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Glossy Abelia Deserves Appreciation, Attention
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Very few people know anything about abelia, but it has some outstanding qualities worthy of consideration in Mississippi landscapes.
Consider this, they bloom for months with clusters of flowers, the foliage is attractive and they have no pests. This should put this delightful shrub at the top of the list for those desiring a low maintenance garden.
Most people have never heard of an abelia, but it is related to viburnums, honeysuckle and weigela. The abelia has a graceful arching habit suited for the shrub border and planted in mass. The glossy reddish foliage is attractive, and the plant is among the most pest-free shrubs for sale. Taller varieties are well suited to use as a screen for privacy.
The relationship to honeysuckle is meaningful to those who like gardens for hummingbirds and butterflies. They are a preferred nectar source to swallowtail butterflies and hummingbirds. The foliage and arching habit both make the abelia a nice combination plant with ornamental grasses like the purple fountain.
Plant abelia in full sun for best blooming. Prepare the bed for abelias by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and 2 pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply. Dig the planting hole three to five times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. Place the abelia in the hole and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch.
Even though some may consider abelias among the top plants in durability, they will still need managing while they establish. We want those roots to go from the rootball to the adjacent soil and become at home in your landscape. This takes water and all shrubs will need this during the first year. This is also one of the reasons we horticultural types promote fall planting so much. Fall is the time when top growth has ceased but roots really take off.
After your plants are established, there is not much required. Feed in late winter with a light application of a balanced fertilizer (8-8-8) per plant equaling 1 pound per 100 square feet of planted area. Your happiness with the abelia may well depend on pruning. In late winter, prune one-third of the old canes at the base of the plant. The arching habit is welcome in the landscape. Maintain an even supply of moisture during prolonged dry spells.
Edward Goucher, a hybrid with lilac flowers from June until September, is one of the most popular varieties in Mississippi. The glossy green foliage turns a shiny bronze in the fall. It is the result of a cross of A. grandiflora and A. schumannii by Edward Goucher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1911.
Other abelia grandifloras to try include Francis Mason with variegated foliage and pink flowers; and Prostrata, a fragrant, white-flowered, 3-foot tall spreading type. This year a new one called Sunrise made its debut. It has white flowers and green foliage with margins that are gold to creamy yellow. The Sunrise name comes into play by the change in fall leaf color. The leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red.
If you plant some, you will probably start to ask yourself the question, why did I wait so long?