GROWING HEAVENLY HONEYSUCKLE VINESBring breathtaking beauty to your garden with a non-invasive honeysuckle plant
The honeysuckle may be the queen of flowering vines, twining with abandon around arbors and archways, trellises and tree trunks, filling the air with their intoxicating scent. “If I were to have only one trellis, I’d probably plant a honeysuckle,” says Ferris Cook, author of The Garden Trellis: Designs to Build and Vines to Cultivate. “In the daytime and at night, its sweetness fills the surrounding garden, and as long as there is new growth, it continues to bloom.”
If the long-lasting, sweetly-scented flowers aren’t reason enough to grow honeysuckles, you’ll find that these versatile vines have many practical uses in the garden as well, from providing dappled shade to serving as a lush privacy screen.
There are many species of honeysuckles (Lonicera), but not all of them are climbing vines. Shrub or bush honeysuckles are also common, but they are considered invasive in many parts of the country because their dense growth can crowd out desirable native plants. Most vines, with the exception of the overly aggressive Japanese honeysuckle (L. japonica), are better behaved and easier to manage, particularly the newer compact cultivars.
4 to 9
Honeysuckle season is typically May through midsummer, with some varieties blooming into autumn.
5 to 20 feet
Honeysuckle flowers grow in clusters at the branch tips, forming pinwheels of tubular blossoms in an array of shades, from pale pastels to rich reds. Most varieties are heavily scented, making them a magnet for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Often the flowers are followed by small red or orange berries in the fall.
On most varieties the leaves are oval in shape, growing opposite each other and sometimes uniting around the stem to form oblong cups. The foliage is typically blue-green, but dark green and copper-toned shades are seen in some cultivars.
Common types of honeysuckle:
- L. periclymenum (common honeysuckle or woodbine): Prized for its deliciously sweet smelling flowers, which are especially fragrant in the early morning and late evening. The slender 2-inch blooms usually open white and turn pale yellow flushed with pink or pale purple. Although it has origins in Europe, North Africa and Asia, this species has become naturalized in some areas of North America, including New England and the Pacific Northwest and is even listed as invasive in Oregon and Washington states.
- L. sempervirens (trumpet honeysuckle, coral honeysuckle): One of the showiest honeysuckle plants, producing striking clusters of trumpet-shaped crimson blooms that open to reveal yellow throats. The long, tapering flowers are particularly attractive to hummingbirds but lack the intense fragrance of the common honeysuckle. Although the botanical name translates to “evergreen honeysuckle,” this native of the southeastern U.S. only remains evergreen in the southernmost portions of its range.
- L. ×brownii (scarlet trumpet honeysuckle, Brown’s honeysuckle): A hybrid that combines the exotic beauty of L. sempervirens with the winter hardiness of the rarely cultivated L. hirsuta (hairy honeysuckle). The orange-throated scarlet flowers are lightly fragrant and bloom from late spring through October.
- L. ×heckrottii (goldflame honeysuckle): This is one of Cook’s favorites, with “vines that bloom steadily all summer and individual flowers bigger and more flamboyant than those of trumpet honeysuckles.” The buds are carmine, but once they open, they turn rose pink with tinges of purple on the outside and golden yellow within. Also has a cultivar of the same name (L. x heckrottii ‘Gold Flame’). Listed as invasive in Illinois.
- L. ciliosa (orange trumpet honeysuckle): Native to the forests of the Pacific Northwest, this garden-worthy honeysuckle thrives in shade and cool climates, producing vivid orange-yellow blooms in May and June, followed by edible red berries that attract a variety of birds.
When to plant:
Spring or fall. When the roots of honeysuckle vines are taking hold, they prefer cool and moist conditions. Make sure to wait until after the final frost in spring before planting honeysuckle.
Where to plant:
Choose a site with moist, well-drained soil where your honeysuckle plant will receive full sun. Although honeysuckles don’t mind some shade, they will flower more profusely in a sunny location. Honeysuckles also aren’t particular as to soil type or pH, but if the soil drains poorly, amend it with compost before planting so the roots won’t be sitting in standing water.
Water honeysuckles thoroughly after planting, and give them a good soaking once a week until the roots become established. Mature plants are more drought tolerant and can get by on less water, but they are happier growing in evenly moist (not soggy) soil. Applying a layer of mulch around the root zone will help to retain moisture and reduce the need for watering during hot, dry conditions.
Honeysuckles don’t need big doses of fertilizer to produce a bounty of blooms. In fact, overfertilizing will often stimulate foliage growth rather than yielding more flowers. After your plants become established, an annual spring feeding with a general-purpose fertilizer is all they need.
Keeping honeysuckles healthy:
Honeysuckles are seldom troubled by serious pests or diseases, although they are susceptible to aphids and mites, which can easily be controlled with insecticidal soap. Also watch out for the development of powdery mildew on the leaves, especially in damp, humid environments. Pruning and thinning your vines to increase air circulation and light penetration are the best preventive measures.
