How to prune honeysuckle?


How to Maintain Hedges

Leggy, woody, scraggly, spindly, yellowish, unkempt, and unsightly. No, it’s not roll call for the cast of some dozing-princess fairy story. If you’re like most people, it’s the perfect description for that sad-looking hedge bordering your yard. Rows of thickly planted shrubs can be a handsome way to define borders and boundary lines, keep children and pets in (or out), and give birds shelter and even food. But like all shrubs, hedges need regular watering, feeding, and pruning to look their best. Though folks may forget to give roots a good drink in hot weather or to fertilize in early spring with a good 10-10-10 formula, the last area is where most of us really lose it. “A lot of people are intimidated by pruning, but it’s a science anyone can master,” says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook. “You just have to learn a few basics.”

Here are some expert fixes for common mess-ups when it comes to hedge plantings.

Mistake #1: Shearing hedges without hand-pruning them

Using shears—whether hand-held pruners with long scissorlike blades or a power trimmer—to take off branch tips keeps hedges neat and tidy, and also stimulates bud production near the plants’ edges. But as buds multiply, a shrub can get so thick that sunlight can’t penetrate it, preventing interior growth. The result: a hedge that gets larger each year and looks lifeless inside. Proper pruning allows some sunlight to get in and enables you to cut back shrubs so they don’t get too big.

So at each shearing, be sure to use bypass hand pruners to create some spaces in the hedge for light and air. Every few feet, reach inside and clip a branch or two at a 45-degree angle, just above a nub or leaflet that’s growing in a direction you want to encourage.

If a hedge is old and seriously overgrown, you’ll need to do some rejuvenation pruning using the three-year rule. Remove up to one-third of the thickest stems down at the base of the plant, stimulating new growth; repeat the next year, and the year after. This will leave you with a healthier shrub that’s reduced in size.

Mistake #2: Pruning at the wrong time

Ideally, hedges should be pruned in late winter, when plants are dormant and haven’t produced buds—particularly if you’re cutting back drastically. “You don’t want them to break bud before you prune because you want the plant’s energy to go toward producing new growth where you want it,” says Roger. “If you take off a plant’s buds, you’re cutting off spent energy, and it will take longer for the hedge to fill out.”

Evergreens, in particular, require pruning early in the season; because they’re generally slower-growing, they’re likely to be bare (where interior cuts have been made), and off-color at the tips (too yellow) as new growth starts to show, well into the summer. Faster-growing deciduous hedge plants such as privet, spirea, and viburnum are more forgiving. With flowering shrubs, the golden rule of pruning is to wait until the day after blooms turn brown—that way the plant will have time to set buds for next year, whether it blooms on the current season’s wood or the next’s.

Hand-pruning the tips of a fastigiate white pine will help rein in its overall size.

Mistake #3: Not shaping a hedge so the top is narrower than the bottom

Left alone, most hedges will start to widen at the top, where they receive the most sunlight. This results in a V shape that shades out lower branches so they produce less and less foliage. “You want to turn that V upside down,” says Roger. A sheared hedge should always be wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, whether that top is flat, pointed, or rounded. When shearing, start at the bottom and work up toward the top. For absolute precision cutting, you can also run a string line between stakes to ensure an even line along the top, but Roger prefers to rely on his eye for a more natural look.

Remember that once you buzz-cut the top of a plant, it is more prone to snow damage (broken branches) because it won’t shed snow as readily. Tall hedges benefit from being tied up for winter—just be sure to use rope or chain lock (plastic tree-guying material) rather than hose-covered wire, which can girdle the trunks if left on too long.

Mistake #4: Trying to maintain shrubs that are too tall or too wide for their space

If you’re starting from scratch, choose plants that lend themselves to making a hedge, meaning they naturally grow upright and tight—the words ‘columnar’ or ‘fastigiate’ in the name indicate that kind of growing habit. For formal hedges, those shrubs will also need to tolerate shearing and frequent pruning, like yew, privet, and boxwood. Generally, a hedge needs a minimum of 3 feet in width. When it comes to height, keeping your hedge at about eye level will make maintenance easier; otherwise, be prepared to climb a ladder to get at the upper reaches.

The best course is to figure out how high and wide you want your hedge to be before you plant. “Research the habit of any plant you want to hedge,” says Roger, “then choose a variety that won’t overgrow your space. Otherwise you’ll be fighting an uphill battle trying to cut the hedge down to size.”

Good choices for larger, more naturally shaped evergreen hedges that require minimal pruning include western arborvitae, eastern red cedar, juniper, cypress, hemlock, fastigiate white pine, and some varieties of holly. Where four-season foliage isn’t needed, you might consider informal hedges of flowering shrubs, such as forsythia, lilac, hydrangea, rose of sharon, crape myrtle, or rugo­sa roses.

Mistake #5: Growing a hedge when you really need a screen planting

Don’t expect a hedge to provide a lot of privacy or to block an unwanted view. Hedgees are generally maintained at 6 to 8 feet high; privacy plantings can rise 30 feet. In general, screen plantings are much wider, too, made up of a mix of staggered evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, and perennials for a natural look. “Let a hedge be a hedge—an attractive shrub border that encloses your yard and unifies the landscape,” says Roger. “If privacy’s what you’re after, start looking at big trees.”

