The citrus and jasmine scent of Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) perfuming our gardens on warm afternoons in summer is enchanting. Many of us have sipped the sweet nectar from the base of the tubular yellow flowers and caught a glimpse of what hummingbirds must enjoy on their excursions to the abundant flowers of this fragrant plant.
But along with the wonderful scent comes rampant growth that can be difficult to manage. Both aggressive top growth and numerous and ongoing suckers that grow from the base make managing this vine onerous and ongoing. The suckers root quickly and can turn the vine into a thicket of growth. Consequently, many people hesitate planting honeysuckles and are not aware that there are a number of other varieties that are easier to manage, and have beautiful and/or fragrant flowers.
Honeysuckles flower on the tips of new growth. Pruning hard in fall or winter will generate a lot of new growth for flowers in spring and summer. If vines are spread over a fan-shaped trellis or over a fence, it increases the surface area of bloom. Yearly pruning keeps the vines at a more manageable size, and keeps them from becoming a thicket.
One of the best honeysuckles is the American honeysuckle (Lonicera x americana). It has huge cream and pink fragrant flowers with an exotic clove scent that is most pronounced at dawn and dusk, as it is pollinated by large moths as well as hummingbirds. The fragrance carries and one plant can perfume a large area. Bees avidly collect the pollen and each plant is abuzz with activity. The distinctive flower clusters are about 5 or 6 inches across. Abundant coral pink buds juxtaposed with cream-colored flowers create a stunning picture. Each long, curved, tubular flower is about 2 inches long, and is both as striking and delicate as a Japanese flower painting.
The plant is semi-deciduous in winter depending on the degree of cold. Leaves are blue-green. It grows in USDA Zones 6-10 and is drought and heat tolerant, can grow in alkaline soils and in sun or shade. The plant grows from 10 to 20 feet tall, but can be managed as a smaller plant. It does not send out root suckers like the Japanese honeysuckle. Its growth is strongly arching and will require a trellis, fence or tree to grow on. It is best to prune the plant after bloom. Cut it back hard periodically to encourage strong new growth. The long shoots with flowers held on the terminal ends make great, long lasting cut flowers. They combine beautifully with roses. Bloom begins in May and extends through June or later if conditions are right. Butterflies and hummingbirds avidly visit the flowers.
Another beautiful honeysuckle is the Goldflame honeysuckle (Lonicera heckrotii). Similar to the American honeysuckle, but smaller in flower and stature, it has hot pink buds and gold clustered, tubular flowers with a light fragrance. The main flowering period is in May, and continues into summer, but less profusely. The flower clusters are about 2 to 3 inches across. Flowers are followed by red fruit that birds eagerly devour but that don’t cause unwanted seedlings. The plant has oval new leaves that turn blue/green in summer, and are more dense then the American honeysuckle. It is semi-evergreen, and grows up to 15 feet tall. Afternoon shade in warm areas is recommended along with moderate water. It requires more fertile soil than the American honeysuckle and is hardy to USDA Zone 4. The flowers are a hummingbird favorite.