How to grow and care for honeysuckle
Learn how to plant, propagate and prune shrubby and climbing honeysuckles, in our expert Grow Guide.
Most of us think of honeysuckles as twining climbers with pretty, scented tubular flowers, perfect for covering walls, fences and pergolas. But there are also evergreen, shrubby types that make an excellent honeysuckle bush, hedging or topiary. Both belong to the genus Lonicera and there are many different cultivars, hailing from Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean and North America. Lonicera periclymenum (wild honeysuckle, common honeysuckle or woodbine) is native to the UK.
Climbing honeysuckles flower in summer, in shades of white, cream, lemon yellow, pink, orange and raspberry red. They're perfect plants for an informal look or a cottage garden and look good combined with roses for a romantic look. They are also a magnet for wildlife. The scent of their nectar-rich flowers attracts bees and butterflies in the day and moths at night – their colour changes slightly once pollinated. The red berries that follow are enjoyed by birds (but are poisonous to humans).
Climbing honeysuckles can be deciduous, semi-evergreen or evergreen, depending on the variety. Deciduous species tend to have a more spectacular display of flowers; the evergreen honeysuckle types bear smaller, less significant blooms but give foliage cover all year round.
Shrubby honeysuckles can be deciduous or evergreen. Evergreen types such as Lonicera nitida (now renamed as Lonicera ligustrina var. yunnanensis) have small leaves that are similar to those of box, and are often used to create a honeysuckle bush, hedge or even topiary. If you have had problems with box blight or box tree caterpillar on your box plants, Lonicera nitida makes a sensible alternative. Lonicera fragrantissima and Lonicera x purpusii are deciduous and bear deliciously scented flowers in winter.
How to grow honeysuckle
Grow climbing honeysuckles in moist but well-drained soil in partial shade, ideally with the roots in shade but the stems in sun, such as at the base of a west-facing wall or fence. Give them a sturdy frame to climb up, such as a trellis or wire frame. Water plants in dry spells and feed with a general purpose fertiliser in spring. Grow shrubby honeysuckles in moist but well drained soil in sun or partial shade.
More like this
Growing honeysuckle: jump links
- Planting honeysuckle
- Caring for honeysuckle
- Pruning honeysuckle
- Propagating honeysuckle
- Growing honeysuckle: problem-solving
- Buying honeysuckle
- Best honeysuckle to grow
Where to grow honeysuckle
All honeysuckles will grow in most soil types but prefer a well-drained, humus-rich soil.
Climbing honeysuckles are mostly woodland and hedgerow plants, so have evolved with their roots shaded by trees and shrubs, but their climbing tendrils growing into the light. Mimic these growing conditions if you can – climbing honeysuckles do better when their roots are in shade and their stems can reach sunlight. The scent of climbing honeysuckle is stronger when plants are grown in a warm spot. A new variety, 'Strawberries and Cream', is low growing and more suitable for pots.
How to plant honeysuckle
Deciduous honeysuckles should be planted in late winter, evergreen honeysuckles in spring or autumn.
When planting any honeysuckle, dig in some well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost or well rotted manure, into the soil before planting. Dig a hole that is the same size as the rootball, and plant at the same depth as the plant was in the pot. Mulch with organic matter to help with water retention. Water in well.
Climbing honeysuckles are self-clinging but require a helping hand when young. If you're growing one against a wall or fence, put up some galvanised wires and lead the plant to these by guiding the stems with a bamboo cane, or tie them in to a support.
Shrubby honeysuckles such as Lonicera nitida can be planted as cheaper, bare-root plants in autumn or winter. For a dense hedge plant five small plants per metre.
How to care for honeysuckle
Water all honeysuckles in dry spells in summer. Feed with a general purpose fertiliser in spring to promote good growth and plenty of flowers.
Beware of the 'rain shadow' that can occur at the base of walls and fences, where rain doesn't penetrate the soil. Mulching around the base of the climbing honeysuckles in spring, with well rotted manure or garden compost, can help to retain moisture.
How to prune honeysuckle
Honeysuckle pruning depends on the type of honeysuckle you are growing.
Those that flower early in the summer should be pruned after flowering. Cut back by about one third to maintain a neat shape. Don't remove the dying flower heads as these will become berries. Those that flower later in the summer should be pruned lightly in spring. These flower on the current season’s growth, so don't cut back too hard or you'll risk losing the flowers.
If your climbing honeysuckle is overgrown, renovate it in late winter by cutting it back hard. In this vintage clip from Gardeners' World, Joe Swift demonstrates how to prune honeysuckle growing on an obelisk:
Deciduous shrubby honeysuckles can be pruned after flowering in late spring or summer. If your plant is very overgrown, you can cut it back hard in late winter or early spring. In this clip from Gardeners' World, Monty Don prunes a winter-flowering honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, showing where and how much to cut in order to generate new shoots that will carry fragrant blooms next winter and early spring:
Evergreen shrubby honeysuckles such as Lonicera nitida, can be pruned in summer.
You can propagate honeysuckle by taking semi-ripe cuttings in July and August, when the wood of the stems is flexible but firm.
You can also propagate climbing honeysuckles by layering – bending a shoot down to soil level and encouraging it to root.
Climbing honeysuckles can be propagated from their berries. Extract the seeds from the berries and sow them straight away in pots of garden soil. Leave the seeds to germinate in a cold frame or put the seeds in the refrigerator over winter, then bring them back out in spring – a temperature of 15°C is required before the seeds will germinate.