Shrub Pruning Dos and Don’ts

Snip Shape

Photo by Kindra Clineff

If the thought of cutting into what looks like a perfectly happy plant makes you cringe, you’re not alone. Even homeowners who know the benefits of pruning—better health, more pleasing habit, bigger flowers—are often still confused about exactly the right time and right way to make the cuts, fearing they’ll lop off next year’s flowers, stunt the plant’s growth, or kill it outright. But once you understand how plants respond to pruning, you’ll realize how many problems a well-placed cut can solve.

The first step to successful pruning is timing it right. Shrubs that flower on new wood, or branches that form in spring and flower in summer—rose-of-Sharon and summersweet are two—should be pruned in late February or early March. This results in fewer but larger flowers the first year. “Pruning distributes the plant’s stored energy among fewer flower buds so that the ones left behind get more to eat,” explains horticulturalist Lee Reich. Prune spring-flowering shrubs right after they bloom, giving them the rest of the growing season to develop new branches and buds, since these bloom on old wood, or last season’s growth. “But if you miss the ideal time to prune, you can always wait until the shrub’s flowers brown out,” says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook.

Successful pruning involves mastering two basic cuts. Follow along to learn how to use them to remedy common problems you encounter.

Pro Advice

“To deal with a wayward evergreen branch, be sure to cut it back to the center of the shrub, where it meets another stem. If you just lop off the offending section, the cut stub will be obvious and unsightly.”—Roger Cook, TOH landscape contractor

Problem: You’ve inherited a sloppily chopped shrub.

Illustration by Elizabeth Traynor

Do make selective cuts to neaten up a poorly pruned shrub by stimulating new growth where you want it and removing injured, less vigorous wood. Cuts heal more quickly when made in the right spot and at the correct angle with a sharp, clean tool. Find a branch with a bud facing the direction you want new growth to follow. Prune just above that bud at a 45-degree angle, with the lowest point of the cut farthest from the bud.

Don’t leave more than ¼ inch of growth above the bud, as this can encourage rot. Cutting too low can cause the bud to dry out, and cutting at an angle greater than 45 degrees can create a large surface area that’s slow to heal, inviting disease.

Problem: Your shrub has dense foliage at the top but looks lifeless inside.

Illustration by Elizabeth Traynor

Do open up the plant with thinning cuts. Just trimming back branch tips, either with manual pruners or electric shears, results in dense foliage at the top of a shrub and a tangle of weak, leafless branches at the center. Thinning cuts remove whole branches down to the base or take

off large sections of branches back to a main stem, allowing light and air to reach the center of the plant and encouraging healthy new growth throughout. Remove the thickest, oldest wood first before moving to younger stems.

Don’t remove more than one-third of a plant’s mass in a year, to keep it vigorous and looking good.

Problem: You’ve got a shrub that’s lopsided.

Illustration by Elizabeth Traynor

Do use heading cuts to spur growth in the right direction. Unlike thinning cuts, which remove a branch, heading cuts shorten a branch down to a bud you want to encourage to branch out. Though it seems counterintuitive, you need to prune the shorter side of a lopsided shrub to stimulate growth and even it out. Position the pruner on the part of the stem you want to remove, just above a bud that will grow in the direction you want to encourage.

Don’t remove more than one-quarter of a stem’s overall length in any single cut. For shrubs that are dramatically lopsided, use thinning cuts to remove older wood from the longer side as well as heading cuts on the shorter side.

Problem: You’ve got an old shrub that’s a woody, tangled mess.

Illustration by Elizabeth Traynor

Do give the plant an overhaul by thinning out the old wood over the course of three years, making room for all new growth. Starting at the base of the shrub, eliminate the centermost branches, taking out no more than one-third of the shrub’s total mass. New growth from the base should follow the next growing season. Remove another third of the old wood at the base in each of years two and three. By the end of year three, the shrub should be made up of entirely new, vigorous growth.

Don’t remove more than one-third of the shrub’s branches at any one time. This preserves enough foliage that the plant can make sufficient food (through photosynthesis) to stay robust and generate new growth quickly.

Problem: You have a flowering evergreen shrub that’s leggy at the bottom.

Illustration by Elizabeth Traynor

Do use your index finger and thumb to pinch off the end (or terminal) buds of new branches on rhododendron, azalea, Japanese pieris, mountain laurel, and other broad-leaved evergreens to encourage side branching on the lower part of the shrub. As with a heading cut, manually removing the terminal leaf bud signals a dormant bud below it to grow, stimulating lush side branching. This is also a way to control the shrub’s overall size.

Don’t pinch off the flower buds in the process. These are the bigger, fatter buds at the ends of branches.

Tame too-big bushes with pre-spring pruning

Pruning intimidates many homeowners. Either you’re too busy, the work’s too hard or you are afraid of making a huge mistake. I can’t help with your time management or labor shortages, but I can give you the basics of rejuvenation pruning. Although major pruning is no walk in the park, it can reduce too-large shrubs or can tame a wild hedge back into its allotted–albeit too small–space.

Late winter is a great time to check your landscaping for pruning needs. Besides, with the ground muddy and too cold to work in, what else can you do in the garden? The bushes will be raring to go when warm weather arrives, making new growth from the stems you have left.

So you’ve neglected pruning because you’re afraid you’ll mess up the bushes. Let me list three, and only three, possible problems with performing major pruning of common landscape shrubs in early spring. Please read the warnings but proceed to prune if they don’t apply. Early spring is the best time this year to deal with those overgrown bushes.

