Northern bush honeysuckle is a small sun-loving woody deciduous shrub with a suckering, dense growth habit that produces trumpet-shaped yellow flowers over a long period through summer. Native to southeastern Canada and the northeastern U.S., northern bush honeysuckle has dark-green pointed oval leaves arranged alternately on multiple stems emerging from the ground. Tube-like 1/2-inch-wide flowers appear in panicles in late spring and early summer, and the foliage turns attractive shades of yellow and orange in the fall. Common name aside, it is not a true honeysuckle, but rather belongs to a separate genus with just three species: northern honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), southern bush honeysuckle (D. sessilifolia), and mountain honeysuckle (D. rivularis). Unlike most true honeysuckles, this plant is not regarded as invasive.
Bush honeysuckle is normally planted as a potted nursery plant in spring, but it can also be planted from seeds. It is a relatively fast-growing shrub; even when sown from commercial seeds, it often flowers by its third season.
|Common Name||Northern bush honeysuckle, bush honeysuckle|
|Botanical Name||Diervilla lonicera|
|Plant Type||Deciduous shrub|
|Mature Size||2–3 ft. tall, 2–4 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Fertile, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to neutral (6.0 to 7.0)|
|Hardiness Zones||3–10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
Northern Bush Honeysuckle Care
Northern bush honeysuckle is a versatile and hardy deciduous shrub that is excellent for relatively dry, semi-shady conditions in regions where summers are relatively cool. It has a variety of uses, ranging from woodland-area groundcover to small hedgerows. The fall color change can be quite interesting and attractive, so it's best to give the plants a location where this display can be appreciated.
Plant northern bush honeysuckle as you would any landscape shrub—at the same depth it was growing in its nursery container, in a hole that is about twice as wide as the container. Fill soil should be well loosened, but special amendments are rarely needed—this shrub even does fine in relatively rocky, infertile soils. If using the plants in a hedge, space them 2 to 3 feet apart, as they will quickly expand to make a good hedge with dense growth right down to ground level.
Northern bush honeysuckle copes well with a variety of light levels, though its not fond of dense shade. The more light it receives, however, the more impressive the foliage color.
This shrub is known for coping well even in rocky, poor quality, infertile soils. Sandy, loamy, and clay soils will all accommodate the northern bush honeysuckle, provided they are well-drained. A more fertile, but not overly moist soil will produce a healthier, faster-growing shrub with more extensive flowering.
Northern bush honeysuckle is impressively drought-tolerant. It does best in a dry to medium soil, so it's best to be conservative with any water you offer. New plants, however, will appreciate moist soil conditions in the first year or so. Mulching over the root zone is a good way to preserve soil moisture and keep soil temperatures favorable.
Temperature and Humidity
Native to southeastern Canada and the northeastern U.S., northern bush honeysuckle is hardy in zones 3 to 7 but will do best in the northern half of that range, where summers are cool. It thrives in dry woodland conditions with minimal humidity.
For mature northern bush honeysuckle, fertilization isn't required. If you want to see larger flowers in greater quantity on your shrub, feeding young shrubs can produce better results.
Types of Northern Bush Honeysuckle
Northern bush honeysuckle is generally used in its native species form as a landscape plant. There are no widely available named cultivars to consider. However, there are two closely related species in the genus that are also good landscape plants (See FAQ).
Pruning should be carried out after the shrub is finished flowering. Focus on carefully cutting back the top of the shrub and make sure not to remove more than one-third of the total mass. Regular pruning can help to promote a healthy shape and new growth and is essential if you are growing the shrub as a hedge plant. Hard browsing by deer is not a problem for this shrub; it just serves as natural pruning.
Propagating Northern Bush Honeysuckle
Although this shrub can be rather easily propagated by rooting softwood or semi-hardwood stem cuttings, northern bush honeysuckle has an extensive suckering root system that provides an even easier means of propagation. Herehow:
- In early spring as active growth is beginning, use a sharp trowel to carefully dig up some of the suckering shoots emerging from the ground around the base of the shrub. Make sure a good amount of soil remains clinging to the roots.
- Transplant the suckers into new garden locations and water thoroughly.
How to Grow Northern Bush Honeysuckle From Seed
Seed propagation is a less common method, since it takes a considerable amount of time for the seeds to germinate and then grow into mature shrubs. Any seeds collected or bought will need three months of cold stratification before planting. This is often achieved by sowing the seeds outdoors in fall, allowing winter to provide the necessary cold. Or, the seeds can be stored in the refrigerator over winter for spring planting.
The tiny seeds should be sown close to the surface of the soil, placed where they will get good direct sunlight. It is common to sow the seeds in small pots filled with standard potting mix, where the seeds can germinate and then grow for a season before transplanting into the garden.
