Analyzing the Abundance of Abelias
Sep 20, 2016 02:49PM ● Published by Melanie Heisinger
A Glossy Picture
By Steve Huddleston
Glossy abelia has been used as a landscape shrub for decades. It’s the large, evergreen, summer-blooming shrub most people think of when they hear “abelia.” However, this wonderful shrub has an abundance of cultivars that, because of their smaller size, can fit into a variety of landscape situations.
A member of the Caprifoliaceae, or honeysuckle, family, glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) is a hybrid between two Chinese species, Abelia chinensis and Abelia uniflora. This hybrid was first raised at a nursery in Italy in 1886 and has since become a popular and useful landscape shrub in USDA hardiness zones 6-9. Glossy abelia forms a dense, rounded, multi-stemmed shrub with branches that arch gracefully downward and grows 6-10 feet tall with a spread of 6 feet. Young stems are a beautiful reddish-brown and hollow except at the nodes. Old stems flaunt stripes of light tan and reddish-brown bark that exfoliates in papery strips.
Leaves of glossy abelia are 1 inch long, ovate in shape, pointed at the tip and evergreen to semi-evergreen, depending on zone and severity of the winter. Smaller cultivars produce slightly smaller leaves and therefore exhibit a finer texture. Leaves of glossy abelia emerge reddish-green and turn a glossy, dark green at maturity. In cold weather, the foliage turns purplish-bronze.
The slightly fragrant flowers are white often tinged with pink, funnel-shaped, and ¾ to1 inch long. Flowers appear in clusters at the ends of branches, bloom on new wood late spring to frost, and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. After the petals fall, clusters of pinkish-tan sepals remain on the plant for the rest of the season, persisting even into winter. These sepals resemble miniature dried flowers and add even more color, texture and interest to the shrub.
Many cultivars of Abelia x grandiflora now exist. In fact, there’s a size and color for just about every landscape application. ‘Bronze Anniversary’ grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide and sports bronze-orange new foliage that matures to a golden-lime color. ‘Canyon Creek’ forms a spreading, rounded shrub 3-feet tall and 4-feet wide. The foliage emerges coppery-yellow and matures to green. Fall color is bronze with rose highlights. Flowers are pinkish-white. ‘Confetti’ grows 2-feet tall with leaves edged in white during the summer; in winter, the white margins take on a pinkish cast. This cultivar may not survive in zones colder than 7. ‘Edward Goucher’ was introduced in 1911 and sports lavender-pink flowers on a shrub that reaches 4 to 5-feet tall and blooms prolifically. ‘Francis Mason’ grows 4 feet tall and produces yellow-green leaves with a more intense yellow margin. Flowers are light pink. ‘Golden Anniversary’ grows 2 to 3-feet tall and wide and produces bright green leaves variegated with creamy-yellow to golden-yellow margins. ’Kaleidoscope’ grows 2 to 2 ½-feet tall by 3-feet wide and features bright, golden-yellow variegation on medium green leaves along with brilliant red stems, thus creating a striking kaleidoscope of color in the landscape. In the winter, the foliage takes on a copper or orange color but returns to the yellow and green pattern in summer. ‘Mardi Gras’ grows 3 feet tall by 3 to 4-feet wide and produces green leaves edged in white with pink coloring on young leaves. The flowers are pinkish-white. ‘Rose Creek’ is an elegant, summer-flowering shrub that forms a dense, compact mound 2 to 3-feet tall and 3 to 4-feet wide. Its leaves turn purple in cold weather, and the tubular, white flowers are ½-inch long. ‘Sherwoodii’ assumes a mounded shape, grows 3 to 4-feet tall, and spreads about 5-feet wide, making it very useful as a foundation planting. The flowers and leaves are noticeably smaller than those of glossy abelia. ‘Twist of Lime’ forms a rounded, spreading, multi-stemmed shrub 3 to 4-feet tall and wide. Its young leaves emerge with bright yellow margins and green centers. As the leaves mature, the margins turn ivory and the center remains green. This cultivar blooms heavily spring to fall and produces white flowers tinged with pink.
Abelias prefer full sun to partial shade. In too much shade, they become leggy and produce fewer flowers. Abelias tolerate a wide range of soil conditions but need good drainage and some moisture to look their best. Abelias also prefer soils that are acidic to neutral in pH since soils high in pH will cause chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves due to lack of iron). Once established, abelias demonstrate moderate drought tolerance, but they certainly respond well to supplemental irrigation and fertilization. They have no serious disease or insect problems. Since abelias bloom on new growth, they can be severely pruned in late winter/early spring. They may also require occasional thinning during the growing season to stay in bounds. Do this by simply removing several of the longest stems at the ground level, thus keeping the natural shape of the shrub.
Glossy abelia, because of its greater height, makes an excellent screen or hedge. The lower-growing cultivars function well as a single specimen or in a mass planting to form a shrub border or foundation planting. In the mixed border, abelia combines well with other shrubs, ornamental grasses, perennials and annuals. Cultivars such as ‘Edward Goucher’ and ‘Sherwoodii’ perform well on a slope for erosion control or cascading over the edges of terraced beds. The smaller abelia cultivars make nice container plants for patios and courtyards. Any kind of abelia functions well in a butterfly and/or hummingbird garden.
The abundance of abelia cultivars that come in smaller sizes than the old-fashioned glossy abelia makes this shrub even more useful in today’s smaller yards. In addition to assuming compact shapes, many of the cultivars sport striking variegated foliage that enlivens the landscape with colorful drama throughout the year. Try one or more of these dazzling cultivars and enjoy their year-round interest in your landscape!
Steve Huddleston is the senior horticulturist at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, president of his own landscaping company, and co-author of Easy Gardens for North Central Texas.