Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) is a rambling broadleaf evergreen shrub, native to South Africa, often grown in warm climates as a flowering shrub or liana, where its blazing orange hues provide winter color and sweet nectar attract hummingbirds. Common name aside, this is not a true honeysuckle (Linicera spp.), but rather a close relative of trumpet creeper, belonging to the same Bignoniaceae family. This easy-to-grow plant has pinnately compound leaves with five to nine diamond-shaped leaflets. As a shrub, it grows up to 10 feet tall, but it can also ramble as a climbing vine as much as 30 feet or more. From fall to spring, it produces clusters of trumpet-shaped yellow, apricot, red, or orange flowers.
Cape honeysuckle is a fast-grower that can grow anywhere from 13- to 25-inches tall in its first year after a successful spring planting.
|Common Name||Cape honeysuckle|
|Botanical Name||Tecoma capensis|
|Plant Type||Flowering broadleaf evergreen shrub|
|Mature Size||3-10 ft. tall as a shrub, 25-30 ft. long as a vine|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil pH||Acidic to alkaline (5.0–8.0)|
|Bloom Time||Fall to spring|
|Flower Color||Yellow, red, orange, peach|
|Hardiness Zone||9-11 (USDA); may survive in zone 8 with protection|
|Native Area||South Africa|
Cape Honeysuckle Care
There aren't many problems with this plant. If your zone gets some frost, this can cause damage to the leaves and branches. You may run across problems with too little or too many nutrients, which is usually most apparent in weak or sparse foliage. There may be other environmental problems like leaf scorch. Overall, though, this shrub should stay happy and healthy over its lifetime with little maintenance.
Cape honeysuckle is a tropical plant that grows well in full sun or partial shade. In its native habitat, Cape honeysuckle is often found growing in dappled light in the forest understory. In extremely hot climates, it may actually do better in partial shade locations. The denser the shade, however, the less vigorous the blooming.
This plant does well in almost any soil type provided it is well-drained. Don't fret about the pH of your soil too much, as this plant can handle both acidic and alkaline soils. It also grows well in salty locations like coastal regions.
Water your Cape honeysuckle weekly (about 1 inch) if you are growing it in full sun, or just once or twice a month if it is in shade. After a year of regular watering, the roots should be established enough to provide drought tolerance.
Temperature and Humidity
Cape honeysuckle is a tropical plant that thrives in hardiness zones 9–11. It is heat and drought tolerant, but its branches and leaves tend to die back at temperatures under 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you've tested the soil and determined it is lacking in nutrients, go ahead and feed it annually with a balanced fertilizer. In most cases, though, feeding is not needed for this vigorous grower.
Types of Cape Honeysuckle
The various named cultivars of cape honeysuckle have identical growth habits but have been bred for different flower colors:
- 'Aurea features golden-yellow flowers. It is a more heat-tolerant variety.
- 'Coccinea' has blooms that are bright red or scarlet.
- 'Salmonea' produces orange or pink flowers.
- 'Apricot' is a more compact version with apricot-orange flowers.
Pruning your Cape honeysuckle depends on the shape you've chosen for it. If you're going for a hedge, trimming may be required on a regular basis since this grows fast. Cut it back to the ground every three to four years in the spring (or as needed) to help keep it from sprawling. You should also prune away branches that get damaged by frost at the start of spring.
This plant freely produces suckers. Clip them away if you don't want them to spread. Less maintenance will be needed if you are using it as a vine—you will just need to keep it trained on its support system.
Propagating Cape Honeysuckle
Because Cape honeysuckle produces suckers, the plant will naturally propagate itself for you. You can also propagate the plant with softwood cuttings.
To propagate with suckers:
- You can simply wait until a sucker has rooted and produced new growth, then you can clip the stem connecting it to the main plant, dig it up, and move to where you would like it.
- Help the process along if you wish by burying the off-shooting stems in the spring. Then in the fall, once the new growth is established, simply cut the stem connecting it to the main plant, dig it up and place it where you want it.
To propagate with softwood cuttings:
- Use sharp pruners to clip off a 5-inch-long softwood stems. Trim off all except the top leaves.