Be aware, however, that these plants are self-sterile and require cross-pollination from another nearby plant. Seeds collected from isolated garden plants may be sterile, so seed propagation is best accomplished from seeds purchased from a retailer.
Potting & Repotting Northern Bush Honeysuckle
It's possible to container-grow northern bush honeysuckle, but given its extensive root system and fast growth rate, growing in the ground is preferable. Should you want to try container culture, use a large well-draining pot filled with a fairly dry potting medium, such as a 50-50 mix of commercial potting mix and sand. However the plant is likely to quickly outgrow its pot, and most gardeners will eventually grow tired of repotting and opt to transplant the shrub into the garden.
No special treatment is required to prepare this shrub for winter. Fallen leaves and other debris can be raked up to prevent overwintering of fungal diseases, but even this is often unnecessary.
Common Plant Diseases
These plants aren't attacked by any serious pests, but they can be susceptible to powdery mildew and a variety of leaf spot diseases. These usually aren't a serious threat, and they are most likely to occur during wet, humid periods, disappearing during dry, cool weather.
How to Get Northern Bush Honeysuckle to Bloom
There's usually little trouble getting this tough, durable plant to bloom amply in early to midsummer, provided conditions are not too far afield from the plant's preferences. Failure to bloom can usually be traced to one of several reasons:
- Not enough sunlight. If grown in deep shade, this plant will not bloom very well. But even a few hours of direct sunlight is usually enough.
- Lacking nutrients. Though it's rare for a mature shrub to need feeding, young plants may benefit from light spring fertilization.
- Plants are overgrown. Northern bush honeysuckle will bloom best if it's pruned regularly, which has the effect of rejuvenating the plant and prompting better flowering. The best routine is to prune out a few of the largest, woodiest stems after each flowering season, which will stimulate new growth and more flowering the following year.
Common Problems With Northern Bush Honeysuckle
Most people experience no problems whatsoever with this tough little specimen, but on rare occasions, you may wonder about one of these issues:
Plant Is Sparse, Spread Out
This shrub spreads slowly but steadily through shallow, rhizomatous roots that send up suckering shoots that will gradually colonize into loose thickets. To keep your plant dense, full, and looking like a traditional shrub, regularly cut out the expanding suckers, and prune back some of the thick, mature stems each season. This combination will keep the plant dense and confined.
Plant Breaks and Collapses Under Snow
In regions with winter snowfall, it's quite common for this relatively brittle shrub to break apart under the weight of wet, heavy snow. While this can be momentarily disfiguring, it does no permanent harm to the shrub. Consider this to be an act of natural pruning—just cut away the broken stems and wait for new growth to fill in.
Plants Collapse at Ground Level
Though it's not common, a northern bush honeysuckle that's force to live in wet conditions rather than the dry woodland habitat it prefers may develop root rot that can destroy the shrub. Even here, however, it may be possible to rescue some selected suckers and transplant them into more favorable conditions.
What are the landscape uses for this plant?
This species is easy to grow, stays low to the ground, and can adapt to a variety of soil and light conditions.
- The dense growth habit makes this shrub a good choice for small hedges, and it also works well in naturalized woodland gardens.
- Often grown on rocky slopes, its expansive root system can help to hold the soil in place effectively.
- Wildlife lovers will enjoy this shrub, as the flowers bloom over a long period and attract a variety of pollinators. Birds can often be found nesting in the dense, low-growing thickets too. It is readily browsed by deer, but this generally does little harm, as the plants respond well to this natural pruning.
What are the differences between the three bush honeysuckle species?
In addition to Diervilla lonicera, there are two closely related Diervilla species:
- Southern bush honeysuckle (D. sessilifolia) is a 3- to 5-foot shrub native to the Great Smoky Mountains and southern Appalachians. Hardy in zones 4 to 8, it blooms in summer but has rather ordinary fall color. There are several good named cultivars, including 'Butterfly' and 'Cold Splash'.
- Mountain bush honeysuckle (D. rivularis) is also native to the southern Appalachians. It is not commonly used as a landscape plant, but it is well suited to moist conditions.
How long does northern bush honeysuckle live?
Northern bush honeysuckle will live for decades once established. Periodic hard pruning of older stems will keep the clump vital, but even unattended, the suckering root behavior is usually enough to sustain and expand the clump.
Is there another species known as bush honeysuckle?
Yes, Lonicera japanica, a true honeysuckle, is also sometimes known as bush honeysuckle—or alternately, Japanese honeysuckle. But that plant is an exotic species that is considered invasive over a large portion of the U.S. The Japanese honeysuckle is a climbing, draping plant that can destroy other trees and shrubs, and its use as a garden plant is strongly discouraged in most regions.