DO NOT SEVERELY PRUNE THESE without learning their specific needs: Juniper Fir Spruce Pine

Warning number one:

Bushes that flower in spring will lose some or all of this year’s buds if you prune in winter or very early spring. However, pruning now will benefit flower displays in subsequent years. Good pruning will result in lots of fresh growth on the bush this summer which will then form flower buds for next spring.

Warning number two:

The heavy pruning that I’m discussing here will maim or kill certain bushes. Evergreen shrubs (or young trees) with needle shaped leaves should be pruned with care, making sure to cut only where you can see green growth left behind. They cannot resprout from a bare woody base the way most deciduous bushes and broadleaf evergreens do. If you have juniper, fir, pine or spruce to prune, be sure to read about their specific requirements elsewhere.(see link in Resources below)

Warning number three:

Pruning of larger branches on a shrub may result in dead woody stubs left behind. It’s imposssible to locate dormant buds on some old branches, so you won’t know exactly where new growth will start. You may have to follow up during the the next few seasons with more pruning to cope with an overabundance of young stems. However, most common landscape shrubs are resilient enough to overcome dead stubs, and any stumps left by early spring cuts will be hidden in a few weeks by new growth.

Many common landscape shrubs respond well to major pruning. Cutting off the actively growing parts on a shrub will stimulate growth from dormant buds, obvious or hidden, on the wood that’s left. New growth will come from either the base of the bush or near the cut ends of the branches.

For this work you need hand pruners, longer handled loppers, or a trusty saw. Put on some gloves and protect your arms; you’re going to get pretty personal with these bushes. While pruning, you’ll probably find dead wood to remove, long sickly branches that have wandered about in search of the sun, and even branches that have grown together in the close quarters.

Choose your cuts with natural shape of the bush in mind

Bushy shrubs Arborvitae Azalea Boxwood Eunonymus Hemlock Holly Oleander Privet Rhododendron Yew Cane shrubs twig Dogwoods
Mock orange
Nandina Ninebark Quince Weigela

Pruning partway down works well on “bushy” bushes, those with one or just a few stems emerging from the ground. Look for a place where a bud or smaller branch is positioned on the outer side of a large branch. Cut the larger main branch at a slight angle, up near the bud or branch you’re leaving to grow. These heading cuts give you a smaller bush with a fairly natural, rounded shape.

Pruning out entire stems works well on bushes that tend to have a lot of cane-like, tall stems coming out of the ground, or that typically grow very long stems in one year. Take the thickest, oldest branches out near the ground where a bush has many stems close together that collect debris. It’s safe to remove at least a third of the total number of branches in any given year. Red-twigged and yellow-twigged dogwoods need thinning so they’ll keep producing fresh colorful young stems.

Cutting all growth close to the ground at once is an accepted way of coping with some behemoth bushes. This drastic pruning of bushes can be referred to as ‘rejuvenation’ or ‘renewal’. Cut all the branches near the ground leaving about a foot of old wood. You’ll be surprised at how fast the regrowth will cover those stubs. Here’s a partial list of shrubs cited as growing back well after being cut almost to the ground: Abelia, Arizona bells, barberry, beautybush, bird-of-paradise, Buddleia, Caryopteris, (shrubby)dogwood, Euonymus, Forsythia, honeysuckle, Hydrangea, Hypericum, Indian currant, lilac, mallow, myrtle, oleander, rose-of-Sharon, Ruellia, senna, snowberry, Spirea, Texas ranger, weigela, witch hazel, Viburnum.

Here are a few examples of typical overgrown bushes and how to handle them:

Example 1- Foundation plantings are too tall and wide. For curb appeal’s sake, and for flowering, you want to reduce the size of the bush while minimizing the bare stems.
Most people are viewing the bush from one or two sides, so you can reach in from the top and start heading back inside branches. Cut far enough below current growth so that you’ll still have reduced the bush after it regrows. You can cut a number of inside branches while still leaving the bush looking full from the front. The untrimmed outer stems will still give you this year’s display. The cut stems will start filling in the bush this spring at the new size and will make flower buds for next year. In summer or next winter, prune more branches to keep reducing the bush. Heading cuts can be used judiciously to reduce a large azalea over a few years’ time. By patiently yet gradually reducing, you stress the bush less and won’t lose all the flowers at the same time.

Example 2- A specimen shrub that makes many new stems from the base each year has simply become huge and ungainly. Sometimes long branches on these lay one the ground and root there, gradually turning one bush into a gigantic clump. You can see that some stems are fatter, with more side branches while other newer slender stems have grown too. Removing the older branches will open up the center of the bush for good air circulation and reduce the tendency for debris to build up caught between stems. In addition, you may have to head back (cut the end off of)some remaining stems or you may find the whole thing flopping on the ground. Each “headed back” stem may make several sprouts from near the cut end. Dig up any small bushes formed by rooted branches.

Spirea above is thick with older tan canes and younger reddish stems

Right–an old Euonymus showing sprouts from long-dormant buds

Below, An azalea which is filling in nicely after heading back last spring

Example 3- Hedges that are lightly sheared sometime each year. This trimming has not kept up with the growth rate of the bush, resulting in one huge hedge. It’s now too tall and too wide for a homeowner to easily or safely reach over for clipping, and encroaching on the neighbor’s property or your own lawn or walkways. These bushes can add several feet of new growth each summer. To reduce the overall size, you’ll have to go well into the bush. Head back to shorter side branches or take it all down to about two feet in height. The bark looks smooth but there are spots along those branches that are ready to sprout new growth when the branch ends are cut off. If cutting entire tops back to few large stubs, follow up this summer and fall by thinning the new growth and shearing to maintain the desired overall height and width.

