How To Plant, Prune, Fertilize, Water, Grow And Care For Abelia Shrubs
How To Plant & Care For Abelia Shrubs

When planted right and in the right spot Abelia shrubs are exceptionally easy to grow and care for. 

Abelia shrubs are used so extensively in landscape design for good reason: they come in a wide array of foliage colors, they produce fragrant flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds all summer and into fall, and they have so many uses in landscapes and gardens.

Abelia shrubs are ideal for use as accents or in a straight or staggered pattern in home foundation plantings, in groupings or massed in landscape borders or on slopes, as low to mid-size natural or formal hedges depending on the variety, and in containers or pots. If you're looking to create a theme garden, Abelia shrubs are perfect for use in butterfly or hummingbird gardens, in color themed gardens, or as clipped or sheared hedges in formal gardens.

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know to plant and care for Abelia shrubs like the pros...

Cultural Preferences

Soil Preferences

Abelias aren't too picky about soil type but a well-drained soil is essential. As with so many other types of ornamental plants, constantly soggy or wet soil can cause root rot and other harmful plant diseases. So make sure to plant them in a well-drained site!

How To Test Soil Drainage  
If you are uncertain about soil drainage in the area you intend to plant, it's well worth taking the time to test the drainage before planting. To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12" wide by 12" deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions. A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a caution you need to improve drainage, plant in a raised mound or bed, or look for plants that are more tolerant of wet or boggy conditions.

Soil pH

Abelia grow best in an acid to slightly alkaline soil ranging between 5.0 to 7.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. 

How To Test Soil pH  
Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, and whether or not it's suitable for growing Abelia, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area.

You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

Light Preferences

Abelia grow well in full sun to part shade. A minimum of 6 hours direct sunlight is recommended for best foliage density and foliage color.

How To Plant Abelia In The Ground

Scroll down for container planting instructions and care tips

Step 1
Start by digging your planting hole at least two to three times as wide and as deep as the height of the rootball of your Abelia plant. The wider the hole the better. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp.

Step 2
Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the soil in the planting area you might need to mix in a soil amendment to the native soil removed from the planting hole. When planting Abelia in dense clay or poor quality soils it is beneficial to thoroughly mix in some good organic matter such as sand, bagged top soil, and/or a good planting mix at a 25-50% ratio with the soil removed from the planting hole. When planting in very sandy or quick-draining soil mixing in some top soil, peat moss and/or compost will help to retain moisture in the soil. When planting in average, well-drained moist soil there is no need for adding a soil amendment.

Step 3
To remove your Abelia from the container it was growing in, it's best to cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball.

Step 4
Set your Abelia shrub in the planting hole so that the top edge of the root ball is at or just slightly above ground level to allow for settling. If necessary, add some backfill soil mixture to the bottom of the hole to achieve proper planting height. 

Note: If the soil in the planting area is poorly drained (constantly soggy or wet) improve drainage or select a different plant species tolerant of wet soils. 
Step 5
After setting your Abelia in the planting hole, use one hand to hold the plant straight and your other hand to begin back-filling your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue back-filling to the top edge of the root ball. To avoid suffocating your plant, avoid placing any soil on top of the root ball.

Step 6 (Optional)
When planting your Abelia in a site far away from a water source and in well drained soil, you can use remaining soil mixture to build a 2 to 3 inch high water retaining berm (catch basin / doughnut) around the outside perimeter of the planting hole. This basin will help to collect water from rainfall and irrigation which can help reduce the need for hand-watering. The berm can be removed after a growing season or two.

Step 7
Next, deeply water the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, you can water your newly planted Abelia with a solution of Root Stimulator, which stimulates early root formation and stronger root development, thereby reducing plant shock and promoting greener, more vigorous plants.

Step 8
To conserve moisture and suppress weed growth, apply a 1 to 2" layer of shredded or chipped wood mulch or pine straw around the planting area. Avoid using freshly chipped wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your plant as this could cause the bark to rot.

How To Plant An Abelia In A Container

Abelia growing in pots appreciate a moist, but well-drained soil. Constantly soggy soil can and often will cause root rot or other harmful or deadly plant diseases. Therefore, I suggest a well-drained container with a drainage hole(s), and a quality potting soil or potting mix, or a 50/50 combination thereof, for planting. Optionally, you can add 10 to 20% pumice or Perlite to the soil mixture to help with drainage.

Choose a container that is large enough to allow for 2 to 3 years of growth before shifting up to a larger size container. This might mean your planting pot would be 8 inches or more in diameter (width) than the root ball of your plant. 

Container color will matter as well. Not only will you want to pick a color of container that goes well with the foliage colors of your Abelia, you'll also want to pick a container that matches the style of your home or other structures and other plants in the surrounding environment. 

Many nursery & garden centers offer a wide variety of containers to choose from. Before heading out to buy a container take pictures of your home and the surrounding environment. Doing so will help you to choose just the right color and style.

