How to Grow and Care for Common Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)

Attract pollinating moths with their fragrance

Wild honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) produces sweetly scented flowers on a vine. Photo taken at Mitcham Common in Surrey, UK.

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The sweet floral scent of honeysuckle in the air is a sure tell that summer has arrived. The honeysuckle family (Lonicera spp.) includes 180 species of low-maintenance deciduous and evergreen shrubs or climbers with twining stems. Many have naturalized in the United States and some are native to specific regions of the country. If you plan to include this old time favorite in your landscape, be sure to do your homework. Other species of honeysuckle are highly invasive and prohibited in parts of the country. Check with your local cooperative extension to make sure the variety you choose can be planted in your region. Attracting bees and hummingbirds, honeysuckle flowers are showy, with large blooms in shades of yellow, red, pink, purple and white. The flowers are either tubular or two-lipped, followed by red or black berries. Depending on the variety, honeysuckle grows hardy in USDA zones 4 through 10.

Common honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) is also called European honeysuckle or woodbine. Native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia, it has naturalized in some areas of North America such as Nova Scotia, Ontario, New England and the Pacific Northwest. It is a deciduous shrub with a vine-like habit, growing 12 feet tall and occasionally to 20 feet tall. Leaves are ovate to obovate, about two inches long, appearing on the stems in pairs. Leaves are dark green above and blue-green underneath. Two shades of green appear in the center of the leaf, which has creamy white edges. New leaves emerge in spring and mature as smooth leaves by summer, becoming hot pink in autumn. Buds are pink. Flowers open ivory with a purple tinge, crimson purple on the outside while they remain yellow and white inside. Two-lipped flowers, each two inches long, bloom steadily in summer and more sporadically in autumn to frost, in three to five whorled terminal spikes that give way to glossy, red berries. Growing naturally in woodland, scrub or hedgerow, their sweet scent is most fragrant after dark when it attracts pollinating moths.

Botanical Name Lonicera periclymenum
Common Names  Common Honeysuckle, European Honeysuckle, Woodbine
Plant Type Deciduous shrub with a vine-like growth habit
Mature Size  12 to 20 ft. tall
Sun Exposure  Dappled sunlight
Soil Type  Moist, well-drained soils
Soil pH  Neutral; tolerates both acidic and alkaline
Bloom Time  Spring, summer, fall
Flower Colors Crimson purple outside and yellow and white inside
Hardiness Zones   5-9, USDA
Native Area  Europe, Northern Africa, Southwest Asia
Toxicity  Mildly toxic to children

Common Honeysuckle Care

Tie young vining honeysuckle to a vertical stake to support its growth. Establish the stake before planting to avoid disturbing the soil or roots.

Invasive Species

If you plan to include common honeysuckle in your landscape, be sure to do your homework. Other species of honeysuckle are highly invasive and prohibited in parts of the country. Check with your local extension office to make sure the variety you choose can be planted in your region.

Light

Common honeysuckle prefers dappled sunlight, but it will grow in full sun to part shade. Give the plant a similar environment to its native habitat of scrub and woods. If possible, shade the roots and let the plant climb towards the sun.

Soil

Give common honeysuckle any fertile, rich, well-drained soil.

Water

Water newly planted honeysuckle consistently. Keep the soil evenly moist until the plant shows signs of vigorous growth. Once established, it is quite drought tolerant. Water only if summer droughts last two weeks or more, offering at least one inch of water per week. Adding about two inches of organic mulch around the plant's base will prevent water from evaporating.

Temperature and Humidity

Honeysuckles usually thrive best in cooler regions with cooler summer climates. Place in part afternoon shade where summers are especially hot.

Fertilizer

If planted in fertile soil, the honeysuckle will grow vigorously without any added fertilizer. If needed, encourage blooming by applying a low-nitrogen fertilizer in spring such as 2-10-10, 0-10-10 or 15-25-10. Too much nitrogen will encourage more growth in the leaves and not enough in the flowers. Such "flushes of foliage growth" could make the plant more susceptible to pests. Learn to read and understand garden fertilizer labels to give each plant exactly what it needs.

Pruning

Once established, most honeysuckle plants will grow vigorously. Prune your common honeysuckle as you would any shrub or vine, removing dead or damaged twigs and branches throughout the season but save any hard pruning for after bloom. Early-blooming vining varieties that bloom on last year's growth, like common honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), benefit from being cut back by one-third after the blooming period is over. If the vine gets out of control, cut it two feet above the ground.

Is Common Honeysuckle Toxic?

Honeysuckle blooms yield a drop of sweet nectar and children are often drawn to "sip" the flowers. Some species of Lonicera (i.e., L. involucrata) flowers are edible. Others, especially the European species like the common honeysuckle, may cause digestive tract problems in children. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does not list honeysuckle on its list of plants that are toxic to pets.

Other Varieties

  • Early Dutch Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum 'Belgica' ) plants bear streaked, raspberry red flowers.
  • A popular woodbine (Lonicera periclymenum 'Serotina') produces flowers that are dark red on the outside and yellow and white inside.
  • Berries Jubilee (Lonicera periclymenum 'Monul') have yellow flowers, giving fruit to bright red berries.

Propagating Common Honeysuckle

Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken for propagation in summer. Put the cuttings in a well-draining soil and wait for them to take root.

Common Pests and Diseases

While there are rarely any serious insect or disease issues, watch for honeysuckle aphids and scale. Leaf roller, dieback, and blights may also arise. Powdery mildew and leaf spots may occur in hot and humid summer climates—another reason to grow honeysuckle in cooler regions where it will thrive.