Your major pruning in late winter may leave you looking at bare stems for now. But in a few weeks when spring springs, new greenery will emerge. Before you know it, you’ll have an almost-new bush, in the right size for its spot.


Resources and credits

Begeman, John . College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the University of Arizona, It’s TIme to Rejuvenate Shrubs

Morton Arboretum Horticultural Care Pruning Deciduous Shrubs

Spangneberg, Bruce, Extension Educator, University of Illinois Extension, Prune Shrubs on a Reguilar Basis

Evans, Erv, Consumer Horticulturalist, NC State University, Cooperative Extension, Pruning Narrowleaf Evergreens (Conifers)

Erler, Catriona Tudor. Trees and Shrubs (Better Homes and Gardens Step-By-Step Successful Gardening) Des Moines, Meredith Press, 1995.

Fisher, Kathleen. Taylor’s Guide to Shrubs. New York, Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

All photos taken by and property of the author.

Updated July 13, 2019

Yes, you can eat the beautifully scented honeysuckle flower! Here are some delicious honeysuckle recipes to use this fragrant medicinal flower this season.

This is a guest post from a veteran forager and apprentice herbalist I’ve long admired, Michelle Van Doren of Seeking Joyful Simplicity. She has a fabulous honeysuckle recipe for you to add to your stock of foraged treats and homemade medicines. Be sure to check out her site for more great ideas for homemade, homegrown foods and herbal remedies!

The Humble Honeysuckle Flower

For me, the sweet aroma of honeysuckle flower marks the start of summer better than any date on a calendar. The tantalizing scent brings a flood of memories of childhood summers, freedom from school, and endless days filled with swimming, biking, and reading. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could bottle the aroma and flavor of honeysuckle flower? We can! This simple honeysuckle syrup recipe is a delightful treat that captures all that summer joy.

The scientific name for honeysuckle is Lonicera, and there are over 100 different species. Considered an invasive, the most common varieties in northern America are the Japanese honeysuckle and the trumpet honeysuckle. Both are edible, though it is the Japanese variety that is usually used medicinally.

As with any foraged food, it’s important to correctly identify the plant before consuming. Use a good guide and be sure what you’re harvesting is safe to eat. Foraging expert Green Deane warns that some varieties of honeysuckle are toxic. Read more here.

Honeysuckle Flower Uses

Honeysuckle flowers and berries have traditional uses as remedies for bacterial and viral infections, and there are a number of studies looking at the effectiveness of honeysuckle in treating respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and influenza. And did you know honeysuckle flowers are high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components?

(More on medicinal uses for honeysuckle flower here. Please note that one use for honeysuckle in Chinese medicine is as a contraceptive, so best to avoid this if you’re trying to conceive. It may also be an anticoagulant and should be avoided before surgery.)

Not only does honeysuckle flower have some terrific health benefits – honeysuckle syrup is fun and delightful!

Honeysuckle Syrup Recipe

Part of the fun of making honeysuckle recipes is harvesting honeysuckle flowers. Take your time and enjoy the beauty of foraging wild blossoms. Use caution when collecting wild plants and only collect from areas that aren’t treated with chemicals. This recipe calls for honeysuckle flowers only.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • About 50 honeysuckle flowers


  1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and the honeysuckle flowers.
  2. Using medium to high heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
  5. Strain out honeysuckle flowers into a jar — stores up to a month in the refrigerator.

How to Use Honeysuckle Flower Syrup

My goodness, honeysuckle flower syrup makes desserts and drinks special! Here are some ideas for enjoying it:

  • Use your honeysuckle flower syrup to sweeten summer iced tea
  • Make homemade lemonade sweetened with honeysuckle syrup
  • Add a few drops of honeysuckle syrup to sparkling water
  • As a sweetener for your favorite cake and muffin recipes
  • Enjoy as a topping for ice-cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet
  • Pour a spoonful of honeysuckle syrup over a bowl of fresh fruit
  • Add honeysuckle syrup to unsweetened yogurt
  • Freeze some of your honeysuckle syrup in ice cube trays, remove, and store in freezer bags. This is a great way to preserve your blossom syrup for the winter months – then add to your favorite hot beverage in the winter.

Other Honeysuckle Recipes

♦ You can make a naturally sweet honeysuckle tea by pouring boiling water over blossoms. 1/4 -1 cup blossoms covered with 1 cup water. Steep for several hours or overnight. Refrigerate for a refreshing ice tea.

♦ You can also make a glycerite for sore throats and colds. Learn how to make a honeysuckle glycerite from Homespun Seasonal Living.

♦ You can also use your syrup to make honeysuckle sorbet.

♦ One clever cook has even created a honeysuckle ice cream recipe.

Other honeysuckle recipes include jelly, cordials, wine, and cakes. Pinterest has some interesting honeysuckle recipes worth exploring if you find yourself with extra blossoms.

–> If you have a surplus of flowers, dehydrate some to enjoy when the honeysuckle season is over!

You can also buy dried honeysuckle here.