Container Planting Instructions

Step 1
Before filling your container with the soil mix, I recommend lining the bottom with shade cloth or a porous landscape fabric. This will keep the drain holes from becoming clogged with roots and soil. If you place gravel or other materials in the bottom of your container lay the fabric over it.

Step 2
To remove your Abelia from the container it was growing in, it's best to cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball.

Step 3
Pour a small amount of your soil mixture in the bottom of the container. Set your plant in the container and make necessary adjustments by adding or removing some soil so that the top edge of the root ball will sit approximately 1" below the rim of the container.
Step 4
Backfill with your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go, until the level of potting soil is even with the top edge of root ball.

Step 5
Water thoroughly until water starts to drain from the holes in the bottom of the container. Add more soil mixture if settling occurs during watering.

Step 6 (Optional)
Apply a 1/2" layer of wood chips or sphagnum moss to soil surface to help conserve moisture. Stone mulch can also be used.

How To Care For new Jersey Tea Plant

Abelia shrubs are very easy to care for and maintain. Below are some helpful care tips that will have you growing them like the pros.

How To Fertilize Abelia

Abelia are light feeders however benefit from fertilization. I suggest feeding Abelia in late winter or early spring with a slow-release shrub & tree type fertilizer or a natural, organic plant food. Before applying fertilizer, always carefully read and follow instructions on the product label.

How To Water Abelia

At Planting Time
Immediately after planting deep soak the soil in the planting area to a depth equal to the height of the plants root ball. For an extra boost, to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development you can also water you newly planted Abelia with a solution of Root Stimulator, which reduces transplant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants. When planted during the winter dormant season plants will require less water. So, be extra careful not to overwater during winter!

During the First Growing Season
In average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted Abelia every day. More often than not, this causes soggy soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently, and allowing the soil to dry out somewhat before watering again, is much better than splashing just a little water on the plants every day.

When established Abelia are very drought tolerant plants. Only during prolonged periods of summer drought will plants require supplemental irrigation. If you see leaves wilting or falling from the plant during a drought this is an indicator your plants could use a deep soaking. Always check soil moisture before watering.

In Containers
Abelia growing in containers will require more watering than those growing in the ground. Check soil moisture frequently, especially during the hot summer months, and provide water when the top two inches of soil has become dry.

Note:  When watering with an automated irrigation system it's best to set your timer to water during the early morning hours and not in the late evening or at night, which can lead to the onset of fungus and other foliar diseases. During the first few weeks after planting, check soil moisture often and adjust irrigation time if necessary to keep the soil moist, not wet. 

How To Prune Abelia

Abelia do not require pruning however respond very well to almost any amount of it. Abelia can be pruned or sheared to maintain a formal shape or hedge, to tidy up the plant, to reduce size, or to rejuvenate the plant.

When to Prune
We give our Abelia an all-over annual pruning in late winter or early spring. At this time you can lightly or selectively prune to tidy or shape plants or hard prune to reduce size or rejuvenate older plants. Abelia bloom on new wood, so if you want to see flowers, avoid extensive pruning after spring growth begins. Stray branches that are spoiling the shape of the plant can be removed any time of year. Cease any pruning 2 months prior to the average first-frost date in your area. When plants have gone dormant for winter pruning can resume.

Stray Branch Pruning
Any time of year, hand pruners can be used to cut back stray branches to a point just beyond the main form of the plant. During summer, many Abelia varieties will send up some long shoots. These can be pruned or trimmed back to a point just above the main form of the plant in summer, or you can wait until late winter to prune them. It just depends on your preference. 

Annual Late Winter Pruning
In late winter or early spring you can use sharp bypass hand pruners or hedge shears to perform an all-over shaping. Simply cut back stray branches that have outgrown the main shape of the plant. Make cuts on branches at a point just above the main shape of the plant.

Formal Hedges & Shapes
If a formal shape or hedge is desired, you can use hedge trimmers to shear plants a couple times or so during the growing season. Just know that if you prune the plant back to far during summer it might remove some buds and flowers. 

Rejuvenation Pruning
If you have an older Abelia that is thin and weak looking, or has way overgrown the space it was intended to fill, hard or rejuvenation pruning may be in order. This type of pruning is performed in late winter, when the plant is dormant. The most extensive rejuvenation pruning is the practice of cutting the whole shrub to a height of 6 to 12 inches above the ground in late winter. After cutting the shrub back it will start growing new shoots in spring. If cutting the plant back this far is a little scary for you then cut the plant half back to half its height. 

Important Note:  Diseased, dying, or otherwise very weak plants can be killed by rejuvenation pruning. But, if this is the case, what do you have to lose? Even sickly plants sometimes are rejuvenated by this drastic type of pruning. 

Plant Long & Prosper!

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