In the garden there is always a need for gently rounded or arching shrubs, of medium height, to fill spaces, and bring color and interest to our beds. Abelia Plants may not be ‘knock-your-socks-off’ stunning plants, but they certainly are beautiful and reliable shrubs that help you create an interesting and varied garden landscape. They are tough and drought tolerant too, making them easy to grow in many areas and types of gardens. Their fragrant blooms are usually white, or sometimes lilac or red, and their small, glossy leaves always look attractive. Some have leaves variegated in various colors, adding lots of interest outside the summer blooming season, and many, especially in warmer areas, can be relied on to have some blooms at almost any time of the year.
Abelia Plants are evergreen or partially deciduous shrubs, with slender branches that form a mounding or arching plant. Most grow between 4 and 6 feet tall, and they can easily be kept smaller by pruning. The leaves are about 1½ inches long, oval, and deep green with a glossy surface, giving them a lovely sparkling look. Some forms have yellow or white leaf margins, or multi-colored leaves. Some have rich red leaves in spring, and almost all of them have purplish to bronze leaves in fall, that remain all through winter in warmer zones.
The flowers are carried in clusters at the ends of the stems, either at the very end, or along the upper part of the branch. The flowers are bell-shaped or tubular with lips, and they are typically about ¾ of an inch long. They are usually white, sometimes with pink or red outer petals (sepals). Flowers are in clusters, and they open continuously within each cluster, giving a very long flowering season. Flowering usually begins in mid-summer and extends into fall.
Abelia Plants are great ‘work-horses’, and very attractive ones too. Wherever you need a medium-sized shrub with an airy look and small leaves – think ‘Abelia’. If you need shrubs for a hot, dry place, or a dry area in partial shade – think ‘Abelia’. If you want a medium-sized informal screen along a boundary, or to hide an unsightly fence or wall – think ‘Abelia’. These shrubs grow well in most locations in the garden, so there is always a place you can grow one – for its beauty and versatility.
Use a single plant in a smaller garden to fill a corner or continue a bed. Use them in the foundation planting around your home. In larger gardens they can be mass planted to turn large, empty areas into undulating patches of glossy leaves and lovely blooms. Most of them are exactly the right size to go between low growing plants and those big shrubs and small trees that give height to our gardens. They are indispensable for rounding out your planting plans and making your garden look diverse, rich and varied. These plants are fragrant, so beneath a window or beside a sitting area you can enjoy that too. Butterflies, hummingbirds and bees are attracted to the blooms, adding more interest and helping to support your local wildlife populations.
Their long blooming season and moderate size also makes many Abelia Plants great for planter boxes and large containers. Their drought resistance means you won’t be always having to rush and save them with water – they will wait for you. You can plant them at the base of trees in large boxes, to make the lower part of your planting more attractive, and you can even cut them back to the ground and they will re-bloom, on a smaller, more compact plant ideal for planters.
Because they are so tough, we tend to see Abelia Plants over-used by commercial landscapers, to fill very difficult spots. They survive, but don’t judge them on how they look in such difficult locations – they will be much more beautiful and flowery in any reasonable garden.
Most Abelia Plants grow best in the warmer zones between 6 and 9, but many will also grow in zone 5. Since they bloom on new shoots, even if branches are killed back by cold, they will re-sprout from the base, flowering well, but of course on a smaller shrub a foot or two tall.
They grow best in full sun or in partial shade. In cooler zones full sun will give the best blooming, but partial shade is perfect in hot and dry areas. They will grow in most well-drained soils, although soils with a lot of lime in them can reduce growth. Once established these plants are very drought resistant, so they are easy to grow and great for low-maintenance gardening.
Abelia Plants have no serious pests or diseases, and deer usually leave them alone. The only care needed is some spring pruning. Remove any very old branches low down, and trim back long shoots, to keep your plants more compact. Since blooms are carried at the end of the stems, don’t trim or shear them – you see lots of plants lacking blooms because the grower has been keeping them ‘neat’ with a regular haircut – avoid this mistake.