- If the base of your cuttings are woody, use your shears to scrape off some of the bark. Dip the base of the cutting in rooting hormone.
- Plant the cutting in a pot filled with standard potting mix. (You can mix coco peat and perlite into the soil to improve chances for for success.)
- Keep the cuttings moist and at a temperature of between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Placing a plastic bag over the pot can help retain moisture.
- Expose the cuttings to a normal daylight schedule. The roots will be established in 2 to 14 weeks, at which time they can be transplanted to your yard or garden.
How to Grow Cape Honeysuckle From Seed
Cape honeysuckle grows well from seeds collected from the dried bean-like pods left by the faded flowers. Plant the seeds in shallow trays and cover them in sand or seed-starting mix. Seeds will germinate in 6 to 21 days. Plant seedlings once they have developed sturdy roots. Cape honeysuckle will bloom in the second year when planted from seeds.
Potting and Repotting Cape Honeysuckle
Cape honeysuckle makes a great container plant if you live outside the tropical weather they crave. Plant them in pots with good-sized drainage holes, filled with standard potting mix, and increase the container size by 2 inches each time you repot—whenever roots are evident growing out the drainage holes. Bring potted plants indoors in colder months to protect them for the next season.
Within its recognized hardiness zone, Cape honeysuckle requires no special treatment for the winter months. In zone 8, it is sometimes possible to keep the plant growing in the garden if you give it a thick layer or protective mulch over the winter—these plants don't like temperatures below 41 degrees Fahrenheit and will die back when temps reach 25 degrees.
If your plant is in a pot, bring it indoors before the first frost and keep it by a bright window. If any branches do get damaged by frost, wait until spring to trim them off before putting the pot back outside.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Cape honeysuckle attracts aphids and scale insects, both of which enjoy the plant's new growth and foliage. Spider mites and whiteflies might also be a problem for plants grown indoors. You can rid your plant of these pests with insecticidal soap.
How to Get Cape Honeysuckle to Bloom
Cape honeysuckle will generally bloom vigorously from fall to spring if it is getting enough sun. Even in partial shade, it should produce ample flowers. Excessive shade, though, will reduce its blossoms. If all other circumstances are favorable but your plant still doesn't bloom, try giving it a late summer dose of balanced fertilizer prior to the fall/winter blooming season.
Common Problems With Cape Honeysuckle
The most common problem with cape honeysuckle (perhaps the only problem) is that it can grow rather unruly if you don't prune it back frequently. This is especially problematic if you are trying to grow them as hedge plants. In addition to cutting back the active growing stems, be on the lookout for runners and suckers that can take over a garden. Rampant growth is most troublesome in warm, wet climates. Withholding water is one strategy for keeping the plant in check.
Aside from merely controlling its size, frequent pruning will keep the plant dense and full. Untended, these plants can get leggy and unattractively sparse.
Leaves that turn yellow and brown before falling off can be caused by a number of cultural problems: frost, too much wind or sun, or mineral deficiencies. Diagnosis by a professional—or at least a soil analysis may be needed.
How can I use Cape honeysuckle in the landscape?
The shape of this plant depends entirely on how you let it grow, as it can either be a shrub or vine. As a shrub, it can be anywhere from 3 to 10 feet tall, depending on how consistently you prune it. In vine form it will travel a lot farther, reaching lengths of 25 to 30 feet or more. Usually, the cape honeysuckle is treated as a shrub and clipped into a box shape. However, this plant also likes to vine, so consider it for your trellis or pergola.
How do I train Cape honeysuckle as a climber or groundcover?
To turn it into a vine, train it up a trellis or length of jute rope. To use as a ground cover, continuously trim off upward-growing stems and let it spread horizontally; it will reach a height of about 2 to 3 feet using this method.
Will deer eat Cape honeysuckle?
Deer tend to avoid eating this plant as do rabbits, which makes it an excellent addition to gardens subject to these visitors.
How do I get rid of a Cape honeysuckle plant?
If you grow weary of this plant's aggressive, invasive tendencies, then it is fairly easy to kill by spraying with a concentrated glyphosate herbicide. You may find it resprouting from roots for some time, but continued spraying will soon eradicate it.