Abelia Plant Growth

by Melody Lee

Abelias (Abelia x grandiflora), also known as glossy abelias, are large, fast-growing shrubs. They have long, arching stems and may need to be pruned twice a year in warmer climates. They are often grown in groups or used in hedges and foundation plantings. Larger cultivars make good specimen plants, while shorter cultivars may work as ground cover plants. Abelias grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9.

1. Growth Habit

Many sprawling to semi-erect stems grow from the base of an abelia and the small leaves form a dense canopy. An abelia can become leggy, with long stems and few leaves, as it matures. Although an abelia grows 3 to 6 feet wide and 3 to 8 feet tall in higher USDA zones, it loses its leaves or dies back in the winter in USDA zone 5. It doesn't grow as tall in those cooler climates.

2. Leaf Retention

In USDA zones 5, abelias typically die back to the ground in winter and quickly regrow from the roots in spring. In USDA zones 6 and 7, the leaves turn purple or red, and may drop off the plant, depending on the severity and duration of low temperatures. In USDA zones 8 and 9, abelias are evergreen and do not lose their leaves.

3. Pruning

Do heavy pruning of abelias in later winter or early spring, before new growth begins. Rejuvenation pruning, also called renewal pruning, involves removing the oldest branches, near the ground. The younger branches can be left long for a larger plant, or they can be cut shorter for a smaller plant. If the shrub has become leggy, you can cut all of the branches back to the ground or to any height you desire. Many new branches will grow from the base or the remaining branches, resulting in more foliage and a denser plant. If winter damage appears on an abelia after the new growth begins, remove all dead limbs or branches. If an abelia dies back to the ground, cut all of the branches off at the base of the plant and it will rapidly produce new growth. Do corrective pruning at any time of the year. Remove diseased or damaged branches, as well as ones that are too long that affect the appearance of the plant.

4. Cultivars

The most common variety of abelia, “Edward Goucher” (Abelia x grandiflora “Edward Goucher”), is less hardy than the species and is not recommended for USDA zones 5 and 6. It grows 3 to 5 feet wide and 5 feet tall and has bronze foliage in fall. “Sherwoodii” abelia (Abelia x grandiflora “Sherwoodii”) grows 4 feet wide and tall in a dense, compact mound. It has smaller leaves than the species and turns purplish in winter. “Little Richard” abelia (Abelia x grandiflora “Little Richard”) has bright red new growth and retains its leaves better during the winter than most abelias. It has dense growth and grows 3 feet wide and tall.