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12 March 2021

How to grow honeysuckle

Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, is a classic cottage-garden plant that twines up a support to cover it with sweetly scented blooms
Honeysuckle
CT
Ceri Thomas

There are more types of honeysuckle than you might realise – some evergreen, some deciduous. They’re not all scented, and those that are, despite what you may read, are pollinated by moths rather than bees, so they save their strongest fragrance for evenings and early mornings. 

Which? Gardening magazine grew a range of popular varieties to see which would give us the best display.

How to grow honeysuckle: month by month

January February March April May June




PLANT PLANT/PRUNE

FLOWERING
July August September October November December
FLOWERING FLOWERING/PRUNE FLOWERING





Best honeysuckle varieties

Which? members can log in now to see the full results and which are our Best Buy varieties. If you’re not a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Best Buy honeysuckles
What it looks like Variety name Height x spread
Member content
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300 x 80cm
Light-pink claw-shaped buds opened to large, spidery yellow-and-white flowers, giving a lovely range of colour. During the day, the flowers had alight but very pleasant scent. This was a vigorous variety that would need pruning to prevent it becoming bare at the base. The long stems trailed down from the top of the obelisk and produced more flowers later in summer, followed by clusters of bright-red berries. Peak flowering: June to September.
What it looks like Variety name Height x spread
Member content
Member content
60 x 90cm
Unusually, this new variety reaches only 60cm tall and would be easy to grow where space is tight. The huge, brightly coloured flowers contrasted beautifully with dusky purple stems and dark-green leaves. The shape was more like a low-growing shrub than a climber, and the few longer stems didn’t twine, so it would need tying in. Its sweet, clove-like scent was noticeable even during the day, and dark-red berries kept their colour going into September. Peak flowering: June to September.
What it looks like Variety name Height x spread
Member content
Member content
240 x 60cm
This was the first variety to come into flower and it went on to have an impressive eight weeks of full bloom. Happily, given the name, the flowers were sweetly scented, and their smell was noticeable even during the day, especially at the start of the season, when the weather was cloudy and cool. The plants grew strongly, twining tightly round the supports, but were a manageable size. Clusters of scarlet berries completed a colourful story. Peak flowering: June to September.

How we test honeysuckle

We bought three plants of 16 varieties of honeysuckle and planted them around large wooden obelisks at the Which? Gardening magazine trial garden in north London. The trial began in spring and ran for two growing seasons. Plants were assessed throughout. During the two years, only light pruning was needed and, as the requirements vary, it was done at the right time for each variety. The trial garden is open and sunny, and the soil well drained, so we mulched the ground and kept the plants well watered during spring and summer, and then watered during spells of hot, dry weather. When aphids and mildew appeared, all the plants were sprayed with a combined fungicide and pesticide. We assessed them for the duration and impact of flowers; whether they had attractive berries; their shape and how vigorously they grew how strong and how pleasant the scent was; how susceptible they were to common problems.

Caring for your plants

Planting

Plant in reliably moist but well-drained soil. Honeysuckle flowers best in sun, but they are woodland plants and might be healthier in partial shade. They prefer to have their roots in shade. Provide a sturdy support such as trellis or obelisk for them to twine around and climb up.

After planting, mulch with spent mushroom compost or garden compost to help keep soil moist and roots cool. This will help reduce the risk of powdery mildew.

Pruning

Plant size can be kept in check by regular pruning. 

Some (Lonicera periclymenum) flower in early summer on sideshoots on growth made the previous year. Cut back the stems by about a third in late summer, when flowering has finished. 

Later flowering varieties, such as the Japanese honeysuckle (L. japonica) can be cut back as needed in spring by shortening any long shoots or tidying tangled growth. 

Overgrown plants of all varieties can be cut back hard to around 60cm in early spring and will soon regrow.

Common growing problems

Powdery mildew

This is a common problem, especially in dry soils. Infected leaves have a powdery white coating. Water during dry weather and thin out tangled growth to improve airflow around plants.

Read more about powdery mildew.

Aphids

These sap-sucking insects attack shoot tips and buds in early summer, and can become a serious problem. If spotted early, it’s possible to squash aphids to prevent colonies increasing. Rose sprays that contain a fungicide and insecticide can help to control both aphids and powdery mildew.

Read more about aphids.


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