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Woodbine, Honeysuckle

Sarah Stehr Sarah StehrKathrin Hofmeister Kathrin Hofmeister

The genus of the Honeysuckle (Lonicera) includes climbers with fragrant flowers as well as numerous summer and evergreen shrubs. A versatile plant, it is especially popular with gardeners.

General

At first, twining climbing plants come to our mind when we think of the genus of the Woodbines (Lonicera), also known as the honeysuckle. In fact, this genus has around 180 winter-hardy species with different growth patterns: In addition to the climbers, there are also low-growing species that are well suited for surface greening and upright growing shrubs. All groups have both deciduous and evergreen species that are primarily found in the northern hemisphere. The genus belonging to the Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) gives gardeners several planting options.

As many growth patterns, that many are the varying heights of the species. While some climbers can reach heights of up to 26.24 feet, for example Lonicera x heckrottii “Goldflame”, the low-growing species and varieties are sometimes only 1.64 feet high. But they like to make up for this low stature with their spread. For example, a single hedge myrtle evergreen Honeysuckle “Wilson's honeysuckle” (Lonicera nitida) only grows between 19.68 and 27.55 inches, but can become 4.92 feet wide over the years. The Honeysuckles are best known for their rapid growth: The front runner here is the evergreen Honeysuckle (Lonicera henryi); one of the twining species, it an annual growth of between 1.96 feet and 3.28 feet.

Lonicera x brownii

Lonicera x brownii looks enchanting with bright red flowers

Be it climbing, growing low or upright, summer or winter green: The leaf shape of all Woodbines is similar. They are alternately arranged, single, mostly full margined and sometimes even lobed. When it comes to flowers, there are differences. Many climbing and twining species such as the creeping honeysuckle (Lonicera acuminata), the evergreen honeysuckle and Lonicera x heckrottii, a cross between Lonicera x americana and Lonicera sempervirens that originated in America, have strikingly beautiful and sometimes intensely fragrant flowers. While the flowers of the upright shrubs stand in pairs on a stalk, they form whorls in the climbing species. The color spectrum ranges from white, for example real honeysuckle (Lonicera caprifolium), to yellow, such as the blue honeysuckle, blue Honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea), to bright red (Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore Scarlet’).

The flowering period differs from species to species. Many Honeysuckles bloom in early summer, between May and June. However, a Honeysuckle begins mesmerizes us much earlier in the year with its creamy white to pale yellow flowers, when other flowering plants are still quite bare. The surprise gets better, if a deciduous tree in a flowerless garden, sprouts flowers that also smells heavenly. The winter beauty
-Honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii) is one such winter bloomer and often bears its flowers as early as December, even if the main blooming time is closer to February / March. In the rest of the gardening season, however, the shrub is rather inconspicuous. After flowering, Honeysuckles develop small red or black berries, some of which are mildly poisonous.

Tatar Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)

The Tatar Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) becomes a bushy, growing shrub 9.84 to 13.12 feet high. The very robust wood often sprouts as early as the end of February and flowers from May to June

In addition to spectacular flowers, evergreen trees also play a special role in the Honeysuckle genus — especially in winter, of course, when a bit of color is sure to make you happy. And Honeysuckles have some aces up their sleeve: Among the low, shrubby representatives, the evergreen honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida), also called hedge myrtle, and the slope myrtle (Lonicera pileata) are popular as ground cover. The similar looking small shrubs can withstand heat, drought and root pressure.

Climbers of this species are ideal, if you want to go higher. Among the approx. 180 species of the Lonicera genus, everyone knows the real honeysuckle, also known as “Italian Honeysuckle”, which blossoms avidly from early summer and whose flowers give off an intense scent that attracts moths in the evening. In the winter months you’ll appreciate the evergreen Honeysuckle (Lonicera henryi) even more, as it is one of the few climbing plants that keeps its foliage all year round. The glossy dark green leaves indicate that the uncomplicated climber likes to be in a semi-shaded or a shaded area.

Overall, Honeysuckles are quite undemanding when it comes to their planting location. Because they form very deep roots, these plants can hold their own against the pressure of larger trees once they have grown properly. Even summery dry seasons can hardly harm them. In general, most Honeysuckles prefer fresh to damp, porous and humus-rich soil. Sunlight requirement — sunny to shady — varies from species to species. Therefore, when buying a Honeysuckle, you should find out the exact requirements.

evergreen Honeysuckle “May Green” (Lonicera nitida)

The evergreen Honeysuckle “May Green” (Lonicera nitida) is a popular substitute for boxwood because of its small, dark green leaves

Where to plant

The Honeysuckle species are versatile because of their several different growth patterns. The low shrub species such as the box-leaved Honeysuckle and the evergreen honeysuckle can be planted as green cover under trees. What’s more, they are easy to prune and therefore look just as good as individual plants in the border and in the planter. Evergreen Honeysuckles such as Lonicera nitida ‘May green’ or ‘Elegant’ are also a good substitute for the boxwood, which is often infested by the boxwood moth, because of their low height.

The climbing Honeysuckle is one of the twining species. That is why they prefer climbing aids in the form of trellises and supports if you want them to grow vertically. If the plant shoots do not find a footing during their turning movements, they bend downwards. Since they sometimes grow very quickly, the evergreen species are particularly suitable if you want to green a wall or a Pergola quickly.

Because of its intense scent, the winter scented Honeysuckle is best planted along paths or fences. This winter wonder can also make the corner of a garden into the highlight of a garden tour. You can enhance the blooming effect with early spring flowers: Crocuses, blue stars and Cyclamen can form entire carpets under the bush.

Deciduous, upright growing species such as the Tatar honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) grow into beautiful shrubs over time; with the summer blooms being particularly striking. They stand out when they are a part of a mixed hedge as well. To enjoy the heady scent of the tree, we recommend planting it near a terrace or on a pathway.

Honeysuckle as a climbing plant

As a climbing plant, the Honeysuckle is ideal for secluded corners, just like clematis or climbing rose

Pruning

It is worth pruning the shrubby species immediately after flowering. Shorten dead shoots to a lateral shoot. So, next year more flowers will form on the fresh shoots. Older shrubs can be thinned out by cutting around a quarter of the oldest shoots to the base.

Over time, climbers under the Honeysuckle have a tendency to shed from bottom part. To avoid this, shorten around a third of the oldest main shoots close to the ground in spring, every few years. In addition to this pruning, you can shorten withered shoots that become too long in the summer or occasionally thin them out. This recommendation applies to all summer-flowering honeysuckle varieties.

Fruits of a Honeysuckle (Lonicera)

Depending on the species, the fruits of the Honeysuckle are either red or blue and mildly poisonous

Propagation

The propagation of the Honeysuckle varies from growth form to growth form. Climbing honeysuckle propagates best as cuttings, which are cut in June for deciduous species and in July for evergreen species. Evergreen, small-leaved species such as Lonicera nitida are also propagated by cuttings. The bushes under the Honeysuckle can also be propagated with cuttings. The best time to do this is in winter, between December and February. If you only want a smaller number of offspring from your climbing Honeysuckle, propagation by layering is also an option.

Diseases and Pests

The Honeysuckles are relatively robust against plant diseases and pests. However, infestations with Aphids are more frequent, which sometimes can be identified by severely stunted leaves. Rolled or discolored leaves are also an indication of an infestation. White wax wool on your plant means mealybug is the cause. Both species of aphids are best combated with a biological preparation, as the honeydew secreted by the aphids attracts numerous bees and these are otherwise affected.

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