Abelias: The A to B’s

Abelias are invariably the very first plant listed in most plant books and nursery catalogues. The genus includes some 30 species of evergreen and deciduous shrubs from Mexico and Asia, and numerous garden hybrids and variegated foliaged sports or mutations are cultivated.

Cultivation of Abelias

These easy-to-grow shrubs enjoy full sun but can cope with dappled shade provided they get sufficient water. Because they can tolerate the cold and are evergreen to semi-evergreen, they are ideal plants for the cold climate areas that cover much of the hinterland. They’re the mainstay of many a winter garden in these regions when their colourful foliage shines while so many other plants are drab and deciduous. The small, funnel- or tubular-shaped blooms are produced during summer and autumn. In most species the calyx remains on the plant after the rest of the flower has fallen, adding further attraction to the shrubs.

Garden uses are wide and variable, from formal, low box hedges to boundary screens. Abelias perform admirably in mixed shrubberies, contrasting markedly with many other foliage plants. They can also be trained as topiary standards or used to cover metal shapes or frames. This group of plants can always be relied upon to perform in the garden, contributing much and yet demanding very little care and attention.

Did you know?

Close relatives of Abelias include well-known shrubs like kolkwitzia (beauty bush), sambucus (elderberry), viburnum (snowball) and weigela, to name but a few.

When do Abelias bloom?

Abelias flower from the start of summer until rather late in autumn. The shrubs can be trimmed back in late winter or spring to encourage new, bushy growth.

Most suitable climate for Abelias

Abelias are hardened against cold and frost, and the colours of those with variegated leaves deepen even more during winter. They are relatively wind resistant and will flourish in coastal gardens if they are planted in a slightly sheltered area.

What they need

  • Most Abelias will grow and bloom in full sun and light shade. Full sun is best for bringing out the colours of the latest variegated hybrids, although morning sun and afternoon shade is fine and they will grow successfully in small city gardens with changing sun and shade patterns.
  • All soil types are good, provided the planting holes are enriched with compost and the soil drains well.
  • Water regularly. Although Abelias don’t like long periods of drought, they aren’t really water guzzlers. Water new plants every day until established and then reduce the frequency. The soil can be allowed to dry out between watering without the plants suffering damage.
  • A handful of ordinary garden fertilizer per shrub, once a year in spring, is more than enough to keep them happy.

In a nutshell

  • Easy to propagate, not too fussy about soil type.
  • Attractive to bees and butterflies; unlikely to succumb to diseases and pests.
  • Dramatic winter foliage.
  • Suitable for pots in sunny gardens and on balconies.
  • Medium water user.
  • Softly scented flowers throughout summer into autumn.
  • All varieties are suitable as low and medium hedge plants – either formally trimmed or left natural.

Abelia ‘Lemon & Lime’

Abelia hedges have been cultivated for centuries, and are tough and enduring cold hardy plants that grow in most parts of South Africa. ‘Lemon and Lime’ is a new addition to the range of Abelias with coloured leaves. Plants are dense and compact, clothed in lemon-yellow leaves during autumn and winter.

Spring and summer see the foliage turning lime green as temperatures and day lengths increase. This versatile plant is set to eclipse some of the more commonly used golden-foliaged hedging plants due to superior performance and its cold tolerance. It’s good for hedges and borders, massed as a clipped ground cover or simply as a specimen shrub.

Cultivar listing

Abelia Schumannii is similar to the abovementioned though easily distinguished by its dull, pale green leaves. Growth also differs somewhat, and is more open and wider spreading in shape. Flowers are small, pink and slightly fragrant.

Abelia Schumannii ‘Lutea’ is exactly the same as the green-leafed form in every aspect except for the bright golden yellow leaves. The colouration intensifies in winter and the leaves contrast against the reddish stems. Grow as a single shrub specimen or plant en masse as a groundcover.

Abelia x Grandiflora ‘Dwarf Gnome’ is a garden selection of the glossy abelia with a more compact growth habit and dense foliage. This makes it ideal for low boxed hedging and other topiary specimens. Flowers are white but are often absent due to persistent clipping.

Abelia x Grandiflora ‘Sunshine Daydream’ has just arrived on the local garden scene, adding to the range of variegated abelias already available. The compact foliage is green with yellow margins and the fragrant flowers are pale pink, darkening with age. It is a useful contrast shrub for mass planting, especially growing next to plants with dark purple or plum-coloured foliage.

Abelia x ‘Marshmallow Bells’ is grown for its extra-large tubular blooms that are in a league of their own from a size perspective. The pale pink blooms have darker throats and adorn the evergreen shrubs from summer to autumn.  This is a new introduction for local gardeners.

Other Abelias

Abelia x grandiflora
Abelia ‘Edward Goucher’
Abelia x grandiflora ‘Cardinal’
Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’
Abelia x grandiflora ‘Francis Mason’ 

The Gardener