Honey Do: Growing Trumpet Honeysuckle

Let's sound the trumpet about this appealing vine.

Madame Galen Colorful Climber for Sun

Madame Galen Colorful Climber for Sun

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Trumpet honeysuckle, with tubular flowers that include bright red, orange and yellow, is a non-invasive alternative to the prolific Japanese honeysuckle.

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Kids love it. Adults curse it—well, at least for the most part. We’re talking about that sugary-sweet harbinger of spring: honeysuckle.

Who among us doesn’t remember as a child sucking the sweet nectar from its flowers on a warm day in May? (Ranks right up there with catching fireflies and storing them in a vented mayonnaise jar.)  

At the same time, our parents reviled the honeysuckle vine as it crept its way into every corner of the garden – over shrubs, into trees, smothering everything in sight.

That’s the love-hate relationship Americans have with one of the world’s most invasive plants, the Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica. The good news is that not all species and varieties of honeysuckle are created equal; some are not invasive at all and have become quite the popular landscape plant as gardeners discover ornamental vines, and vertical gardening becomes a new buzzword.

In general, honeysuckles make up some 180 species of the Caprofoliaceae family and can be arching shrubs or twining vines. Most are hardy twining climbers with fragrant flowers that are magnets for hummingbirds. The plants prefer full sun but will tolerate partial sun.

Japanese honeysuckle, which is invasive in many parts of the United States, is best known for its white fragrant flowers that bloom in May and June, and gradually fade to a yellowish hue. It’s deciduous in the North, semi-evergreen farther south.

An equally showy alternative to this annoying plant is the non-invasive trumpet honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens. This semi-evergreen twining climber—great for arbors and trellises – is native to the United States and hardy in zones 3-9.  Though not as fragrant as its Japanese cousin, the vine’s most popular feature is its clusters of bright red or orange tubular flowers that bloom from late spring to mid-summer, drawing a constant buzz from hummingbirds and butterflies. Several cultivars with variations in flower color include 'Magnifica' (red flowers with yellow inside), 'Sulphurea' (yellow flowers) and 'Superba' (bright scarlet flowers).

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