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Honeysuckle (Lonicera) or Jin Yin Hua in Chinese, is a beautiful, fragrant, vigorous, easy to grow, heat-tolerant addition to your garden.
It produces lovely, abundant, fragrant flowers in shades of white, yellow, pink and red that will draw butterflies, hummingbirds and honeybees to your yard throughout the summer months.
In the autumn, the flowers become fruit that benefits songbirds.
In this article, we will share information on caring for, choosing, planting, and growing honeysuckle plants. We will also provide brief descriptions of some of the more popular varieties. Read on to learn more.
Uses For Honeysuckle
A vigorous climber, honeysuckle can often be seen adorning fences, as a trellis plant and covering arbors. Honeysuckle vines of most types can grow to be between ten and twenty feet high when provided with appropriate and sturdy support.
The vining types can be used in a number of creative ways in the garden. With the right support, they can provide shade, shelter, privacy and tremendous appeal.
Additionally, the vining varieties can be allowed to sprawl as a ground cover. When used in this way, they help the soil retain moisture and provide good protection against erosion.
There are also shrub varieties that can be grown without support. The shrubs typically grow to be between six and fifteen feet high and wide. Some smaller specimens make nice container plants.
Shrub varieties make excellent choices for privacy screening, border hedges and attractive mass plantings. Some of these types do very well in light shade and make good under-story plants for tall trees that provide high shade.
All varieties are valuable in terms of attracting birds, butterflies, bees and other beneficial fauna to your garden. Honeysuckle is an excellent addition to a butterfly garden.
What Type Of Honeysuckle Plant Should You Choose?
There are nearly 200 different kinds of Lonicera available as shrubs or twining vines. The honeysuckle family includes evergreen and deciduous plants and a number of interesting hybrids. Specialized types of honeysuckle vines are available for most hardiness zones. Here are a few of the most popular choices.
Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera Fragrantissima)
This shrub honeysuckle is a semi-evergreen that grows to a height and width of eight feet, unsupported. Its flowers are quite small, very fragrant and creamy white. It starts blooming in the late wintertime and continues through the middle of spring. Hardiness zones are 4-8.
Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera Tatarica)
Tatarian honeysuckle is a deciduous shrub that can grow to be ten feet high and ten feet wide without support. Its trumpet-shaped flowers come in red, pink or white. The blooming season is fairly short, extending from late in the springtime through the early summer. Hardiness zones are 3-9.
Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera Sempervirens)
This vine is a semi-evergreen that grows to be 12′ high with good support. Its tubular flowers come in shades ranging from yellow to orange to red. It blooms from late spring until the middle of the summer. Hardiness zones are 4-10.
Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle (Lonicera Brownii)
These deciduous vines grow to be 12′ high with sturdy support. Its flowers are bright red and very fragrant. It blooms from late in the springtime until mid-summer. Hardiness zones are 3-9.
Goldflame (Lonicera Heckrottii)
This deciduous vine grows to a height of 15-20′ with proper support. It’s flowers are bright pink with yellow centers. The flowers are deeply fragrant and abundant from late in the springtime until the middle of summer. This vines’ USDA Hardiness zones are 5-9.
American Honeysuckle (Lonicera Americana)
This deciduous vine grows to be 25′ high with the right support. Its flowers are very fragrant and attractive in bright yellow with a purple, red or pink fringe. The blooming season extends from late in the spring until the early autumn. Hardiness zones are 6-10.
Italian Honeysuckle (Lonicera Caprifolium)
A vigorous climber reaching a height of 10′ to 20′ feet. The plant uses its strong stems to climb and cling to posts, branches, or other supports. A delightful plant to train along a fence, up pillars and posts or windbreaks. Will also grow on a balcony, but needs planting in a large enough container.
Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera Sempervirens)
Crowned as the wildflower of the year (2014), coral honeysuckle lures hummingbirds to check out their sweet nectar. Apart from attracting nectar lovers to your garden, this species may also become a source of tea. Native Americans used the dried leaves of this plant to cure asthma, coughs, and sore throats.
Henry’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera Henryi)
This vining plant is a true evergreen that can grow to a stunning 30′ high if it has something that tall to climb. Like Trumpet, its flowers are tubular and come in shades of yellow or red. Unlike Trumpet, it has a very long blooming season. In fact, it blooms throughout the entire spring and summer. Hardiness zones are 4-10.
Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica Halliana)
This Japanese deciduous vine is sometimes called “Hall’s Honeysuckle”. Its white flowers turn yellow as its blooming season (late summer through autumn) progresses. Hardiness zones are 4-10.
