How to grow climbing honeysuckle
Climbing honeysuckles (Lonicera) are a classic climbers for a romantic cottage garden. Twining around pergolas and adorning walls, they are covered in clusters of tubular flowers in the height of the summer.
- Easy to grow
- Flowers from summer to autumn. Blooms are followed by berries
- Plant deciduous climbers in late winter; evergreens in spring or autumn
- They don’t mind a bit of sun but prefer partial shade
- Prune annually to keep them healthy and under control
- Mulch in spring to help reduce water stress and risk of powdery mildew
- More plants can be produced by the easy and effective method of layering
All you need to know
Choosing climbing honeysuckles
The main requirement for a climbing honeysuckle is enough space to grow and flower profusely. The other things to consider when choosing one are to:
- Look at flowering times and think about when you would like your climbing honeysuckle to look its best. They typically flower from summer to early autumn, but some are considered as early or late flowering
- Pick from a range of colours including white, yellow, orange, pinks and reds, with pure colours or multi-coloured combinations that change as the season progresses
- Decide if you want a scented honeysuckle, as not all are fragrant. Check the label before buying if this is important to you
- Choose between evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous climbing honeysuckles, depending on whether you’re looking to cover a wall or fence all year round (evergreens/semi-evergreens are best) or whether you’re after a big summer display (deciduous are best)
- Remember that semi-evergreen plants shed most of their leaves in late winter, just before the new ones start to grow in spring, and so are only bare for a short time
Buying climbing honeysuckles
- Select a healthy looking plant that, ideally, has a couple of strong stems coming from the base and is free from obvious damage
- Climbing honeysuckles can be found in garden centres up and down the country, sold in tall thin pots, with the stems wrapped around canes. They are also readily available by mail order in a variety of pot sizes.
For a full selection of available plants head over to our selection of climbing honeysuckles.
When to plant
- Climbing honeysuckles can be bought and planted at all year round. You’ll get the best results, however, if you plant deciduous ones in winter and evergreens in spring or autumn
- Avoid planting when the ground is frozen or waterlogged
Where to plant
- Climbing honeysuckle need space to grow; whether it be a fence, wall, pergola or tree. Whichever you choose, they need an additional support for their stems to twine around such as a lattice of wires or a wooden trellis panel (see How to plant below)
- South-facing walls provide sun all day and are great for encouraging flowers, but the leaves may be scorched and the plant more prone to powdery mildew. Dappled-shade is best for a healthy plant and the best show of flowers. Too much shade will result in an absence of flowers
- Heavy wet soil or a dry site will also result in a sickly looking plant
How to plant
Honeysuckles twine up structures and need a little help to get them started. A sturdy support system that can stand the test of time and hold the weight of a mature plant is a good investment:
- Prepare the fence or wall by attaching wires or trellis panels (bought from DIY stores and fencing merchants).
- Wires are spaced in hortizontal layers, about 45cm (18in) apart. Plants will really benefit from some vertical wires too, spaced again at about 45cm (18in) apart. This results in good, even coverage by the plant
- Leave a gap of at least 5cm (2in) between the surface of the fence or wall and the support. This creates a bit of air flow around the plant and also gives you ample finger room for tying and pruning your plant
Our How to plant a climber guide takes you step by step through planting your climbing honeysuckle, plus the Training and pruning on planting page helps you get your climber off to a great start.
Climbers: training and pruning on planting
How to plant a climber
Once your climbing honeysuckle is in the ground, cut back the existing shoots by two thirds. This will encourage strong new shoots to form at the base that are ideal for training up your support, creating a strong framework of stems.
- Check and water regularly during the first spring and summer after planting to aid root growth and help the plant establish
- Once established, they will only need the occasional soak during hot summers. However, walls and fences create a rain shadow (a dry area) so, even if it has rained a little, do check the soil and give them a good soak if dry
- Feed once a year in spring if you wish with a general fertiliser, such as Growmore or Blood, Fish and Bone, following the instructions on the pack
- They will also benefit from a yearly mulch of organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure. This will improve the soil and retain moisture, helping them cope during times of drought
- Remember to leave on the browning flower heads to encourage berries for extra interest and as food for the birds
- The majority of climbing honeysuckles are hardy and don’t require winter protection
Caring for older plants
- Keep on top of pruning to prevent older plants from becoming overgrown thickets
- In a wildlife garden, you may wish to keep them a little bit unkempt for nesting birds
Prune and train your climbing honeysuckle to keep it healthy and producing abundant flowers.
- Late-flowering types: Prune in spring. They flower on the current season’s growth, so only require a trim and tidy up as a hard prune will reduce flowering. Cut back wayward long shoots and thin out congested areas. Start by removing the weak and damaged shoots to leave a robust framework
- Early-flowering types: Prune after flowering. Flowers are produced on short sideshoots on the previous season’s growth. Cut back flowered shoots by one-third in late summer. To maximise flowers on posts and in tight spaces, cut back the side shoots, creating short spurs of 2-3 buds coming from the main stems.
- Renovate: Prune in late-winter. Cut back all of the stems to a height of 60cm (2ft) and it will respond with plenty of new shoots. Choose the strongest and best placed stems to re-create a framework to cover your support. This is a useful method for re-starting a honeysuckle that has become very congested and bare at the bottom.
To get your new plants off to a head start, select healthy, disease-free stems to propagate from.
Layering: The long, flexible stems of climbing honeysuckle lend themselves to layering in spring. This is a propagation method where you bend a stem down to the ground or a pot, peg it into place then cover it with a little soil. This buried section will become an individual plant, which usually flowers within 3 years.
Softwood and semi-ripe cuttings: You can take cuttings from spring to summer. For best results, choose stems that have their leaf nodes close together, ensuring that the cutting is not too long, no more than 10cm (4in). Longer cuttings are more likely to dry out and fail.
Seeds: Collect fresh ripe berries in autumn, then clean and remove all of the berry flesh and allow the seeds to dry. Climbing honeysuckle seeds require a cold spell of 4-12 weeks in order to germinate, so pot them up and store them in a cold frame over winter or chill them in the fridge mixed with slightly damp compost placed in a sandwich bag. Sow the refridgerated mix on the surface of the compost filling a seed tray. Place pots and trays at 13°C-18°C (55°F-65°F) to germinate.
Honeysuckles are relatively dependable and trouble free, however they are more prone to powdery mildew during hot dry weather. Help prevent an outbreak by mulching around the base with garden compost to improve moisture retention of your soil. Walls and fences tends to be naturally drier places with a limited amount of exposed soil and so benefit greatly from added mulch.
Check young shoots in spring as they can be prone to an aphid attack. Small groups of aphids are easily rubbed off and squashed.
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