The sweet fragrance of a honeysuckle plant is one the smells of summer. A wildly attractive garden plant, honeysuckle draws scores of wildlife to your garden with its rich smell and sweet nectar filled tubular flowers.
There are over 180 known varieties of honeysuckle, many of which grow in every state in America. While some varieties are compact, shrub-like plants, others have a sprawling or vining growth habit. This makes it a great choice if you want to cover a structure such as a fence or create a living wall.
Fragrant and colorful, the honeysuckle is a popular ornamental plant.
While the plants are usually deciduous in the warmest USDA zones they can be evergreen. A versatile plant, growing a honeysuckle plant in your garden is pleasingly easy.
Varieties of Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle plants can be either vines or shrubs.
Honeysuckle vines are easy to grow and come in a range of varieties. While they can be used as ground cover, vining varieties are commonly grown up structures or as wall coverings.
Trumpet Honeysuckle is a popular vine, also known as coral or scarlet. Native to North America this is an easy to grow option, particularly for gardeners in southern states and warmer USDA zones. Producing pink and red flowers the plants do best in partial shade and moist soil. They are also pleasingly drought tolerant.
Japanese Honeysuckle vines thrive in the midwest, producing pink and red flowers from summer until fall. This variety requires regular pruning. If left to grow unattended the plant can become invasive.
The honeysuckle shrub is great for informal hedging. It can also be used as an edging option or to add structure to the garden. More compact varieties can be grown in containers.
Winter Honeysuckle produces white flowers with a lemon fragrance from late winter until early spring. Best grown in containers, the plant can be invasive if left unattended in a flowerbed. The similar Sakhalin cultivar is a non-invasive option, producing deep red flowers.
Texas Honeysuckle or White Limestone Honeysuckle grows in full sun and partial shade positions, producing clusters of white flowers.
The growth habit of trailing or climbing varieties is easier to manage than shrub varieties. Be careful when choosing your plant, some varieties can become invasive if not regularly pruned.
Some shrub or bush honeysuckle plants are incredibly invasive, quickly shading out other plants. Check the plant information label before purchasing. This gives you an idea of how quickly the plant will grow and how widely it may spread. If you want a low maintenance option avoid planting fast growing varieties.
How to Plant a Honeysuckle
Plant honeysuckle in early spring after the last frost has passed. Most honeysuckle plants grow without trouble in USDA zones 5-9. The plants tolerate cooler weather well, however tender or tropical varieties require some winter protection.
These are pleasingly heat tolerant plants, thriving in sunny positions. Honeysuckle plants do best when the plant’s roots are shaded but the flowers sit in full sun or partial shade. Vining varieties look particularly effective if allowed to entwine themselves through a forest planting scheme.
If your chosen position is too shady the plant may fail to flower. Planting in overly shady positions can also cause the plants to drop their leaves.
Honeysuckle plants do best in acidic to moderately alkaline soil profiles, a pH level of 5.5 to 8.0 is perfect. If you are unsure of the profile of your soil why not invest in a soil test kit?
Vining varieties do best in rich, well-draining soil. Bush or shrub varieties can tolerate less rich soil as long as it drains well.
How to Plant
Before planting dig the soil over, removing any weeds and stones. Digging over helps to loosen the soil, improving drainage. You can also work in homemade compost or other forms of organic matter. This helps to improve drainage as well as enriching the soil.
Digging the soil over before planting helps to improve drainage. It also gives you the opportunity to work in organic matter. This enriches the soil, benefitting your plants.
To plant, dig a hole at least twice as wide and deep as the root ball of the plant. The wider the better.
If your soil is heavy, clay based or compacted work in organic matter such as compost or manure to improve the soil. Sandy soils can be amended with compost, or peat moss. This helps the soil to retain moisture and nutrients.
Remove the honeysuckle from the container. If you find this difficult try squeezing the sides of the container. This loosens the soil and the root ball. Firmly grip the base of the plant and gently pull it from the container.
Center the plant in the hole, the top of the root ball should be slightly above ground level. This allows for settling.
If you are planting in poorly draining soil plant in a raised mound, so that the top of the root system is slightly above the level of the soil. This encourages excess water to drain away from the base of the plant.
Gently backfill the hole being careful not to disturb the plant too much. When the hole is about half filled water well. After the water has drained away ,continue to fill the hole. Don’t place soil, or too much soil, on top of the root ball. This prevents the soil from compacting and suffocating the root system.
Water well. Incorporating a dose of root stimulator, such as Bontone Rooting Powder, encourages root development. This helps the plant to establish itself and reduces the chances of plant shock.
Place a 2 inch layer of wood mulch or pine straw around the base of the plant. This helps to conserve moisture and prevent weed growth.
Planting in Containers
Your chosen container should be at least 10 inches wider than the diameter of the root ball. It should also have drainage holes in the bottom. If you want a truly low maintenance garden try planting in self watering containers.
Place a porous landscape fabric, such as the Easy Gardener All Purpose Weed Barrier, at the bottom of the container. This prevents the drainage holes from becoming clogged up and the soil from becoming waterlogged.
Place a thin layer of potting soil at the bottom of the container and position the plant in the center. The root system should sit half an inch to an inch below the rim of the container. When you are happy with the position and the level of the plant, backfill the container. Mixing pumice or perlite with fresh, general purpose compost creates a good, well-draining mix.
Water the container well, until water begins to seep from the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. After watering, place a layer, about half an inch thick, of organic mulch such as sphagnum moss or wood chip on top of the soil. This helps the soil to conserve moisture.
If you are planting a climbing variety remember to provide a trellis or some form of support that the plant can attach itself to. The support structure should be about 6 to 12 inches from the base of the plant.