Growing honeysuckle: problem solving
Honeysuckle aphid can be a real problem for climbing honeysuckles. Leaves become distorted and curled as the sucking insects feed on the plant. The aphids excrete honeydew which then leads to sooty mould. Plants that are in poor health are more prone to infestation. Prune out very badly infested shoots, or apply an organic insecticide as a last resort. Plants are less prone to aphid attack if they are grown in partial shade.
Honeysuckles can also be prone to powdery mildew – again, growing in partial shade can help prevent this, as can mulching around the base in spring.
You might find that your honeysuckle stops flowering, there are a few things you can do to encourage flowers, as Alan Titchmarsh explains in this video.
Advice on buying honeysuckle
- There's a wide range of honeysuckles to grow, including climbers and shrubby plants that are deciduous or evergreen. Make sure you choose the right one for your garden
- Bear in mind that specialist nurseries may offer more choice than garden centres
- Always check your plants for signs of disease and damage before buying or, if you bought them online, before planting
Where to buy honeysuckle online
Honeysuckle varieties to grow
Lonicera periclymenum 'Serotina'
Lonicera periclymenum 'Serotina' is a vigorous, deciduous honeysuckle climber with scented, creamy white flowers that are streaked with raspberry red. It holds the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Height x Spread: 7m x 3.5m
Lonicera periclymenum 'Scentsation'
Lonicera periclymenum 'Scentsation', as its name suggests, has strongly scented flowers in shades of white and pale yellow, from midsummer to September. H x S: 7m x 1m
Lonicera 'Mandarin' is a new variety with striking but unscented orange flowers from June to August. It is a vigorous, deciduous climber. The new foliage is a rich bronze colour, before maturing to deep green. It holds the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). H x S: 6m x 2m
Lonicera japonica 'Halliana'
Lonicera japonica 'Halliana' is a vigorous evergreen honeysuckle that bears scented yellow and white flowers in summer. It has the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). H x S: 3m x 4.5m
Lonicera periclymenum 'Rhubarb and Custard'
Lonicera periclymenum 'Rhubarb and Custard' is an attractive and compact deciduous climber with large, scented flowers. As the name suggests, these are custard-yellow tinged with rhubarb pink. Suitable for smaller gardens. H x S: 2m x 1.5m
Lonicera periclymenum 'Strawberries and Cream'
A new delightful, compact variety that doesn't climb, but forms a neat mounded shape. Its flowers, as its name suggests, are pink and pale yellow. It's perfect for growing at the front of a border, and is ideal for pots. H x S: 60cm x 60cm
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ is a deciduous climbing honeysuckle with highly scented flowers from July to September; they start out white and turn butter yellow. It holds the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). H x S: 7m x 1m
Lonicera fragrantissima is known as the winter honeysuckle as it bears white, highly scented flowers on the leafless branches from January to March. This deciduous shrub is fully hardy. H x S: 2m x 3m
Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty'
Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ is one of the best of the winter flowering shrubby honeysuckles, bearing sweetly fragrant creamy white flowers on bare stems, from late winter. It makes an attractive spreading deciduous shrub. It holds the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). H x S: 3m x 2m
Lonicera pileata (box-leaved honeysuckle) is a dense evergreen shrub with small, box-like leaves, ideal for topiary or a dense, low-growing hedge. It bears small, creamy white flowers in spring and purple berries in autumn. It is a good alternative to box if box blight or box tree caterpillar is a problem. H x S: 1m x 2.5m
Frequently asked questions
Help! My honeysuckle has mildew
Honeysuckles are woodland plants that thrive in partial shade, ideally with their roots in shade but their leaves in sunshine for half of the day. Powdery mildew often often occurs when the roots becom dry and could indicate that your honeysuckle is struggling.
Rather than spray the mildew with a fungicide, it's best to tackle the cause of the problem: dry roots. Keep your honeysuckle well watered during summer and mulch annually with bark chippings or home-made compost so the soil retains as much moisture as possible. You may also consider adding a piece of crock around the roots to further prevent evaporation from the soil, as you might with clematis. This should solve the problem straight away.
Help! My honeysuckle leaves are turning yellow and falling off!
Yellowing and falling leaves can indicate nutrient deficiency or simply a lack of water. Give your honeysuckle a good drink and feed with a liquid seaweed fertiliser or balanced organic plant food, and it should perk up.
Help! My honeysuckle has no scent
Although honeysuckles are known for their strong fragrance, not all of them are scented (E.G. Lonicera × tellmanniana), so it's important to check the label before buying. If you have a scented honeysuckle that's not producing any fragrance then give the plant a good drink as moist soil and warm conditions are said to bring on the best fragrance of scented plants. Bear in mind that honeysuckles have evolved to be pollinated by moths so are more scented at night. So, if you are checking your flowers by day, check them again at dusk – you may find they smell more strongly in the evening.
How to grow honeysuckle up a fence
Climbing honeysuckles are not self-clinging, so need to be tied to support, such as a trellis or series of tension wires fixed to the fence using vine eyes. It's a good idea to paint the fence before training climbers to grow up it, as it can be tricky to paint behind existing plants. If using tension wires, fix them both horizontally and vertically, so there is plenty of wire to tie the honeysuckle stems into.