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Abelias are among those old fashioned shrubs that the modern gardener simply can’t do without!

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Abelia 'Cardinal'Abelia 'Cardinal'Not only are they renowned for their beauty and good looks all year round, but also for their reliable performance in gardens around South Africa. These carefree shrubs are perfect for eco-conscious gardeners, as they suffer from no pests or diseases worth mentioning, or spraying for.  They will grow in sun or semi-shade, and being low maintenance, perfect for our rushed modern lifestyles too.  

 

While many of us delight in the cheery bursts of seasonal colour perennials and annuals add to a planting bed, all good gardeners know that a well-designed garden relies on evergreen shrubs to define its “bones” and give it structure. It is around this permanent structure that we build the rest of our gardens, so selecting the right shrub for the job is most important.

Abelia 'Sunrise'Abelia 'Sunrise'Abelia 'Sunrise'Abelias are among those old fashioned shrubs that modern gardeners simply can’t do without, because they are available in all sizes, from petite to large. There is an ideal one for your size garden - even if you only have a small balcony, it can boast a dwarf potted Abelia!

Smaller gardens need smaller shrubs, and it can be a challenge to find shrubs that remain small without the need for ruthless pruning. Plant breeders recognised this need and were delighted when they persuaded Abelia to produce more petite offspring. These new and exciting cultivars are genetic dwarfs and simply do not grow as large as their parents. This breakthrough led to a wonderful selection of these adorable babies, with the same graceful form as their parents, and a wonderful selection of leaf colours, including lemon, gold, cream or even pink variegations, not forgetting the profusion of tiny bell-shaped flowers Abelia is loved for.

Abelia is a large family of plants belonging to the beautiful honeysuckle family and there are both evergreen and deciduous species. They are native to eastern Asia, from Japan to the Himalayas, as well as Mexico; the species from warm climates are evergreen, and those from colder climates are deciduous.

Abelia 'Edward Goucher'Abelia 'Edward Goucher'Abelia 'Edward Goucher'The Glossy Abelia (Abelia X grandiflora) and its many garden hybrids are evergreen to semi-deciduous in South Africa. In the warmer regions they remain evergreen and in the colder regions they become semi-deciduous. Winter hardiness varies considerably amongst its hybrids, so visit your local garden centre to find those most suitable for your garden.

All have a densely bushy habit, with gracefully arching branches and small glossy leaves that taper to a fine point. The young summer foliage has bronze to golden tints that only intensify as the weather becomes cooler in autumn. Several bursts of blooms appear throughout summer and into autumn, smothering the shrubs in clusters of small white to pink, tubular flowers, and in some species the reddish sepals persist long after the flowers have faded, providing additional colour in late summer and autumn.

Abelia X grandiflora is commonly called the “Glossy Abelia”. This medium-sized shrub is fully hardy and can reach about 2 to 3m tall with a spread of about 1.5m to 2m. Its arching branches bear small glossy, dark green, leaves, often tinted with bronze. Clusters of slightly fragrant white flowers, flushed with pink, appear in flushes over a long period in summer. This Abelia became such a stalwart in English gardens that The Royal Horticultural Society gave it its Award of Garden Merit.

Abelia X grandiflora 'Edward Goucher' is a compact shrub which grows about 1.5 to 2.5m with an equal spread. It has lilac-pink flowers and the new summer growth is a lovely bronze, turning bright green. In colder regions the leaves turn a burnished bronze in autumn. Although it is hardy to moderate frost, it is not as hardy as the glossy abelia, and in extremely cold regions it will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora 'Francis Mason' is also known as the “Golden Abelia” because the leaves are a beautiful golden colour and centrally blotched with bright green. Its white flowers are flushed with pink, and this compact shrub grows about 1.5 to 2m tall with a slightly wider spread, and is excellent in containers. The leaf colour is more intense in sun than in semi-shade, and in cold winter regions the leaves become beautifully tinged with bronze. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Cardinal’ var Confetti has tiny pure white flowers and dark mint-green leaves with narrow white margins. The new growth is a pretty pinkish-brown. It grows about 1 to +-1.5m tall with an equal spread and is excellent in containers. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora 'Sunrise' is one of the best variegated forms with its compact vase-shape and distinctly red new stems. The glossy, dark green leaves are edged in yellow, and the new growth is pinkish-brown. In cold weather, the foliage develops attractive bronzy hues. This extremely compact abelia grows about 1.2 to 1.5m tall with a wider spread of approximately 1.5 to 1.8m. It is excellent for container growth. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope' is a very petite hybrid which only gown about 70cm tall with a 90cm spread. This delightful shrub has ever-changing foliage; the fresh spring growth is bright yellow around the edges with light green in the centre of the leaves. In summer the bright yellow changes to a golden yellow and the centres turn deep green. In autumn, the leaves turn yellow and orange and by winter they are mostly fiery red. ‘Kaleidoscope' is the perfect feature plant for smaller gardens and grows beautifully in containers. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelia x grandiflora 'Dwarf Gnome' var. Dwarf Queen is a very compact abelia which only grows about 50 to 80cm tall, with an equal spread, making it perfect for tiny gardens and containers. Its leaves are bright green, contrasting beautifully with the pure white flowers. This abelia will take moderate frosts but in very cold regions will need winter protection.

Abelias are virtually maintenance free garden plants that are easy-to-grow. They remain attractive throughout the year and flower abundantly, making them great candidates for the mixed shrub border and containers. Because their roots are not invasive, they are often used to hide exposed foundations of buildings. An added bonus is that they are fire resistant and can be planted on the borders of large properties or country estates that are prone to veld fires.

Because they all respond well to pruning, abelias make excellent formal hedging plants; and un-pruned, they make wonderful informal screening plants to block off unsightly areas like a compost heap or refuse collection area.

Although the glossy abelia (Abelia X grandiflora) is hardy to cold and frost, hardiness varies considerably amongst its hybrids, and most are not suitable for regions which experience severe winters. In colder regions they need a warm, protected spot in the garden, away from freezing cold winds. If the roots are thickly mulched in winter and the plant is cut right down to the ground by the frost, it will most likely shoot again in spring.

Abelia 'Francis Mason'Abelia 'Francis Mason'Abelia 'Francis Mason'Abelias thrive in full sun, but will take some shade. In extremely hot regions they will appreciate a bit of shade in summer from the fierce midday sun. They tolerate sea air and windy conditions, and are moderately drought hardy once established, but for best results water regularly during long, dry spells.

Although abelias will adapt to almost any garden soils such as clay, clay loam, loam and sandy loam soils, as long as they drain well, they prefer to grow in soils with medium fertility. Adding compost to sandy soils will give the young plants a good start. The plants are sensitive to chlorosis (yellow) leaves in alkaline soils. Fertilise yearly in spring with a balanced organic fertiliser and mulch the roots with compost, to save on watering.

If left un-pruned, the shrubs will take on a graceful shape of their own, often spreading as wide as they grow tall, or even wider. The only pruning required would be to cut out very old branches completely at ground level - taking entire branches out at ground level will ensure that their beautiful shape is retained. The plants respond well to pruning and can be pruned at any time.

Propagation:

Plants are easily propagated from softwood semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings taken in spring, summer, or autumn. The plants will also root easily if layered.

Pests & Diseases:

Abelias are virtually disease and pest-free if grown correctly but are occasionally susceptible to fungal infections; anthracnose, leaf spots, powdery mildew, and fungal root rots may occur.

Toxicity: Abelias are not known to be poisonous to humans or pets.

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