If you enjoy bringing flowers into your kitchen as food and medicine, you might also enjoy these ideas:

How to Use Roses as Food and Medicine

How to Use Wild Violets in Cooking and Home Remedies

Borage Plant ~ Benfits for Garden and Table

How to Make Violet Syrup

About the author: Michelle Van Doren is passionate about food, herbal remedies, and helping others live their best life. She is a contributing writer for the Herbal Academy, a Registered Dietitian, and a lifelong student of herbal medicine. She believes with the right combination of simple foods, herbs, and living with intention, you can live a more joyful and satisfying life. Visit her at Seeking Joyful Simplicity.

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Pin to save these honeysuckle recipes for later!

Disclaimer: Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. Please consult a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.

Photo credits: DagnyWalter, byrev

Smell That? Six Honeysuckle Benefits and Uses

The scents of nature are making their way into personal care products in more and more creative ways. One particular scent is the classic “hummingbird magnet” honeysuckle, which blooms from spring through summer.

My family has a six coral honeysuckle plant in the backyard, and its trumpet-shaped flowers smell heavenly all season long. Best of all, we’ve discovered honeysuckle benefits more than just the local hummingbirds—our whole neighborhood enjoys these unexpected seven uses of the sweet twining vine:

1. Cool Down

The first ever recorded use of honeysuckle’s cooling properties was in Chinese medicine in 659 AD, according to the Tang Bencao. At the time it was used to treat snake bites, drawing out the “hot” toxin and essentially cooling down the patient. Later, Europeans adapted this calming characteristic to relax women during childbirth. Though some still credit honeysuckle with the ability to reduce inflammation, more research would be needed to verify these claims.

2. Soothe Upset Tummies

I’ve never been bitten by a snake (and I plan to keep it that way), but when I was in the early stages of pregnancy, honeysuckle tea helped my nausea immensely. You don’t even need to dry the flower petals to make honeysuckle tea: Simply add about 1/3 cup of fresh honeysuckle petals to a mug of nearly boiling water. After ninety seconds, remove the petals and stir before (carefully) sipping the tea. Of course, check with your own doctor before trying any home remedy during pregnancy – this is just what worked for me!

3. As a Unique Gift

Honeysuckle is an iconic arching flower that can be found, well, pretty much everywhere. That means you can confidently propagate the perennial shrub with ease, offering seedlings as a hostess gift, graduation celebration, or even a symbol of health at a baby shower. When planted in the recipient’s garden, honeysuckle benefits the local bird population, as celebrated by the experts at the Penn State Eberly College of Science. However, include pruning tips in a homemade card so the fragrant plant doesn’t overrun neighboring flowers or veggies.

4. Diffused

If honeysuckle makes you think of a sweet juice, you’re exactly right. The plant earned the nickname from its sugary nectar, and while very few people actually have honeysuckle’s essential oil (yields are extremely low), its fragrance is infused in oils and used for a similar purpose. Add a few drops to your diffuser, a steamy bath, or a spray bottle with water for a quick DIY linen spray.

5. As a Berry Stand-In

There are a whopping 180 species of honeysuckle worldwide, and Assistant Professor Bob Bors of the Plant Sciences Department at the University of Saskatchewan recommends the blue honeysuckle’s fruit as a substitute for common berry treats. Think candy, jams, berry bars and tarts, toppings for ice cream or yogurt, and even cakes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests the fruit’s juice can even help you hit your recommended daily intake of potassium.

6. A Pleasant Fragrance

When you start reading labels to learn about what’s inside your most commonly used products, you may see the ingredient called “fragrance.” When you encounter this term, it can mean almost anything. The Environmental Working Group explains that “fragrance” and “parfum” are catch-alls for manufacturers that prefer not to disclose their trade secrets or specific ingredients.

If you keep reading, you’ll find some product labels offer specific details regarding the scented ingredients inside. When you do, grab one with honeysuckle or honeysuckle rose. Tom’s of Maine lets honeysuckle off the hook when it comes to potential claims, wellness benefits, and alternate uses. Instead, it’s simply included as a natural, classic floral scent. Look for products with honeysuckle on your next trip to the store. Your sniffer will thank you!

How do you harness the goodness of spring’s most prolific flower? Do you have honeysuckle thriving nearby? Tweet your favorite honeysuckle uses (plus a picture!) to @TomsofMaine.

Image source: Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Honeysuckles: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Sweetly-Scented Honeysuckles

Honeysuckle is known for its delicate tubular, nectar-filled, sweetly scented flowers. They are great for covering walls and the sides of building. While their roots should be shaded, they do best when their overflowing, flowering tops are mostly in sunlight or just slightly shaded. They are deer-resistant and hummingbirds and other wildlife love them.

Wondering how to grow honeysuckle? Read on for everything you need to know about this easy-to-grow plant, from popular varieties to how and when to plant honeysuckle. We’ll cover:

  • What is Honeysuckle?
  • Popular Types of Honeysuckle
  • Planting Climbing Honeysuckle Vines and Honeysuckle Shrubs
  • Training and Pruning Honeysuckle
  • Honeysuckle Care
  • Common Questions About Growing Honeysuckle

What is Honeysuckle?

Honeysuckle is a heat tolerant plant that can grow almost anywhere. With dark green to blue-green leaves and sweet-smelling flowers, they grow as either far-reaching vines or arching shrubs. The flowers can bloom in gorgeous bright pinks, oranges, yellows or whites, and some varieties have a unique two-colored flower. Sweet and nectar-filled, the flowers attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees, and birds enjoy the small red berries that emerge after flowering. If care is taken to deadhead, these beauties can repeat-bloom often throughout the growing season.

