Honeysuckle (Lonicera)

Lonicera (honeysuckle) are popular garden plants with highly perfumed flowers. There are climbing honeysuckles, which are wonderful draped over pergolas and supports, and evergreen shrubby types, which make good hedging plants.

Lonicera periclymenum 'Serotina'. Credit: RHs/Advisory.

Quick facts

Common name Honeysuckle
Botanical name Lonicera
Group Climbers and shrubs
Flowering time Climbers flower in summer; shrubs in late winter, spring or summer
Planting time Deciduous in winter; evergreens in spring or autumn
Height and spread Various
Aspect Full sun or partial shade
Hardiness Mostly fully hardy, some tender species e.g. L. hildebrandiana
Difficulty Easy

Cultivation notes

There are two types of honeysuckle:

  • Climbers prefer fertile, humus rich, moist but well-drained soil. Though they will flower best with the top growth in full sun, they are less prone to aphid attack in partial shade.
  • Grow shrubby honeysuckles in any well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.

Both types are very easy to grow. They like a mulch around the base of organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure, to reduce water stress. And top dressing in spring with general fertiliser such as Growmore or fish blood and bone will promote growth and flowering.

See the links below for more general advice on planting and cultivation.

Links

Climbers and wall shrubs
Shrubs
Trees and shrubs: planting
Hedges: selection
Hedges: planting

Pruning and training

Climbers and shrubs require different treatment to get the best results. The methods are explained below.

Climbers

Honeysuckles flowering on the current season’s growth, such as Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle), do not require regular pruning. Simply control the growth by cutting back any overlong shoots in spring. Also thin out congested growth and remove weak or damaged stems.

Honeysuckles that flower early in the season, on short side shoots on the previous year's growth, such as Lonicera periclymenum (common honeysuckle), should be pruned back by about one-third in late summer immediately after flowering.

Renovate climbers by hard pruning to 60cm (2ft) from the ground in early spring. Thin out vigorous re-growth and tie in the new shots.

Shrubs

Prune deciduous shrubs, such as L. tatarica, after flowering in late spring or summer. Remove old and weak stems to stimulate new from the base. Shorten about one in three older branches, cutting to a new, upright shoot. Renovate by hard pruning to framework of older branches in late winter or early spring.

Trim evergreen shrubs, such as L. nitida and ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ used for hedging, three times between spring and autumn. Renovate by pruning to within 15cm (6in) of the ground in early spring.

Links

Hedges: how to trim
Shrubs: pruning early-flowering
Shrubs: pruning evergreens
Shrubs: pruning summer-flowering
Shrubs: renovation

Propagation

You can propagate honeysuckles by taking softwood or semi-ripe cuttings 5-7.5cm (2-3in) long from late spring to summer. Evergreens also take well from hardwood cuttings, about 20-30cm (8-12in) long, from autumn to mid-winter. 

Try layering in spring, particularly with climbers as the flexible young stems bend easily to the ground.

Sow fresh seeds in autumn and keep in a cold frame, or refrigerate the seed mixed with moist compost for four to 12 weeks, and then germinate at 13°C-18°C (55°F-64°F).

Links

Cuttings: semi-ripe
Cuttings: softwood
Layering
Trees and shrubs from seed

Cultivar Selection

Climbers

Lonicera japonica 'Halliana' AGM: An evergreen or semi-evergreen, vigorous climber with dark green leaves and white fragrant flowers from spring to summer. Height: 10m (33ft).
L. henryi: This is an evergreen, vigorous honeysuckle with purplish-red flowers between early and mid-summer, followed by purple-black berries. Height: 10m (33ft).
L. periclymenum 'Graham Thomas' AGM: This deciduous and vigorous honeysuckle bears deliciously fragrant white to yellow flowers in mid and late summer. There are red berries in autumn. Height: 7m (23ft).
L. sempervirens AGM: Bears scarlet flowers in summer and orange-red berries in autumn. This honeysuckle is deciduous. Height: 6m (20ft).

Shrubs

L. nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ AGM: An evergreen shrub with small bright yellow leaves. Good for hedging. Height 3.5m (11½ft). Spread 3m (10ft).
L. pileata: A spreading evergreen plant with small, creamy white flowers and violet-purple berries. Good for ground cover. Height: 60cm (2ft). Spread 2.4m (8ft).
L. fragrantissima: Offers fragrant flowers in late winter and early spring. Needs sheltered position to flower well. Height 2m (6½ft). Spread 3m (10ft).
L. × purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ AGM: Has fragrant white flowers in late winter and early spring. Height 2m (6½ft). Spread 2.4m (8ft).

Links

RHS Plant Finder
RHS Plant Selector
AGM Plants

Problems

Honeysuckles are bothered by few pests or diseases.

Drought stressed plants are more prone to powdery mildew infection. To help prevent this, mulch around the base with organic matter to conserve moisture, especially if planted against walls and fences where it is naturally dry.

The new shoots are prone to aphid attack.

Links

Aphids
Powdery mildews

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  • Gwencar avatar

    By Gwencar on 08/07/2014

    The leaves on my honeysuckle are dry and brown, but there are flowers and leaves growing above the dry leaves. It is growing against a wall, is there an answer please?

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  • Vlospire avatar

    By Vlospire on 11/07/2014

    If its dry soil around its roots mulch and make sure its watered, or it might be blight, this isn't a problem if you clear away and destroy any infected fallen leaves, it'll probably be fine next year, good luck!

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