Vining varieties in particular benefit from being placed near some form of support, such as a fence. This gives the plant something to trail its vines around.
While some people may like to let the plant grow freely if you want a neater appearance you have to train the plant. To do this use plastic tie tapes or other stretchy material that allows for growth. Velcro Garden Ties are strong enough to support a plant, without causing it any damage.
Gently tie the plant to the support. Don’t tie so tightly that the tie cuts into the plant.
How to Care for Honeysuckle
Once planted honeysuckle care is pleasingly easy to care for.
Water the plants well. The soil should be moist or damp to the touch but never soggy. Once established, the plants tolerate occasional periods of drought.
Don’t overwater. This can cause the plants to become diseased or the roots to rot. If you are unsure whether to water or not, wait a day or two until the soil has dried out a little more. It is far easier to correct the problems caused by underwatering than those caused by overwatering.
Mulching helps the soil to retain moisture as well as giving the plants a nutritional boost. Remember to replace the compost with a fresh layer every spring.
Honeysuckle plants in fertile soil do not require fertilization.
If you do decide to fertilize, apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer in the spring. This encourages new growth. Alternatively slow release shrub and tree fertilizers or organic plant food can also be applied in the spring.
Feed container plants with a balanced fertilizer in early spring and early summer. A slow-release fertilizer is ideal. Alternatively water soluble plant food can also be used, like liquid plant feeds these are easily incorporated into watering routines.
Deadheading and Pruning
Use a sharp pair of garden scissors to deadhead spent flowers. This encourages new flowers and repeat flowers throughout the summer months.
Deadheading spent flowers early in the summer encourages new flowers to form.
Pruning is best done in late fall or winter when the plant is dormant or semi-dormant. Evergreen varieties won’t become dormant. Instead, these are best pruned at the end of the flowering season. This ensures that you won’t accidentally prune away any new buds.
Vining varieties are best pruned lightly, just for shaping. You can prune lightly throughout the year, just be careful not to remove too much new growth or flower buds. Older plants may require more pruning to remove large dead areas. This is best done in the fall, or if the plant becomes dormant, in the winter.
Bush varieties can be pruned as soon as the flowers drop. Again pruning is best done lightly and to keep the appearance of the plant neat and contained. To thin the plant cut a third of the old stems down to new growth.
Tropical and tender varieties require some winter protection in cooler climates. To do this prune the plant as close to the support as possible. Place a thick layer of organic mulch around the base of the root. This protects the plant from harsh frosts. You can also cover the plants in a horticultural fleece such as the Agfabric Plant Blanket.
Remember to remove the protective cover in the spring after the last frost date has passed.
How to Propagate Honeysuckle
There are a few different ways to propagate honeysuckle.
Layering is an easy option that is best done in the spring. To layer, simply take a vine and bend it to the ground.
Where the vine contacts the ground scratch the vine with a clean knife. This encourages new roots to emerge. Bury the vine in the ground, covering with fresh potting soil. New roots will soon form.
Another easy propagation method is to take cuttings. This is best done in late spring or early summer. Cuttings are best taken in the early morning when the vines are full of sap.
To take a cutting, cut away a 6 inch long section from an established vine (this is a vine that is at least two years old). Be careful not to crush the vine as you cut it. Using a sharp pair of garden scissors allows you to make a clean cut. Cut at an angle, this increases the surface area, helping the cutting to take on more moisture.
Remove the lower sets of leaves and dip in rooting hormone if you are using. Rooting hormone is not necessary for successful cuttings, but it does help to encourage root production.
Plant the cutting in a small container filled with damp, fresh potting soil. Keep the soil damp. Place the cuttings in a warm position, at least 65 ℉, in a small greenhouse. Alternatively you can place the cutting in a clear plastic bag. This helps to maintain humidity and temperature levels. If the cutting is successful, roots form within a few weeks.
You can also propagate the plants from seed. To do this, allow the spent flowers to turn to berries. When the berries are ripe, remove them from the plant and gently rinse.
Dry the seeds on a paper towel and place on a sunny windowsill. This helps to fully dry the seeds.
Meanwhile, fill a plastic bag with damp sphagnum or peat moss. Push the seeds into the moss and seal the bag. Place in the refrigerator for around 60 days, keeping the moss damp.
Fill a seed tray with an even mix of sphagnum or peat moss and fresh potting soil. Place one seed in each compartment and cover with a thin layer of soil. Water with a gentle spray, until the soil moss mixture is evenly moist.
Cover the tray with a plastic lid or place in a clear plastic bag and place in a light position such as a windowsill. Ideally the seeds should receive 5 to 8 hours of sunlight every day. During this period keep the soil moist.
Following germination when the seeds are at least an inch high begin hardening off. Once the seedlings are acclimatized and large enough to handle, plant as above, spacing 5 to 15 ft apart.
Common Pests and Problems
This is a pleasingly problem free plant. If properly planted and cared for, honeysuckle resists most common pests and problems.
Powdery mildew can be a problem if the plant is drought stressed. Allowing the soil to remain evenly moist will prevent this from being an issue.
The nectar of the flowers can attract aphids. Infestations can be cured by an application of neem oil or simply by blasting away the pests with a hosepipe. Insecticidal soap can also be used.
Honeysuckles are a popular plant with bees and birds alike. Planting a few in your garden is a great way to encourage wildlife to visit.
The pleasant green leaves and fragrant flowers of the honeysuckle adds interest to any garden, attracting butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Once the flowers give way to berries, birds will also visit the plant. Harvesting the small red berries for winter food.
A surprisingly hardy, heat tolerant plant that grows almost anywhere. It is no wonder that honeysuckle is such a popular ornamental plant. Its versatility means that honeysuckles can be incorporated into desert planting schemes, forest gardens or used to create a living wall.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.