There are few climbing plants as fragrant and beautiful as the honeysuckle. This flowering vine clambers over trellises, trails from baskets, or winds its way around doors or archways. For a dramatic look, some gardeners let honeysuckle cover a whole wall or fence. Honeysuckle nectar is sweet, attracting butterflies and bees. In some areas, it even draws hummingbirds. Later in the season, many varieties have ornamental berries which add interest to the garden. Growing honeysuckle is simple, with the right know-how and tips.
Honeysuckle, or Lonicera, is most popular as a climbing vine yet can also grow as a shrub. The tubular flowers are reminiscent of trumpets, in colors ranging from coral-pink to golden yellow and orange. Many species are ornamental, prized for their exquisite fragrance and color. Some varieties are edible, and very few are invasive and problematic. The name honeysuckle comes from the sweet and aromatic nectar the plant produces.
Honeysuckle loves to start off in cool, damp soil but will need full sun in summer, so pick a spot carefully. Always plant your honeysuckle before the first frost or after the last. Plant your honeysuckle in soil with great drainage, ideally near a door or window so you get the benefit of the lovely fragrance. Honeysuckle can hide unsightly walls, fences, tree stumps, or anything that it can climb up and over.
Soil should be damp at all times, especially just after planting. If the drainage in your garden is poor, try mixing in some sand or gravel before you plant the honeysuckle to allow excess water to drain away. New plants need regular, liberal watering. Older plants can cope with less water but shouldn’t dry out completely. Good-quality compost or mulch at the base of the plant can help with this. Ensure your honeysuckle isn’t in full shade or you may not get the flower display you’re looking forward to.
To propagate your honeysuckle,
Honeysuckle vines are natural climbers, which means they occasionally end up roving in a direction you weren’t expecting. Training and pruning your honeysuckle can keep it on the right track. Use supports fixed to the wall, or drive stakes into the ground well away from the plant’s roots, to avoid damage. Gently tie trailing branches to the supports, and don’t be afraid to manually untangle branches if they get a bit wild. Gardeners can cut back woody stems to encourage new growth, and the plant responds well to hard pruning around spring time.
Honeysuckle is fairly hardy and, luckily, doesn’t suffer from too many pests or diseases. You may find that it attracts aphids, especially in summer. Some species can leave a residue behind which leads to fungus, such as sooty mold which discolors and damages leaves. The best way to treat sooty mold is to wash or wipe the aphids from leaves and stems. If you’re lucky enough to have regular ladybug visitors, you might find the aphids are eaten up pretty quickly. If the leaves seem to have a dusty, grey coating, this may be powdery mildew which rarely damages the plant but dulls its vibrance. Regularly wipe away the mildew, or invest in a fungicide.
Other than water and good soil, honeysuckle needs very few additional nutrients. If your soil is low-quality, you may want to mix in some compost before planting. You can also use fertilizer in the spring to encourage more flowers to bloom. Look for a low-nitrogen fertilizer, which will boost the flowers rather than the foliage. Too much excess foliage can end up attracting pests.
Many birds and insects love the tasty nectar found in honeysuckle blooms, including hummingbirds, moths, and butterflies. Various species of bees also come to feast on honeysuckle. Encouraging bees is vital as they are important crop pollinators. Later in the year, birds like blue jays and robins love the berries that grow on many species of honeysuckle. This makes honeysuckle vines a great addition to any wildlife lover's garden.
Lonicera ciliosa is the orange trumpet honeysuckle. It sports vibrant, bold flowers that don’t mind a little shade or cooler temperatures. L. caprifolium, also called sweet or perfoliate honeysuckle, blooms at night. The giant Burmese honeysuckle, or L. hildebrandiana, boasts enormous yellow flowers, followed by startling green berries for a late summer show.
L. japonica, or Japanese honeysuckle, can be problematic. It grows rapidly, taking over the habitats of native plants. This disrupts ecosystems which is why it is classified as an invasive species and banned in some states, though it is still imported in some parts of the country. There are many other, safer species that will bring joy and beauty to any garden without the risks of this pervasive plant.