With very little coaxing, honeysuckles will readily wrap and weave their way around any sturdy support. Where space is no problem, you can let them grow freely. But if you want to create a more artful arrangement of branches, follow these tips:
- Be sure to place your support in the ground before planting to avoid root damage to an established plant. Once your vine takes off, train it to your liking and prevent tangled branches by securing the offshoots with strips of nylon hosiery or another strong, flexible material.
- Over time, honeysuckles tend to become woody at the base. Cutting back one or two branches near the ground will encourage new replacement growth.
- Although some honeysuckles will flower on the previous year’s growth, most produce buds on current season or new growth. The best time to prune these varieties is in late winter or early spring to give the vine time to produce flowering shoots. This is also a good time to thin out congested growth and remove weak or damaged stems, which will allow for easier training.
- If you want to renovate your framework of branches and start anew, hard prune your plant to about 2 feet from the ground in early spring and tie in the new shoots to your support system.
HONEYSUCKLE VINES IN THE GARDEN
- Plant honeysuckles where their sweet perfume can be fully appreciated, such as by a door or window, over an arched gateway, or twining through an arbor or pergola over a deck (see Vines for Arbors).
- To create a beautiful tableau of colors and fragrances, intermingle honeysuckles with other flowering vines, such as clematis, climbing roses, jasmine, climbing hydrangea, and perennial peas (Lathyrus latifolius).
- Use honeysuckles to hide an old tree stump by encircling the stump with wire netting that the vines can climb on. The same technique can be used to cover a lamppost or downspout.
- Allow honeysuckles to weave through a chain-link or latticework fence to form a natural privacy screen. This is also an effective way to disguise an older fence that has become an eyesore.
- If you don't have a trellis or other vertical support, let your honeysuckles meander over the ground to create a luxurious floral carpet. They can also be grown on slopes to control erosion or draped over retaining walls.
- In addition to attracting hummingbirds to your garden, you can also use honeysuckles to establish a backyard habitat for a variety of songbirds. Their dense growth provides a thicket in which many birds love to nest while foraging on the colorful berries.
10 HONEYSUCKLES TO TRY
Lonicera sempervirens ‘Alabama Crimson’
This is Cook’s pick for best red-flowering honeysuckle, which she lauds for its blue-green leaves that contrast beautifully with vivid red trumpets arranged in layers of six-flowered pinwheels. The flowers -- which are abundant from spring through midsummer -- are not very fragrant, but hummingbirds are still drawn to their nectar-rich receptacles.
Height: 10 to 20 feet
Lonicera sempervirens 'Blanche Sandman'
This repeat bloomer begins showing off its spectacular orange-red flowers in May and keeps on going throughout the season. The flowers open to reveal yellow-orange throats, creating a luscious palette of tropical colors.
Height: 10 to 15 feet
Lonicera sempervirens ‘Dropmore Scarlet’
A lovely hybrid especially hardy in colder climates (down to Zone 3), producing scarlet-red blooms from June until the first frost. The most distinctive features are the leaves, which join around the stem to form lily-pad shaped disks where the flowers emerge.
Height: 10 to 20 feet
Lonicera sempervirens f. sulphurea ‘John Clayton’
This magnificent yellow-flowered cultivar continues to flower from June through November, creating a striking contrast with the deep blue-green foliage. In warmer climates, the leaves remain evergreen; in cooler growing zones, winter interest is provided by an abundance of orange-red berries.
Height: 6 to 12 feet
Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’
This knock-your-socks-off bloomer is covered in dazzling ruby-red flowers all summer long and well into fall. It blooms on the previous year's growth as well as new growth, so it can be pruned right after flowering to encourage repeat blooming.
Height: 6 to 10 feet
Lonicera xbrownii ‘Mandarin’
Sun-kissed flowers the color of mandarin oranges look dazzling against a backdrop of foliage that emerges coppery bronze in spring and turns dark green later in the season. Blooms continually from late spring through fall.
Height: 15 to 20 feet
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Peaches and Cream’
True to its name, this exceptionally fragrant honeysuckle has dark pink-and-white flowers that turn the color of a ripe peach at maturity. It also tolerates heat, drought, and humidity. The tidy, compact growth habit won’t overwhelm smaller gardens.
Height: 5 to 10 feet
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Scentsation’
The sweet, heady fragrance of this super-scented cultivar will fill your garden all summer long, emanating from cheery lemon-yellow flowers that bloom from midspring to late summer, followed by scarlet red berries.
Height: 10 to 12 feet
Lonicera periclymenum Sweet Tea
Small enough to grow in containers on a patio or balcony, this dwarf cultivar still produces masses of large, fragrant flowers in a vivacious mix of bright pink, creamy yellow, and white. In addition to being drought and heat tolerant, it remains evergreen in frost-free growing zones.
Height: 5 to 6 feet
Lonicera periclymenum 'Winchester'
One of the most richly colored honeysuckles, displaying lavish deep-pink flowers with creamy ivory interiors that turn tones of sunset gold as they fade. Dark wine-red berries follow in the fall. Blooms from May through October.
Height: 15 to 20 feet