The Q&A Archives: prostrate abelia

Question: It's been suggested that I underplant my very large and tall non-decidious oaks with prostrate abelia. I can't recall the name of the oaks, but they are the ones that never really lose their leaves, but have a large leaf drop in the fall and winter and still maintain a green canopy. They are very tall and the soil underneath has been planted for some time, so there's plenty of organic matter there. The real question is although some of the edges of the existing bed has about an hour of direct sun- one place in the am, another place in the afternoon-I wonder if so little sun and only high shade will be sufficient for these beautiful little plants to bloom well-maybe not profusely-and for the whole season and for the foilage to be pretty. Water will not be a problem as I will keep them watered in the first year while they are getting established.

The designer has used this plant in other, somewhat sunnier, places in the yard and I like the idea of the cohesive nature of this idea. I just wonder about the lack of direct sun. We are Zone 8.

Thanks for your time.

Susan Creed

Answer: Prostrate abelia will grow in part shade/part sun but won't perform will in a mostly shaded area (such as you describe). Instead, you might consider winter bergenia (Bergenia crassifolia) which has big cabbage-like leaves. The leaves will get a hint of red if they are drought stressed or cold. Then for a bonus Winter Blooming Bergenia blooms when most everything else is still languishing under the effects of winter. It grows best in light shade and can tolerate very little water. I have seen it perform admirably with no additional water in the shade of oak trees. The leaves grow to 6" and the flowers to 8-10". It slowly spreads by surface runners.

Or, consider Leonotis leonurus (Lion's Tail). It is one of the most consistently colorful plants in the dry garden. Once established they require little extra irrigation in the coastal area except in containers or extremely well drained soils. Lion's Tail will grow in full sun to dark shade. Leonotis leonurus plants will slowly spread by root suckers. It looks its best if the dead flowers are trimmed, but will still put on new growth and blooms without the extra grooming. There is a white sport of Leonotis that can add a little interest and spice.

A final suggestion is Plectranthus argentatus (Silver Spurflower). The Plectranthus argentatus blooms are nice but really are not the main attraction. The large velvety gray succulent leaves make the show for me. Silver Spurflower gets to 3 feet tall by 6' across. It really prefers some shade and can even take dark shade. Not too much water is required. I use Plectranthus argentatus under oaks because of its water thrifty ways. Plectranthus argentatus brings a great light to dark spaces.

Best wishes with your landscape!

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