Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) is a rambling broadleaf evergreen shrub native to southern Africa, often grown in warm climates as a flowering shrub or liana (a plant that hangs from trees), 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. 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. As a shrub, it matures at ten feet tall, but it can also ramble as a climbing vine as much as 30 feet or more. You can grow it in a container if space is limited or if you want to maintain it at a manageable size,
|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||Southern Africa|
Cape Honeysuckle Care
This plant is fairly problem-free, however, if you are gardening in an area that receives frost, the frost can damage its leaves and branches. The plant could encounter problems with too little or too many nutrients, which is usually most apparent in weak or sparse foliage. There might 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 might 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 kept moist and the soil 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 one inch) if you are growing it in full sun, or just once or twice a month if it is grown 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 USDA cold 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 to have different flower colors:
- 'Aurea' features golden-yellow flowers. It is a more heat-tolerant variety.
- 'Coccinea' has bright red or scarlet blooms.
- 'Salmonea' produces orange or pink flowers.
- 'Apricot' is a more compact version with apricot-orange flowers.
Pruning your cape honeysuckle depends on the growth habit you want to maintain. If you're growing it as a hedge, trimming might be required on a regular basis because the plant grows quickly. Cut it back to the ground every three to four years in the spring (or as needed) to prevent it from sprawling. At the beginning of spring, remove branches that have been damaged by frost.
This plant freely produces suckers. If you don't want this plant to spread, remove the suckers immediately. If you are growing this plant as a vine, less maintenance is required to keep it trained to grow onto its support structure.
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-shoot 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 five-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 peat and perlite into the soil to improve chances 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 grown from seed.
Potting and Repotting Cape Honeysuckle
Cape honeysuckle makes a great container plant if you live in an area with 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 two 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 USDA cold hardiness 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 40 degrees Fahrenheit and will die back when temperatures reach 25 degrees.
If your plant is growing in a container, bring it indoors before the first frost and keep it by a bright window. If any branches are damaged by frost, wait until spring to trim them off before moving the plant outdoors.
Common Pests and 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 receiving 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 actively 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 to keep the plant under control.
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 nutrient deficiencies. Diagnosis by a professional—or at least a soil analysis might 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 a shrub or vine. As a shrub, it can be anywhere from three to ten 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 train it into a vine, guide 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 two to three 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.