Growing honeysuckle

Posted: Friday 10 August 2012
by Kate Bradbury

Honeysuckles shouldn’t be tricky plants to grow, but they’re often planted in the wrong place, making them susceptible to downy mildew and aphids.

Honeysuckle flowers - Lonicera periclymenum 'Graham Thomas'

The weather this summer has given me plenty to complain about, such as wind- and rain-ravaged plants, fewer flowers due to lack of sunshine, and a general absence of insects. But one thing I’m grateful to the bad weather for is the state of my honeysuckle.

Honeysuckles shouldn’t be tricky plants to grow, but they’re often planted in the wrong place, making them susceptible to downy mildew and aphids. Traditionally found in woodland, honeysuckles are used to growing in shady conditions beneath the tree canopy, or in hedgerows. They like a deep, cool root run in well-drained soil, plenty of water and a fair amount of shade (a yearly mulch of leaf mould or similar also works wonders). So if they’re grown in a sheltered, sunny spot on a patio, for example, they’re not going to thrive.

I planted my honeysuckle ‘Graham Thomas’ at the base of a north-facing wall three years ago. The root run isn’t deep, and the drainage is perhaps a little too good. The top of the plant has grown into the sun and gets as much sunshine as plants growing against the south-facing wall, opposite. In a normal year, my honeysuckle does ok – it doesn’t attract aphids, but I suspect the stress of having a shallow root run and not enough water explains the odd bit of mildew on the leaves. And, while the plant produces a reasonable amount of flowers, it’s never developed as many berries (I do love a sticky cluster of honeysuckle berries).

But this year, thanks to the endless days of pouring rain and the lower temperatures, and possibly even the darkness caused by a lack of sunshine, my honeysuckle has done very well. There’s not a mildewed leaf or aphid-ravaged stem in sight. In fact, my honeysuckle has taken over the garden.

Now, whenever I step outside, I’m greeted by the sweet scent of honeysuckle flowers. I trained the plant to grow up a trellis, and long stems have grown out from here into the garden, as if delivering their flowers to me when I walk past. In the morning I look out and see bees charging from one bloom to the next, and as dusk falls, large moths hover, probing the flowers with their long proboscises.

There’s a bag of leaves I collected last autumn in the shed; come October I’ll tip the contents around the roots of the honeysuckle, to recreate the conditions it would normally receive in woodland. I’m hopeful that this year, once the blooms have faded, deep red sticky berries will steal the show. Then maybe I’ll be able to sit back in the comfort of my living room and watch the birds eat them. Thank you rain.

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Talkback: Growing honeysuckle
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ChristyRose 10/08/2012 at 18:30

Very interesting. I didnt realise they were woodland plants and should be planted in the shade. Though saying that - my honeysuckles planted along a south facing fence do much better that the ones planted along the northwest facing fence!?!

oldchippy 10/08/2012 at 21:47

Hi Kate my honeysuckle is in flower for the second time this year,It grows over a east facing fence and hangs over next doors garden,Last year we had a Robin nesting in it this year it was a Dunnock the birds like to feed in the amongst the leave I can't see what they find to eat,I have seen only two Damsel fly this year but not one Dragon fly and there is a pond in the next garden,Are they having a bad year as well.Or am I living in the wrong place.

catswin 10/08/2012 at 22:48

My honeysuckles have totally taken over the garden. A 3 year old white evergreen (planted in a very cool corner between shed and fence) is now more than 20 feet high climbing through a tree and what was a sprinkling of honeysuckle along a 3ft chain link fence (for the last 14 years) is this year a 7 ft high 3ft deep hedge between us and our neighbours.
The garden feels much smaller now, tho my husband says it hasn't had the same effect on the lawn - that is still just as big!!
The perfume in the evening is just heavenly.

donutsmrs 13/08/2012 at 17:32

I have two Honeysuckles and the perfume is just heavenly. They are both in pots though one of them has now rooted into the ground. The other one is against my washing post and has done so well this year. I do keep it well watered and it is in shade and not in full sun. I don't know what its name (it has faded off the label), but the flowers are quite red on the tips. The other one that has rooted, is yellow, both are just beautiful.

Edit D 14/08/2012 at 12:35

I wish my honeysuckle would be doing this well. I have inherited one on the east-facing wall in my garden. It's got two or three very long, bare stems growing all the way up to the top of the wall. Last year it had one flower on it, this year is a huge improvement on that, but still only a handful of clusters. Does anyone know whether it's ok to cut it hard back in the hope that it will bush out? I've not dared to do it in case I kill it, as I'd dearly love to keep it.