, holly and azaleas, first test your soil!

Cornell has been hosting free pH clinics throughout the county from August until the end of September. Pick one of our remaining clinics to get your soil tested. Limit of two samples per resident.

Sept. 11, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., Belmont – Farmers Market (MGs Carol Sitarski, Brenda Starr)

Sept. 20, 10 a.m. – noon, Scio – Riverside Sales & Service (MG Susan Duke)

Sept. 27, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., Alfred – Tinkertown Hardware (MGs Mary Lu Wells, Mary Harris)