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On Gardening: Abelias have moved to the must have plant category

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

Never did I think I would see the day that abelias were making my list of must-have plants. I wrote about some of the new abelias in the spring of 2014, and now four years later, they are real performers. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we got Kaleidoscope, and Miss Lemon for evaluating and trial purposes from the Southern Living Plant Collection.

These two abelias have been nothing but stunning, and now, I am plant lusting, if you will, over Confetti. This abelia also part of the collection is compact yet vigorous with shades of hot pink, creamy white, and green. It is unbelievably cold hardy to minus 20 and is recommended from zones 5-9.

Sadly, many people have never heard of an abelia and others, perhaps Edward Goucher that was pretty doggone good. But these new varieties with glossy variegated foliage would thrill even if they never bloom.

Kaleidoscope for instance which is cold hardy to zone 6 produce foliage that is glossy and variegated seemingly to be ever changing in shades of green golden-yellow, red and orange giving it year-round interest. It reaches 36-inches tall with a 4-foot spread and is environmentally friendly due to its pest-free nature.

They do bloom however almost non-stop. Most of you who read my columns know I place great importance on whether blooms bring in the pollinators. I am happy to say that these abelias which may be the longest bloomers in the market produce lightly fragrant, funnel-shaped flowers that have proven to bring in swallowtail butterfly species, honeybees, and hummingbirds.

The colorful foliage and arching habit makes the abelia a nice contrasting combination plant among evergreens. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, ours were near Soft Caress mahonia and spreading yew, while others are planted ever so picturesque in front of Canary Island date palms and Chinese snowball viburnums.

Whichever abelias you choose, consider planting in odd-numbered clusters in full to part sun. Prepare the bed by incorporating 3- to-4 inches of organic matter and 2 pounds of a 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply.

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Dig the planting hole two to three 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. The wide holes allow for the quickest acclimation to your bed.

After your plants are established, there is not much required. Feed in late winter with a light application of a slow released 12-6-6 fertilizer equaling about 1 pound per 100 square feet of planted area. Even though it is considered to have a dry to average moisture requirement, maintaining an even supply of water during prolonged dry spells pays dividends as it makes for an incredible showy plant.

Kaleidoscope, Confetti, and Miss Lemon are among the showiest selections you will find at the garden center. Keep your eyes open however for Radiance which is brand new to the Southern Living Plant Collection group. It too is compact and vigorous and produces variegated foliage with crimson stems. You'll find the leaves beginning green with creamy margins aging to silver green and cream for a dramatic contrast. Believe me when I say you need abelias.

(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(c)2018 Norman Winter

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