Known for its vibrant foliage and long bloom times, the Abelia genus consists of about 30 species of both deciduous and evergreen shrubs. There has been much discussion about the Abelia genus itself, since modern DNA testing has proved that some previously recognized members of the genus were substantially different. Various horticultural experts recognize different nomenclature structures, either reducing the size of the Abelia genus or reclassifying these species as members of the Linnea genus.
For shrubs commonly known as abelia, there are several common identifiers. These shrubs produce pointed, oval-shaped leaves that are often yellow or green with pink, orange, bronze, or burgundy details. Some are multi-colored or variegated and even change color as the seasons change. Their flowers are tubular and are often seen in white, pink, or yellow. Unlike many flowering plants, abelia shrubs have a long blooming season that extends from spring until fall.
|2-10 ft. tall, 2-8 ft. wide
|Loamy, Moist but well-drained
|Spring, Summer, Fall
|Pink, Yellow, White
Once established, abelia plants are extremely easy to care for and require very little maintenance. Still, they reward the gardener with an abundance of color and visual interest with their colorful foliage and long period of blooming activity. Their vibrant foliage often changes colors throughout the growing season and their long-lasting flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. These plants are rarely affected by pests and diseases, though powder mildew, anthracnose, and aphids may cause problems.
It is best to plant these shrubs in the early spring or early fall when temperatures are mild. Choose a spot with plenty of sunshine and rich, well-draining soil. Plant the abelia in a hole that is twice as wide as the root structure and allows the very top of the root system to be slightly above the ground.
Abelia can be grown in both full sun and partial shade. However, planting them in an area with full sun will encourage more vibrant foliage colors and a healthy bloom. Plants grown in areas with intense summer heat will benefit from some afternoon shade.
Although abelia plants thrive in fertile, well-draining, and moist soil, they are tolerant of different soil conditions. Amending the soil with compost before planting is recommended, as these plants do best in soil that is rich in organic matter. Soil pH levels should be slightly acidic for optimal growth.
These low-maintenance plants are drought tolerant once established. However, they do best when provided with regular watering. Especially during the hotter summer months, you should plan to water abelias once or twice a week to keep them vibrant and healthy. Allow the soil to begin drying before watering again. Watering deeply and infrequently is better for abelias than watering lightly and regularly.
Temperature and Humidity
Abelia plants can be grown in a wide range of climates, from USDA hardiness zones 4 to 11. The preferred growing zones depend on the specific needs of each variety.
Abelia shrubs benefit from soil that is rich in organic matter. Add compost yearly to provide needed nutrients and to support proper soil drainage. Additionally, providing the plant with a slow-release shrub fertilizer in the early spring will give abelias the boost they need for another year of growth.
Types of Abelia
- Glossy Abelia (Abelia × grandiflora): This popular variety can be grown in a wide range of regions, from cold to warm areas. Its shiny foliage boasts semi-evergreen foliage in the colder regions while providing lasting evergreen foliage in warm regions.
- ‘Kaleidoscope’ Abelia: This popular dwarf variety is famous for its vibrant foliage that changes color with the seasons. Its variegated foliage appears yellow in spring, then turns a bright orange-red in the fall. This is complemented by small white flowers when in bloom.
- ‘Rose Creek’ Abelia (Abelia x chinensis): This variety is known for its unique color combinations. It boasts glossy green leaves that turn bronze in the fall and flowers that change from pink to white. These interesting color changes are complemented by deep red branches.
Occasional pruning will help keep abelia shrubs looking clean and growing strong. It is best to prune in late winter or early spring to avoid pruning off new growth or flower buds. Remove any damaged or dead branches and prune the plant to your desired shape. Take no more than about one-third of the shrub. Certain varieties produce long, thin shoots from the trunk or branches that can be removed for a cleaner appearance. Other varieties bloom on old wood, making it best to prune after flowering.
Propagating abelia can be done through cuttings, both hardwood and softwood. Though hardwood cuttings are often hardier than softwood, they do not root as easily as softwood cuttings. Softwood cuttings are taken in the spring while hardwood cuttings are taken in the fall. Both are cared for in the same way. To grow either option, you will need sharp snips, a small pot, well-draining, rich soil, and rooting hormone. Then follow these steps:
- Using sharp snips, cut a small branch that is around 6 inches long. Cut below a node.
