Honeysuckle (also known as Lonicera) is a delightful plant to grow in UK gardens, but they can be a little confusing as there are two different types: climbing honeysuckles and shrubby honeysuckles. This guide tells you all you need to know about both varieties and gives you some tips and tricks to get the best from your honeysuckle plants.

Lonicera japonica Halls Prolific
Train climbing honeysuckles to grow up a trellis or fence

Climbing Honeysuckle vs Shrub Honeysuckle

The good thing about Honeysuckle plants is that you will never get the two variants confused, one will cling and climb up stakes, trellises and pergolas while the other won’t. There are around one hundred and eighty different honeysuckle species, and all have unique characteristics.

Gardeners in the UK are warned against using Japanese honeysuckle lonicera japonica in the garden because it is invasive by nature and damages the surrounding plant life. This is made worse by the berries being so attractive to wildlife, which causes the Japanese honeysuckle to spread throughout gardens a little too easily. The best advice is to steer well clear of this type unless you are prepared (see below). However, there are many varieties of honeysuckle that work well in UK gardens.

The majority of honeysuckle plants smell as good as they look and picking out the right honeysuckle plant can really set the garden off in spectacular fashion. Most species are climbing honeysuckles but if you want a shrub honeysuckle there are a few that grow well in British gardens.

Did you know honeysuckle gets its name from the delicious, delectable, sweet nectar that is found inside the plant’s flowers? It is easy to eat, simply pick a honeysuckle flower and suck out the nectar in the flower.

Lonicera Belgica
Flowering in late winter, honeysuckle shrubs enhance most garden settings

Our Favourite Varieties of Honeysuckle

Now that you have learnt a bit more about honeysuckle plants, here are our top picks for British gardens. Remember, be careful if you pick the first one on our list!

Japanese Honeysuckle Lonicera Japonica

You might be wondering why on earth you would want to stick an invasive species in the garden, and the truth is, it takes a lot of active management if you do. However, the payoff is huge as the white flowers of the Japanese honeysuckle are tranquil and serene, quite the opposite of its aggressive nature.

Japanese Honeysuckle Lonicera Japonica is one of the twining climbers and has a vigorous climbing habit, reaching up to 8 metres in height. When choosing a location for Japanese honeysuckle, you MUST ensure that you don’t place it in areas with other plants. When the berries appear it is best to pick them to stop birds from spreading them and allowing the plant to spread. By following these two tricks, Japanese honeysuckle can be a real treat.

Lonicera japonica Halliana
From the genus Lonicera, Japanese Honeysuckle in an evergreen that provides year round interest

Leycesteria Golden Lanterns Pheasant Berry Semi-Evergreen Shrub

Don’t be put off by the mouthful of a name, and instead feast your eyes on the beautiful golden foliage that the Golden Lanterns is famous for. This shrub is actually deciduous despite the name and although sometimes the plant hangs onto its leaves, during the British winter it is likely to drop them. The flowers of the Golden Lanterns are distinctive merlot red lanterns that give the plant a regal look when in bloom.

If the Japanese honeysuckle is a bit of a gardener’s nightmare, the Golden Lanterns is a real dream, with little to no maintenance required for it to succeed.

Leycesteria Golden Lanterns Pheasant Berry
Golden Lanterns Shrubs prefer a shaded spot but can tolerate some sun

Lonicera ‘Serotina’ Deciduous Climber

From both ends of the honeysuckle spectrum we move to a plant that falls somewhere in the middle, with the Serotina requiring a bit of attention to prevent it becoming invasive. The pay off, like the Japanese honeysuckle, is excellent and the Serotina looks amazing in bloom, especially when it has been allowed to climb and establish itself.

With that said, it should be treated with an element of caution as the berries are wildlife magnets that in turn help the plant spread to parts of the garden you may not wish to have it. Lonicera Serotina has been granted the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit for its reliability, stability and resistance to pests. They climb and grow quite readily, making them an excellent choice if you want to get a climbing aesthetic quickly.

Lonicera Serotina
Lonicera Serotinas are sweet climbers that present tubular flowers into autumn

Lonicera henryi Henry’s Honeysuckle

Lonicera henryi, to give it its proper name, is an evergreen honeysuckle that will take pride of place on any trellis or garden fence. It can reach an impressive 9 metres tall at full maturity, making it a common honeysuckle for growing up walls. This cultivar boasts lance shaped dark green leaves throughout the year and large clusters of pleasantly scented yellow-red tubular flowers in late spring. The flowers give way to purple berries in autumn, which attract birds and small mammals to the garden (as above, remember the berries act as seeds!) Native to China, Henry’s Honeysuckle thrives in full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

Lonicera henryi Henrys Honeysuckle
Lonicera ‘henryi Henrys’ displays long tubular pink and red flowers with reflexed petals

When to Plant and When to Prune

Planting and growing a honeysuckle can be easy or difficult depending on the variety. As mentioned, the Japanese honeysuckle will need ongoing management to prevent unwanted spread, but this is mainly in the form of removing berries and cutting back any unwanted growth.

Honeysuckles tend to prefer sunny areas of the garden, with a well-drained but moist soil. This makes them excellent for planting on gate archways and trellises as they can absorb the sunshine that they love. When planted in the shade, honeysuckles don’t grow as quickly, and they don’t flower anywhere near as well.

Honeysuckles are best introduced in the springtime after the last winter frost. This gives them plenty of time to establish, often under moderate rainfall conditions. Pruning is dependent on the type, with most shrub or bush varieties needing pruning in spring after the flowers drop.

Vines should be pruned as and when needed and can be cut back at any time during the year without damaging the plant. Don’t neglect to prune a honeysuckle vine, even if it isn’t an invasive vine plant. This is because the vines can become a tangled mess and the plant can end up being detrimental to itself and suffocate new growth.

Unfortunately, Lonicera can be susceptible to aphid attack but there are easy solutions to this problem. Regularly check the honeysuckle for any sign of aphids, they usually like to settle towards the tips of branches and new shoots, which can be pruned in spring to to catch them early. Spraying plants with the hose will also help get rid of aphids and if all else fails then a good quality insecticide should do the trick.

Lonicera doesn’t like sitting in very wet or very dry soil so be sure to select a spot with soil types that don’t retain moisture too much and water well during dry spells. A quality garden compost or well rotted manure will promote the current season’s growth and help protect roots from frost over winter.

Enjoy Your Honeysuckle!

Now you know how to plant and look after your honeysuckle, you can enjoy all the wonderful attributes it has. Make sure you keep an eye out for all the wildlife that honeysuckles attract. Insects are very keen on the nectar as you might well imagine, and the berries are food sources for all manner of birds and small mammals.

In fact, if you wanted a single flowering plant to attract wildlife into your garden, you would be hard pressed to find one that is better than the honeysuckle.

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