Move over Edward Goucher, there is a new abelia in town. Actually there are several abelias that will absolutely take this from a ho-hum shrub to one that is dazzling in the landscape. All of a sudden you will find yourself looking at abelias for their colorful foliage, and flowers that will bring in both butterflies and hummingbirds.
Actually there is a lot to be said for Edward Goucher, who developed this hybrid for the USDA in 1911. This abelia named after him has stood the test of time for more than 100 years. Now, however, there’s a new generation with mesmerizing foliage like Lemon Zest, Kaleidoscope and Mardi Gras. Each one offers great garden attributes. They are recommended for plant hardiness zones 6-9 and will be everything from evergreen to deciduous, depending on your zone.
Lemon Zest, also seen in the trade as Hopley’s Lemon Zest, and Miss Lemon, is simply stunning. Today I watched honey bees hitting on the light pink flowers. Plants that bring in bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are already winners in my book, but these leaves have the ability to really put on a show.
The young leaves start off lemon yellow with a green center, and as they age the yellow gives way to a creamy white. So all growing season you have lemon, cream, green and pink flowers always showing out. Lemon Zest reaches about 3 feet high and 4 feet wide.
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As the name suggests, Kaleidoscope has glossy foliage that seems to be ever changing in shades of green, golden-yellow, red and orange. This would make it a winner even if it never bloomed. It is 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, and many experts consider these to be among the longest blooming in the market. The lightly fragrant, funnel-shaped flowers will prove to be a popular stop in the garden for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.
The colorful foliage and arching habit makes Kaleidoscope a thrilling partner with beautyberry. The bright purple berries intermingled with the golden-yellow variegated foliage is a real attention grabber at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah.
The other one we are growing that seems to always be worthy of a photo is Mardi Gras. It, too, has leaves that command your attention. They are a combination of cream and green variegation and flushed with rose pink in the fall. The flowers, like those of the other abelias, offer a delightful fragrance.
No matter which abelias you choose, consider planting an odd-numbered cluster 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.
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, then repeat the process and apply mulch.
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 the abelia is considered to have a dry to average moisture requirement, maintaining an even supply of water during prolonged dry spells makes for an incredibly showy plant.
In addition to Lemon Zest, Kaleidoscope and Mardi Gras, you may also want to consider Mardi Gras look for Sunrise. It has white flowers and green foliage with margins that are gold to creamy yellow. The Sunrise name comes into play because of the change in fall leaf color. The leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red. I hope you will give abelias a chance in your landscape. The bees, butterflies and hummingbirds will thank you.
(Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him at: @CGBGgardenguru.)
©2015 Norman Winter
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