It should be noted that this variety works very well as a ground cover and is an excellent choice in areas that have problems with erosion.
This plant grows enthusiastically and can be considered evasive, so it must be pruned vigorously prior to winter to prevent development of a lot of woody growth.
This variety can be planted as a climbing vine, but it must not be allowed to climb on other bushes and trees as it will strangle them and kill them.
Planting And Caring For Honeysuckle
Full sun is best for these cheery, fragrant plants, but they can also do well in partial shade. Because they are quite drought tolerant, they are a good choice for hot, dry climates because they only need moderate watering once the plants are established. [source]
Begin with a well-prepared planting bed. The soil should not be too rich, but if it is exceptionally poor, enrich it with aged, organic compost. Your plants will need little or no fertilizer throughout their life span, but in some situations a light application of balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer early each spring can be helpful. You may wish to apply a second dose after your plants have commenced blooming.
Grow Honeysuckle From Seedlings Or Seeds?
Honeysuckle is usually available in one-gallon pots from your local nursery early in the springtime. Planting seedlings naturally produces faster results.
You can plant your honeysuckle seedlings in early spring when all danger of frost has passed. If you choose to plant honeysuckle from seed, you can sow the seed directly into a well-prepared bed early in the springtime after the last frost.
Preparing Your Honeysuckle Bed
Follow guidelines for planting perennials when you prepare your honeysuckle bed. Work the soil thoroughly and dig holes no deeper than the depth of the root ball and two or three times wider. If planting seed, follow package instructions. [source]
If you will be using your honeysuckle as ground-cover, place your plants a couple of feet apart.
For shrubs or climbing varieties, place the plants between five and fifteen feet apart depending upon how large the plants are expected to grow.
Once you have your bed prepared and your holes dug, put your plants in place and fill the holes halfway with loose, lightly amended soil.
Follow this by filling the holes with water and allowing the water to soak into the surrounding soil and settle the soil you have added.
Next, fill the hole completely to the top with loose, lightly amended soil and water generously.
Caring For Your Honeysuckle Plant
Be sure to keep the soil evenly moist until the plants are established. When they begin showing signs of consistent new growth, you can cut back on watering somewhat. Once established, honeysuckle needs very little water other than normal rainfall. If you get less than an inch of rainfall weekly in your area, a deep watering a couple of times a month is in order.
Fresh compost and mulch added early in the springtime and in autumn just before the first frost will help retain moisture in the soil, protect your plants’ roots, deflect weed and feed your honeysuckle naturally.
Should Honeysuckle Be Pruned?
Avoid pruning at all in the first couple of years. If you begin pruning too early, you will hamper growth and limit the number of blossoms your plants produce. Excessive, early pruning can even kill your plants.
Once your plants are well-established, prune lightly throughout the growing season to remove spent blossoms and encourage new growth.
Prune heavily at the end of the growing season to shape your plants and prepare them for the winter.
With very aggressive varieties, you can cut it back to the ground in the autumn to prevent it from becoming invasive.
With more delicate varieties, you can prune back one-third of the plant in preparation for winter.
Bush honeysuckle makes one destructive and invasive species if not controlled properly.
In the late winter/early spring, you may wish to cut back older shoots to make way for new growth. This will have the effect of extending your blooming season. [source]
Providing Support For Your Honeysuckle
If you want to train your plants to grow up a trellis or over an arbor or fence, naturally you should have that structure in place before you plant your seedlings or your seeds. Be sure to place your plants six inches to one foot away from your structure so that they will have ample room for growth. Use a soft, stretchy material (e.g. old nylon stockings) to secure your plant stems to the structure.
Tie lightly using a figure 8 method that crisscrosses the tying material between the plant and the structure. This will give your plants a little wiggle-room and will help prevent damage to the plant caused by rubbing against the structure.
Honeysuckle needs little or no help to propagate. Once it is established, it usually grows, spreads and flourishes with the greatest of ease. If you would like to start a new patch of honeysuckle or you want to share your plants with your fellow gardeners, propagation is child’s play.
You can easily start new plants with cuttings. The best way to do this is to watch for new growth in the springtime. Cut sprigs of green, softwood growth from the tips of the vines. Be certain that your cuttings each have a few sets of leaves.
Remove the leaves from the cut end to leave a clean length of stem about 6″ long with a couple of sets of leaves on the top 2/3rds and a couple of bare leaf nodes in the lower 1/3.
You can root your cuttings one of two ways
- Dip the cut end into a root hormone and place the cutting in a small pot of damp rooting medium, such as potting soil. If you put your cuttings in pots, you can place them in a lightly shaded area in your yard or keep them in a sunny window indoors. Care for them as potted plants until they become established. Then you can transplant them following the planting instructions provided.