Popular Types of Honeysuckle

There are close to 200 different varieties of honeysuckle. Native to the northern hemisphere, at least 20 of them are found in North America. There are three types of honeysuckle – vines, shrubs and a bush variety.

Honeysuckle Vines. The honeysuckle vine is a common, simple-to-grow climber that’s available in many varieties. Vines can also be planted as ground cover, but they’re most often trellis-trained to cover walls and structures.

Honeysuckle Shrubs. The honeysuckle shrub is a great choice to use as an informal hedge, and several shrub varieties will actually do surprisingly well in pots and containers.

Bush Honeysuckle. One of the more invasive types of honeysuckle, bush honeysuckle should not be planted in your garden or yard. Bush honeysuckle grows quickly, invading and shading out other areas of your garden.

Specific Types of Honeysuckle

  • Trumpet Honeysuckle. One of the most popular types of honeysuckle vines, the trumpet honeysuckle is also called coral or scarlet honeysuckle. Native to North America, it does well in the southern states with spring to fall blooms in pink or red hues. Likes sun to partial shade and is drought tolerant (although it thrives in moist soil). Non-invasive.
  • Japanese Honeysuckle. The Japanese honeysuckle vine thrives in the Midwest. It blooms red or pink blossoms that show up in the summer and continue to delight all the way through early fall. Can be grown as a ground cover or trained on a trellis. Extremely invasive.
  • Winter Honeysuckle. Winter honeysuckle is a shrub with white flowers that open in late winter or early spring. They have a lemony smell and do well in pots or containers. Highly invasive in some areas.
  • Sakhalin Honeysuckle. Another shrub, Sakhalin honeysuckle is very similar to Winter honeysuckle, but has deep red flowering blooms. Non-invasive.
  • White Limestone Honeysuckle. Also known as Texas honeysuckle, this shrub grows in full sun to partial shade and has showy, white-clustered flowers. Not as invasive as Japanese honeysuckle.
  • Honeyberry. With more of a long, blue, berry-shape and small white, fragranced flowers, this edible variety is also called an edible blue honeysuckle. Honeyberry does better in cooler-climates. Non-invasive.

Planting Climbing Honeysuckle Vines and Honeysuckle Shrubs

  • When to plant honeysuckle – Plant your honeysuckle in early spring after any threat of frost has passed.
  • Where to plant honeysuckle – Choose a sunny location where your soil is moist and excess water can drain off.
  • How much sun does honeysuckle need – Ideally, full sun is best. Even though honeysuckle can tolerate a partially-shaded area, without enough sun, it may not bloom as much and could lose its leaves.
  • What type of soil to use – Be sure you’re planting your honeysuckle in organically rich and very well-drained soil. It should be moist but not soggy, as overly watered soil will become problematic. They will do best in an acid to moderately alkaline soil that ranges from about 5.5 to 8.0 on the pH scale.
  • Install supports – If you’re planting your honeysuckle to climb, and you’re not planting it against a house or other structure, you’ll need support structures in place for the plant to grow up. You can install anything that the plant can grab on to – this can be a trellis, pole, fence or other sturdy structure. Be sure to do this before you plant your honeysuckle. Once they are set up, plants should be about 6 – 12 inches out from the support.
  • What hardness zone does honeysuckle grow in – Most varieties of honeysuckle grow well in hardiness zones 5 – 9. They can withstand a range of cool-weather conditions, but depending on the variety you plant, some may require additional winter care. The more tender or tropical varieties will be most damaged by harsh winter weather. Carefully pruning, planting close to supports and adding thick layers of mulch around the roots and at the base can help protect your plant.

Training and Pruning Honeysuckle

Training – To train a honeysuckle vine to grow up a pergola, wall or trellis, gently tie the plant to the support with a plastic tie tape or another stretchy material that will allow for growth. You don’t want the material to cut into the plant as it grows. Also take care that the stems don’t rub on the supports – you can do this by looping your ties into a figure 8, making sure the crossed section goes between the stem and the support.

Pruning – You won’t need to spend too much time pruning your plant, other than to keep the shape tidy and contained.

How and when you prune depends on whether you have a vine or bush. Vines can be lightly pruned for shaping virtually any time of the year. If you’re doing a major pruning job on an older vine or one that’s unruly, wait until at least fall, or winter if you have a variety that goes dormant. Bushes can be pruned as soon as flowers drop in the spring.

Use bypass pruners to remove any dead, diseased or damaged stems. Cut stems to the point where they join another stem or just past a leaf node.

If you have planted an evergreen variety, note these will not go dormant. Prune them after the end of the flowering season so you don’t remove new buds.

Honeysuckle Care

Tip 1. Honeysuckle plants should be well (but not over) watered and mulched.

Tip 2. Take care not to let your soil get soggy – water only as needed to keep soil moist and damp.

Tip 3. Add layers of compost each spring.

Tip 4. Pruning depends on the type of honeysuckle you plant. Be sure you know which variety you have. – for example, common honeysuckle blooms on side shoots from the previous season, so if you prune it in the spring, you would eliminate your flowers.

Tip 5. Encourage and promote growth with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, a slow-release shrub and tree fertilizer or an organic plant food applied in the spring. You can also add a 2 – 3-inch layer of composted manure. However, if you plant honeysuckle in fertile soil, you may not need to fertilize.

