How to grow edible honeysuckle (honeyberry)
Grow a super berry in your garden, rich in anti-oxidants, vitamin C and potassium. Honeyberry (edible Lonceria) is an early-flowering shrub with ornamental value, which produces a crop of pretty blue berries.
- An easy, low-maintenance addition to your fruit cage, allotment or even a flower border
- Clusters of flowers appear along the stems in late winter or early spring
- Plant in spring for best establishment over the summer and to provide a crop in the second year
- A sunny or dappled-shade location is required for plenty of blooms and berries
- Prune in early to mid-summer after harvesting your berries
- They need a pollination friend so always plant more than one for a great crop
- Very easy to propagate by taking hardwood cuttings in winter
All you need to know
The honeyberry is steadily growing in popularity and is becoming more widely available. There is a wider choice of cultivars too.
Honeyberrys are often sold as two plants in one pot to help improve pollination. They can also be sold as separate plants, so do check before buying too many or too few.
Choose a strong looking plant with at least a couple of stem coming from the base.
A few garden centres have started to stock them in 1 or 2 litre pots, but a greater choice can be found via mail order and these are supplied in easily transportable 9cm (3½in) pots.
Here are the honeyberry suppliers listed in RHS Find a Plant.
When to plant
Plant in spring for best establishment and for a small crop of fruit in the second year. The size of crop will depend on how well they flower in late winter and the yield (amount of fruit) will increase with age.
Where to plant
- Choose a sheltered, sunny situation or dappled shade
- Honeyberry will happily grow in most soil types, but very wet or dry spots are best avoided
- Ensure you have enough room for their height and spread of 1.2m (4ft). Plant them at least 1m (3¼ft) apart, so you can easily get around all of the sides for picking and pruning
- Some of the species are native to Russia and can be counted as fully hardy in UK winters. However, a late frost can catch the early flowers, so a sheltered position in a warm spot will reduce the chances of the crop being lost in tricky spring weather
- Your honeyberries need pollinators, so planting other late-winter/early-spring flowering plants in the area is good for attracting them. If the pollinator numbers are low, you can help out and pollinate the flowers yourself by lightly dabbing a small soft paint brush into each flower to help maximise the crop
- After planting, check and water your honeyberries regularly for the following spring, summer and early autumn to aid establishment
- Keep an eye on watering as the fruit is developing as this is needed regularly during dry springs to help the berries swell
- Only feed once a year in late winter with a general fertiliser such as Growmore or Blood, Fish and Bone.
- They would also benefit from a yearly mulch of organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure, to help improve the soil and moisture retention, ready for those dry spells
- Honeyberries are hardy down to -20°C and don’t require winter protection, but make sure they are sheltered and out of the worst of the late-spring frosts to protect their flowers and your harvest
- The berries should be ready for picking between late spring and early summer
- Allow them to turn a blueish-black, covered with a whitish powder known as a bloom, before picking
- Check that the flesh inside the berry is purple-red before picking. Under-ripe fruit can be very sour
Caring for older plants
- In the world of fruit bushes this one is easy to care for, especially if you get into the habit of mulching and pruning
- Over time, most fruit bushes will tire and fruit production will decline. Keep an eye on the health and vigour of new shoots and as they start to slow down think about planting replacements to take over
New plants (planted for less than two years)
- To help your new plants become established, only remove the dead and damaged stems for the first three years after planting
Established plants (typically three or more years old)
- Prune mature plants once a year after harvesting in early- to mid-summer
- Remove straggly weak and damaged growth when pruning
- Look at the shoots coming from the base and cut out several old shoots at their bases to reduce overcrowding and encourage new, strong shoots
- Trim the tips of the young shoots. Taking off just a couple of centimetres (half an inch), cutting back to a set of leaves to encourage more flowers
For best results select healthy, disease-free stems to propagate from. All the following methods can be tried - we've arranged them from easiest to more tricky.
Hardwood cuttings: Taking hardwood cuttings is the quickest propagation method for producing a new plant that could be fruiting in three to four years.
- In late-autumn to mid-winter, select and cut woody stems. Choose straight, pencil thick stems of about 20-30cm (8in-1ft) long
- Insert the stems into a pot of firm compost and keep in a cold frame or cool greenhouse over the winter. Check from time to time to make sure they don’t dry out or get soggy
- New shoots will appear from the buds in spring. Water to keep moist over summer
- Plant out in autumn
Layering: The shorter stems on the outside of the honeyberry are ideal for layering in spring.
Softwood and semi-ripe cuttings: can be taken from spring to summer. For best chance of success, choose stems that have their leaf nodes closely spaced. Make the cuttings 5-10cm (2-4in) long, as overly long cuttings can dry out.
Seeds: Collect fresh, ripe berries in summer, then clean and remove all of the berry flesh and allow the seeds to dry. Sow the seeds straight away in moist, warm conditions, there is no need to chill the seed before sowing.
Honeyberries are generally trouble free, however they are prone to powdery mildew during times of drought. Help prevent outbreaks by mulching around the base with garden compost. This helps improve the moisture retention of your soil.
Check young shoots in spring as they can be prone to an aphid attack; small groups of aphids are easily rubbed off and squashed.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.