- Remove any lower leaves.
- Dip the cut end into root hormone, then gently plant it into well-draining, rich soil.
- Place the pot in a warm, sunny area. Keep the soil moist.
- Roots should form in around one to two months.
How to Grow Abelia From Seed
Abelia can also be grown from seeds, but it is important to know that collected seeds will produce plants that differ from the parent plant. Some varieties, such as the glossy abelia, are sterile and do not produce seeds at all. To get an identical copy of the parent plant, cuttings must be taken. If a plant with slightly different blooms, scent, or color doesn’t bother you, growing abelia plants from seeds is a rewarding process. You will need a sunny location, moist, rich soil, and small pots if you wish to start them indoors. To grow them indoors, follow these instructions:
- Fill small pots with rich, moist, and well-draining soil.
- Plant a few seeds in each pot, gently pressing them onto the soil.
- Place the pots in a sunny, warm location and keep the soil damp.
- Germination should occur in a few weeks.
- Once the seedlings are several inches tall, harden them off outdoors until they are ready to be planted in the garden.
To start abelia seeds outdoors, follow these instructions:
- Choose a sunny location in your garden. Scatter the seeds on rich, moist, and well-draining soil in the spring when the threat of frost is gone. It may be best to amend the soil with compost before planting, depending on your soil.
- Keep the soil moist, watering regularly.
- Germination should occur in a few weeks.
Potting and Repotting Abelia
Some abelias can grow to be quite tall while others stay compact. Small varieties, such as dwarf varieties, make perfect plants for container gardens. Be sure to choose a pot with proper drainage holes before planting an abelia. It is best to choose a pot that will allow the plant to comfortably grow for a few years before needing to be replanted. To do this, get a container that is around 8 inches or so larger than the root system. Then add plenty of compost-rich soil, keep it moist, and place the pot in a sunny location. If the plant outgrows its container, gently loosen the roots by tipping the plant on its side and tapping all around the container. Slide the root system out of the pot and plant it in a new pot that provides a few inches of extra space on all sides. Fill it with rich soil and water thoroughly.
When grown in their appropriate zones, abelias do not require extra care to survive the winter. However, container-grown plants in cold-weather climates may need extra protection from the elements and should be moved to a protected area, such as a greenhouse or indoors.
How to Get Abelia to Bloom
Abelia shrubs are known for their very long-lasting tubular flowers that appear in spring and last until fall. These small flowers are a couple of inches long and sport 4 or 5 petals each. They are seen in white, pink, or yellow, and attract pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbirds. They have a pleasant fragrance.
These shrubs generally bloom without a problem. You can encourage a healthy bloom by making sure the soil drains well and the plant receives plenty of sunshine. Be sure to prune lightly, as over-pruning can hinder flower production.
Common Problems With Abelia
Abelias are famous for their ease of care and generally problem-free gardening experience. Still, problems may occasionally appear when growing these low-maintenance plants.
Thick foliage and No Flowers
As stated above, abelias often bloom without much coaxing required. However, if you find that an abelia during bloom time has thick, healthy foliage and no blooms, the issue might relate to your choice of fertilizer. Fertilizer with too much nitrogen encourages foliage growth rather than flower production. Switch to a fertilizer with a higher ratio of phosphorus to nitrogen and potassium.
Yellowing Leaves and Sickly Appearance
This is a sign of too much water, often caused by soggy, ill-draining soil. Root rot may be the culprit. If you suspect there is root rot, gently dig up the plant and cut away any infected roots or branches. Amend the soil with well-draining material, such as sand and compost, and gently replant the abelia. Allow the soil to begin to dry out before watering again.
Are abelia shrubs evergreen?
This depends on the variety of shrub and the conditions it is grown in. Some Abelia species are evergreen while others are deciduous. Abelia shrubs grown in colder climates lose their leaves in the cooler winter months, while those grown in warm climates keep their foliage year-round.
How large do abelia shrubs grow?
Each variety has its own mature size. Sizes vary anywhere from 2 to 10 feet tall and 2 to 8 feet wide, providing a wide range of sizes to fit your unique landscape needs.
Should you prune abelia shrubs?
Abelia plants do not always need pruning but can benefit from yearly pruning in the late winter or early spring. This keeps the plant tidy and clean.
Johnson, O. (2021), ‘Abelia’ from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/abelia/).