Common Questions About Growing Honeysuckle

How do I keep honeysuckle blooming?

Keep your honeysuckle blooming by making sure the plant is in a spot that gets full sun. Honeysuckle will still grow, but will not bloom as much, in shady spots. Full sun means 6 or more hours of sunlight each day.

Why isn’t my honeysuckle blooming very much?

If your plant is young, it may just not have reached its full bloom potential yet – note that honeysuckle may take up to 3 years before it puts on a great show.

Does honeysuckle come back every year?

Honeysuckle is a perennial plant, meaning it will come back each year. With proper care, you should be able to enjoy your honeysuckle for many years. Some varieties can live an average of 20 years.

How long does it take to grow honeysuckle?

Honeysuckle is a fast-growing plant that will likely bloom during its first growing season. However, it could take up to 3 years for optimal blooming.

How And When To Prune Honeysuckle Plants

Honeysuckle is an attractive vine that grows quickly to cover supports. Distinctive fragrance and a profusion of flowers add to the appeal. Read on to learn how and when to prune honeysuckle plants in this article.

When to Prune Honeysuckle Vines and Bushes

Honeysuckles include both vines and shrubs. Prune honeysuckle bushes in the spring, as soon as the flowers drop off. You can prune honeysuckle vines lightly any time of year. Wait until fall or winter when the vine is dormant for major pruning jobs.

Pruning Honeysuckle Plants

Honeysuckle pruning begins with the removal of the three D’s: dead, damaged and diseased stems. Next, correct stems that are growing in the wrong direction and those that rub against each other. Cut the stems all the way back to a point where it joins another stem, or shorten the stems by

cutting just beyond a leaf node.

Once you have resolved these problems, shape the plant by removing stray stems that wander away from the support. You should also thin out the top of the plant to let sunlight and air inside. Good air circulation is essential to prevent diseases like powdery mildew.

Neglected Honeysuckle Pruning

When a honeysuckle vine is overgrown, the branches become a tangled mess, making it impossible to prune selectively. Another problem with neglected and severely overgrown honeysuckle vines is that sunlight can’t reach the bottom branches because the top is too dense. When this happens, the leaves fall off the lower branches, leaving bare stems.

The best way to correct a severely overgrown honeysuckle is to cut the plant back to about a foot from the ground. Severe pruning should be done in the winter while the plant is dormant. The vine grows back quickly but doesn’t bloom the following spring. Keep the soil around the plant moist at all times to help the vine regenerate.

You can also rejuvenate overgrown honeysuckle bushes this way, but it’s better to rejuvenate them gradually. Removing one-third of the branches each year for three years rejuvenates the plant over time without leaving a hole in the landscape.

Knowing how and when to prune honeysuckle can mean the difference between a well-behaved vine and one that threatens to take over your garden. Many types of honeysuckle are considered invasive weeds. Check with your local cooperative extension agent to find out the status of honeysuckle in your area before planting.

Honeysuckle Vine Pruning Tips

Honeysuckle is a beautiful vine on the surface, but beneath the fragrant flowers is a nightmare of tangles. Pruning honeysuckle can be a challenge for even the most experienced gardener. But, follow a few simple tips and you can eliminate the frustration, tame your honeysuckles, and create a fuller, more flower-laden vine in your garden.

“Honeysuckles tend to grow bushy on the top and shade out the bottom growth. Regular training and pruning will allow sun to reach the bottom and help avoid this problem,” Karen Thurber, our expert gardening advisor, says.

About Honeysuckles

Honeysuckle vines range in size from 1/4 inch to the thickness of a small tree, or about 10 inches or more in diameter.

“There are over 180 species of honeysuckle, and around 20 are native to the United States. Some honeysuckles are invasive, such as the Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) and the Tararian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tararian). Planting these in areas with a lot of rain, and mild winters, allows them to outcompete native plants,” Thurber adds.

When to Prune a Honeysuckle

You can prune honeysuckle any time after the plant has become established, and most varieties can be pruned in fall or spring.

Japanese Honeysuckle

There are two kinds of honeysuckle. The Japanese honeysuckle is best pruned in the spring, usually in March or April after it starts to grow.

Dutch Honeysuckle

The best time to prune Dutch honeysuckle is when it is dormant, usually in late fall, or in the spring before it begins to show signs of growth.

Neglected Honeysuckles

If you have an old, neglected honeysuckle vine of either kind‚ prune it in the spring. Untie it or clip it from its support structure, first. Then, lay it out and begin by pruning the oldest vines. It will take a year or more to come back and flower, so be patient.

How to Prune Honeysuckle

Step 1 – Remove Dying Vines

As with any plant or vine, first remove any dead, damaged, diseased, or dying vines. Cut them to at least 2 inches into live growth. You should use standard pruning shears, though many gardeners prefer loppers, which allow them to reach into larger stands and cut out thicker vines.

Step 2 – Cut Back Tangled Vines

After dead vines are removed, cut back overly tangled, wandering, or rogue vines. Thinning out the plant by removing entire branches will allow for easier training and maintenance. Once these vines are out of the way, look for non-producing vines. You can tag these with colored threads, or by dabbing them with a spot of paint during the flowering season.

