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Growing Honeysuckle – the complete guide

Last updated on February 25th, 2022

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If you are interested in growing Lonicera japonica, it is important to understand how to care for them. Honeysuckles are popular not just for their beautiful blooms, but for the highly perfumed flowers they produce, especially the climbing scented varieties. The climbing varieties can be draped over garden support structures and pergolas while the shrubs make for great hedges and groundcover plants.

Quick Facts About Lonicera

Common nameHoneysuckle
Botanical nameLonicera
TypeShrub and evergreen/deciduous climbers
Flowering timeA shrub that flowers early spring or summer, with the climbers generally flowering in summer providing perfumed scents
Planting timeIdeally, early spring or Autumn but also summer if pot-grown. Shrub varieties are often available bare root from November and can be planted any time between November and January
PositionFull sun or partial shade but the climbing varieties usually have a strong scent when the flowers are in full sun. Climbers prefer fertile but well-drained soil while shrub varieties are not too picky as long as the soil is well-drained.
HardinessMostly fully hardly with certain tender varieties that may need a little extra protection in winter.

The Two Types of Honeysuckle

As previously mentioned, there are two types of Lonicera: climbers both evergreen and deciduous, and shrubs that are usually evergreen.

Lonicera henryi Copper Beauty - climbing evergreen lonicera
Lonicera henryi Copper Beauty – Climbing evergreen lonicera

The climbing varieties prefer humus-rich soil that is moist at all times, this soil must also be well-drained. They will flower at optimum levels when their top growth is exposed to full sunlight, however, you can better protect them against aphids if they are planted in partial shade. The three most popular varieties are Lonicera japonica which is a Japanese Honeysuckle, the Lonicera periclymenum which is often referred to as the Common Honeysuckle as well as the evergreen variety called Lonicera henryi ‘Copper Beauty’.

The shrubs are less finicky about their soil and can grow in any well-drained type. They will do well in partial shade or sun and are perfect for forming hedges or providing groundcover, with the Lonicera Baggesen’s Gold and the Silver Beauty being two popular varieties.

Lonicera silver beauty - evergreen shrub
Lonicera Silver Beauty – evergreen shrub

Both varieties are simple to grow and will do better if you apply a base of mulch around them. This helps to maintain moisture at the root level.

Pruning and Training Honeysuckles

The methods you employ for pruning and training are going to vary based on type.

Pruning Lonicera that flower on the current year’s growth

For the climbers, the flowers arrive on the growth from the current season, which is especially true of Lonicera japonica. So, they do not need regular pruning. You can, instead, just control their growth by removing any overly long shoots come spring and thinning out any congested parts. If there are any weak or diseased stems, these can be removed.

Pruning Lonicera that flower on the previous year’s growth

Lonicera periclymenum which is very common. These need to be pruned by around a third every summer, at the end of summer, right after flowering. If you prune in spring you will be cutting off the flowering branches for the current year which could result in very few flowers.
Lonicera periclymenum

The Honeysuckles that flower at the beginning of spring do so on the shorter side shoots from the previous year’s growth, which is the important bit. This is true of the more common honeysuckle, the Lonicera periclymenum and these need to be pruned by around a third at the end of every summer, right after flowering. If you prune in spring you will be cutting off the flowering branches for the current year which could result in very few flowers.

Pruning overgrown climbing Honeysuckles

If you are going to rejuvenate any old, overgrown, or out-of-control climbers with hard pruning, be sure to do it in early spring and cut them back to around 60cm. After that, thin any regrowth and tie off any new shoots. They usually respond well and flower within 2 years with Lonicera japonica usually flowering that same year.

Pruning Lonicera Shrubs

lonicera tidy tips

For the shrubs, you can remove weak or old stems to result in new growth. With those that flower at the end of spring or beginning of summer like the Lonicera tatarica, you can shorten 1 out of every 3 branches. At the end of winter or the beginning of spring, you can rejuvenate them with hard pruning and they usually respond well, even when brutally hacked.

If you have an evergreen variety, like the Lonicera Baggensens Gold, Silver Beauty or Lemon Beauty, you can prune as you would a hedge, a few times a year trimming them to your desired shape. To rejuvenate hedge shrubs, prune them back to 15cm off the ground at the start of spring and they will quickly recover and gain a new lease of life.

Propagating Honeysuckles

You can propagate Honeysuckles from the plants you already have in the garden if they are doing well and you want to encourage more plants.

For deciduous climbers, you want to clip 5-7cm of a semi-ripe or softwood cutting at the end of spring or beginning of summer.

For evergreen varieties such as Lonicera henryi, you can take a hardwood cutting in autumn and you can read about the process here.

For the evergreen shrubs, you can also take hardwood cuttings of 20-30cm in length between autumn and the middle of winter.

Choosing Plants

When you are ready to choose your plants, you have many great varieties at your disposal.

ClimbersLonicera japonica – a semi-evergreen climber, sometimes evergreen if grown in a sheltered area that has white, fragrant flowers and dark green leaves. It reaches heights of 10m.
Lonicera henryi is an evergreen climber often with purple/red flowers and purple/black berries. It reaches a height of 10m.
Lonicera periclymenum is a popular deciduous plant with fragrant white or yellow flowers and red berries. It reaches heights of 7m.
Lonicera sempervirens has scarlet flowers and orange-red berries. It is a deciduous honeysuckle that reaches heights of 6m.
ShrubsLonicera nitida is an evergreen shrub boasting small bright yellow leaves, ideal for hedging or as a groundcover plant and often referred to as Wilson’s honeysuckle. Reaches heights of 3.5m and 3m wide but is easy to keep at any height.
Lonicera pileata has creamy, small white flowers with purple berries and is ideal for groundcover. It reaches heights of 60cm and widths of 2.4m making it perfect for groundcover.
Lonicera fragrantissima, as the name suggests, has fragrant flowers but will require more shelter than others, also known as winter honeysuckle, it flowers from January to March offers colour when not much else is flowering. It reaches heights of 3m and widths of 2m.

Common Problems

Honeysuckles are prone to a few common problems, with the climbing varieties being the most at risk from powdery mildew and aphids that love to feed on the lush new growth. They can get stressed by drought and conversely, are prone to mildew infections from too much water too.

New growth is at risk for aphid attacks, so it is best to stay vigilant and spray for aphids at the first signs. If they are planted in areas that tend to be dry, add a layer of mulch around the base of the plant, thinning out climbing plants can also help air circulation and this can also help to prevent mildew.

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