Abelia plants are unusual in coming from two widely separated parts of the world. One group comes from Asia, stretching from the Himalaya mountain ranges to Japan. A second group comes from Mexico, all the way across the Pacific. These plants are relatives of the Honeysuckle, which explains their fragrance, and they are therefore in the plant family called Caprifoliaceae. It may be that botanists have been fooled, and evidence is growing that they don’t all belong together in the same group at all. Recently, following genetic analysis, they have indeed been broken into other groups, and you may see them placed in the genus Linnaea and Zabelia. Don’t worry though, gardeners and plant nurseries are in no hurry to give up such a familiar name to satisfy the botanists.
Abelia chinensis – Chinese Abelia was the original ‘Abelia’, discovered in 1816 by the doctor and naturalist Charles Abel in China, whose name was given to these plants. Although it is a good garden plant, flowering well, it does have an untidy growth habit, and it has been largely displaced by its hybrids.
This plant is a hybrid between Abelia x grandiflora and another Chinese species, Abelia parvifolia (= A. schumannii). It was created in 1911 at the Glenn Dale Plant Introduction Station, in Maryland, by a scientist called Edward Goucher. It is unique in having lilac-pink flowers rather than white ones, and it grows 3 to 5 feet tall, depending on your growing zone.
This is a very different plant, with longer, trumpet-shaped flowers colored cerise or cherry-red It is a larger shrub, reaching 8 to 10 feet tall, and 10 to 12 feet across. Just as tough as the others, it makes a great color splash, but it is only hardy in zones 8 and 9.
This plant is a hybrid between Abelia chinensis and Abelia uniflora. Both species come from China, and the second one is evergreen, a characteristic also found in this vigorous hybrid. Like many hybrid plants it is hardier and healthier than either parent, which is why it provides us with most of the best and most widely-grown varieties of Abelia found in gardens. This hybrid was first noted in 1886, and it had been grown from seed at the Rovelli Nurseries, in the Italian town of Pallanza, on Lago di Maggiore. This cross probably happened several times, and it has given us several different but related plants. As well, in more recent times, newer varieties have been created.
‘Lake Maggiore’ – This is the original plant, often sold without a variety name. It grows up to 6 feet tall, with slender, arching branches and large, glossy leaves up to 2½ inches long. It blooms continuously from July to October, or even longer in warm areas.
‘Kaleidoscope’ – This patented variety (PP #16,988) grows only 3 feet tall, but it’s a vibrant and colorful bush. It has pink leaves in early spring, and then the leaves are green with a broad, irregular margin of golden yellow. In fall they turn vibrant red and orange. It originated as a unique branch on a plant of a variety of the Glossy Abelia.
‘Mardi Gras‘ – This great new variety was discovered in 2000 by Rick Crowder at his nursery in North Carolina. He patented it 2004 (PP #15,203). It was a unique branch growing on a plant of the Glossy Abelia. In spring the new leaves are pink, and they turn green and white by summer. Then in fall they become the color of beaten copper. The flowers are pale pink, and this plant is perfect for small spaces, as it only grows 2 or 3 feet tall, but spread out up to 4 feet across.
‘Canyon Creek’ – This variety has variable foliage all year, from bronze in spring to dark green, and then to bronzy-pink in fall. The white flowers have a hint of pink to them, and it grows 4 to 6 feet tall’
This Abelia, with pinkish-white flowers and growing to about 6 feet tall, is a great choice in cold areas, since it survives down to minus 4 degrees, making zone 6 easy work for this plant. It flowers earlier than most, in late spring. The leaves turn bright orange-red in fall
Which such a range of sizes, leaf colors and flowers to choose from, there is an Abelia for every garden, from zone 6 on. Easy to grow, drought resistant and tough, it is no wonder they are popular. You can add so much interest to your garden by growing some of these great plants, so why wait?