After Pruning

Once you’ve pruned your honeysuckle vine, there is still work to be done. It’s important to train your new growth. Proper training means tying the vines to new support structures like lattice, poles, and fences. Proper support and training not only makes it easier to prune the vines the following year, but also helps you encourage flowering through more effective pinching.

“Remember to water and keep the plant moist, especially in the spring when new growth begins. Mulching the soil will help maintain even moisture,” Thurber recommends.

Pruning Honeysuckle – Lonicera. How, When
to prune

Honeysuckle Pruning. If honeysuckles are pruned wrongly, then it could mean the loss of flowers for the following – or present – year. Pruning of honeysuckles is relatively easy, though can be a bit messy if pruning a neglected climber that has wrapped itself around an old trellis or frame for the last ten years!

Most will know Lonicera as climbing shrubs – better known as Honeysuckle. However, there are also a group of Loniceras – or Honeysuckles that are actually grown as shrubs.

Needless to say, there are different pruning regimes for both types. If you prune – and it in not always essential – then ensure that you carry out your Honeysuckle pruning at the right time of year.

When to Prune Honeysuckle – Lonicera.

The main criteria is that all climbing Lonicera should be pruned back immediately after flowering each year. The difference in pruning techniques are explained below, but one of the most important aspects is, when to prune a honeysuckle. Get the timing wrong and you will lose flower growth.

Pruning Climbing Lonicera – Honeysuckle vines.

Honeysuckle climbers are relatively easy to prune – the most important factor being correct timing. If you have the space for them to grow into large climbers, then pruning should only be required by way of trimming back to fit the space that you have to fill.

If your space is restricted – or you want to keep it under some sort of orderly control, then most climbing honeysuckle vines can be cut back quite hard in the late winter or very early spring each year. They will then flower on the new growths sent up in that season.

These new growths – vines – will often reach 2metres in length, so it will re-cover a good size trellis during the year.

One or two varieties of Climbing Lonicera are best cut back right after flowering in the mid to late summer. These are members of the Lonicera periclymenum group, and are some of the most popular varieties in the UK. They include (pictured) Lonicera periclymenum Serotina – the late Dutch Honeysuckle; Lonicera p. Belgica – the early Dutch Honeysuckle; Lonicera p. Graham Thomas.

These varieties tend to flower on growths – wood – made the previous year, so should be cut back after flowering – to size determined by the available space. In any event they should be cut to just above a strong new growth that will be sprouting from below the flowered area.

The evergreen Lonicera japonica types – including Lonicera japonica Halliana – do not actually require pruning – other than trimming to size. Again this should be done in early spring. Summer is too late – you will lose the flowers for a year.

Rejuvenation Pruning

All old climbing honeysuckles can be given a new lease of life by this method of honeysuckle pruning. Most can be cut back hard in early spring. The size of the main trunk will determine how hard back they should be cut. If large – more than 3in (75mm) then best tp cut back the branches at the first fork. The climber will soon shoot out and you will be blessed with a ‘new, fresh-looking vine. This is Honeysuckle pruning and not simply trimming Honeysuckle!

Pruning Shrub or Bush Honeysuckles.

The shrub type honeysuckles – Winter flowering Lonicera fragrantissima types – or summer flowering Lonicera tatarica types, can be pruned back to a strong new growth, immediately after flowering. So the time will be dependent upon the flowering period of the shrub. If pruning is to take place, then the ‘after-flowering’ advice is important.

If you cut the winter flowering types back in mid summer – or later – then you are effectively cutting off the flower buds that would normally have given you such pleasure in mid-winter.

Likewise, if you prune the mid-summer types too late in the year – or worse – in the spring, then again you will forfeit the flowers for one year. Both winter and summer flowering shrub – bush – honeysuckles need time to develop flower buds on their new growth.

Image shows Lonicera fragrantissima which flowers mid – late – winter.

Back to A-Z of Pruning Shrubs

How to Trim a Honeysuckle Bush

honeysuckle image by Jackie DeBusk from

Honeysuckles are a group of perennial woody vines or shrubs, the most common being the Japanese honeysuckle. They flower in the spring and early summer on old wood, which means they bloom on the previous year’s growth. Most honeysuckles grow aggressively and can become overgrown in just a few years. Because of that, you should trim or prune honeysuckles every year to control growth. If you have a neglected and overgrown honeysuckle, you can rejuvenate the bush by pruning it severely.

Decide when to trim your honeysuckle. These bushes are best pruned yearly right after they bloom, according to Texas A&M University. However, if your bush is overgrown and has become “woody,” then prune it in the late winter before new growth. You can also wait until early spring when new buds appear to have a better idea which stems will bloom and which ones will appear woody. Do not wait until they bloom, as this will put further stress on your honeysuckle bush.

Trim a honeysuckle bush yearly in the late spring to control growth and maintain a desired shape. Selectively prune up to one-third of your bush. Cut off the tallest stems as well as older woody stems. Cut some of the middle stems to allow air and sunshine to reach the center of your bush.

Prune overgrown honeysuckle bushes in the late winter or early winter. Cut off the oldest, thickest, woodiest stems to within 1 to 2 feet of the ground. Cut off one-third to one-half of the stems for your bush to bloom some this year. If your bush has green buds, it will be easy to see which branches will flower and which will not. Another option is to cut the entire bush down to within 1 to 2 feet of the ground.

Cut just above a parent branch and make a clean cut with a pair of sharp, clean hand clippers, a saw or lopping shears. Cut completely through the stem.

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