- Pop your cuttings into a container of water on a windowsill and wait for them to grow roots. With this method, you should see root growth within a couple of weeks. Once two or more roots have grown to a length of about an inch, you can transplant your cuttings into pots to grow.
If you root your cuttings in water, be sure to replace the water every couple of days to prevent it becoming stagnant. It is best to replace the water with room-temperature water that has been allowed to sit out for a couple of days so that chlorine and other commonly added chemicals will have had a chance to dissipate. This is also advisable when watering seedlings and established container plants.
Which Propagation Method Is Better?
No matter which method you choose, your cuttings will go through a potted plant phase. Planting your cuttings directly into small pots is a one-step solution.
While it may seem as if the water rooting method is just an added step, it does have value.
Water rooting honeysuckle and similar plants is a fun project for young gardeners.
It is easy to do, educational and provides kids with an opportunity to practice caring for their plants.
Additionally, this method is quick and simple for hurried gardeners. Perhaps you don’t have the time or resources you need to pot your cuttings at the moment.
You can always simply pop them into water until you are better prepared to deal with them.
In the final analysis, neither method is “better”. Your choice just depends on what you have the time, resources and desire to do.
Can You Take Cuttings In The Fall?
Although it is best to start your honeysuckle cuttings in the springtime with fresh, new growth, you should know that it is also possible to do this in the autumn. Starting honeysuckle cuttings in water or soil indoors during the wintertime is an enjoyable way to bring a little of the outdoors inside through the long winter months.
Of course, you can also start honeysuckle from seed indoors very easily. Follow package instructions to start your seeds in small pots indoors in the autumn.
In springtime, you can gradually introduce them to the outdoors once all danger of frost has passed. Then simply follow the planting instructions provided above to transfer them to your garden.
Avoid These Common Honeysuckle Pitfalls!
All-in-all, honeysuckle is dead-simple to grow; however, there are some common errors many gardeners make that can cause problems. Take heed and avoid these common pitfalls!
#1 – Don’t Wait Too Long
As soon as all danger of frost has passed, plant your seeds or seedlings. If you wait until the weather and the soil have warmed up significantly, the plants’ roots will not grow well. They need a period of time in cooler soil at the outset in order for the roots to become well-established.
#2 – Don’t Skimp On The Sun
Although your plants’ roots prefer cooler soil, the leaves, stems and flowers like bright, hot sun. Choose the sunniest location you have, and be sure to prepare the soil well and provide a good cover of compost and/or shredded bark, pine needles or dried leaves as a mulch to help keep the soil cool.
#3 – Don’t Forget To Alter Your Watering Patterns
Remember that honeysuckle needs lots of water to become well established. However, if you continue to provide copious amounts of water, you will end up with root rot.
Be sure to taper off your watering schedule as your plants establish themselves. Once established, deep, occasional watering is best.
#4 – Don’t Overdo The Fertilizer
These plants do well with very little, or no, fertilizer. Amending the soil with compost when you plant and adding a layer of compost over the soil annually is probably all the fertilizing you will ever need.
If you do decide to use a fertilizer, use a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 of controlled release variety. If you overdo fertilizing, you will end up with lush foliage and few, if any, flowers. This is to be avoided.
#5 – Don’t Allow The Soil pH Level To Become Unbalanced
Honeysuckle likes a fairly neutral pH. Don’t allow your soil to become to acidic or too alkaline. The pH level should not fall below 6.1 or rise above 7.8.
#6 – Don’t Allow Your Plants To Become Overcrowded And Tangled
Mold infestation and powdery mildew can wreak havoc on honeysuckle vines and bushes. This is why it is so important to plant in an area that gets ample sun and to plant your seedlings far enough apart for good growth and good ventilation. If your plants are crowded, they will not get adequate air circulation. This can lead to mold and mildew problems.
#7 – Poor Support Causes Plant Damage And An Unruly Appearance
Be sure that the trellis, fence or arbor you put in place for your plants is strong enough to support their weight. Otherwise, invasive honeysuckles would cause a tumbledown mess of broken plants and structure instead of a lovely and inviting garden feature! [source]
A Winner All Around!
With their heady scent and beautifully colored, abundant flowers, honeysuckle of all kinds provide an easy, carefree way to add beauty and charm to any setting.
If you have an area that provides good sunshine and well-drained soil with a balanced pH level, you really could not make a more congenial choice. Consult your local garden center to find the right plant to suit your needs and for your location.