Honeysuckles are a garden favorite. They are praised for their hardiness and their distinctive fragrance. However, they do require some care to keep them looking beautiful.
The most common reason honeysuckle goes woody is a lack of pruning. It can also be caused by a fungal infection, pests, or overgrowth on the top.
Honeysuckles are twining vines or shrubs that are native to North America and Euroasia. They are in the family Caprifoliaceae. There are at least 180 species of Honeysuckle.
Common varieties include Lonicera periclymenum, or common honeysuckle, and Lonicera japonica, known as Japanese honeysuckle. Many species are edible, and produce sweet berries. At least one dozen edible species are also used medicinally.
The blooms are highly fragrant and can attract hummingbirds and insects
Most varieties are vines and will grow on shrubs, trees, and fence rows. A few varieties are shrubs or trees. The Lonicera tatarica, or Arnold Red, is a tree variety that can grow up to 8 feet tall.
What is a Woody Honeysuckle?
When a plant goes woody, it develops thick tree-like stems. Woody honeysuckle will grow into a thick vine, the leaves typically fall off of woody portions as well.
It’s quite a contrast from the green flowering vine you’ve come to know and love, but you can revive woody honeysuckle.
Why Honeysuckle Goes Woody
Your honeysuckle can go woody for a few reasons. The most common is old growth and a lack of proper pruning. Pests can cause the plant to go woody as well. Lastly, if there’s too much top growth, the bottom will become woody.
Old-growth will become woody after a few years. This is inevitable. As the vine grows, the old-growth will turn woody. The plant pushes the nutrients to new growth, and the old-growth is left to become dormant.
Pests can also cause the honeysuckle to go woody. Aphids are the most common pest that affects the plant. They feed on the sap within the plant.
You can confirm the presence of aphids by looking for honeydew. This is a sugary liquid that the aphids excrete as they eat. This will cause the plant to mold as well.
In addition to looking woody, aphids can cause the leaves of the plant to curl. Growth can become stunted as well.
Scale insects can also be a problem for your honeysuckle. Armored scale insects feed on the leaves and bark of the plant.
Most of the signs of this type of infestation can be found in the leaves. They can become deformed, wilted or yellow. Leaf drop is also common with scale insects.
Caterpillars are another issue. These pests are soft-bodied and have stripes or spots. There are two types of plant damage from caterpillars. Some chew on the leaves. Others will roll the leaves together, creating a shelter.
They can cause highly damaging defoliation or leaf loss. This can lead to branch dieback, and even plant death. When the branches die, they will look woody.
Genista caterpillars are attracted to the honeysuckle. They are green and orange with white and black hairs. They can grow up to 1 inch in length.
Pruning the Honeysuckle
The best solution for woody honeysuckle is pruning. Pruning can be used to remove woody parts of the plant, and to prevent the honeysuckle from going woody in the first place.
Hard pruning should be performed during the winter when the plant is dormant.
To perform a hard pruning, cut the plant, leaving only 12 inches above the ground. This may seem drastic, but the plant will bounce back and grow well the next spring.
In this case, you likely won’t see blooms next spring. However, they will bloom the year after this, in their second spring.
Prune a few branches each winter to prevent them from going woody. You can cut the stems back to where they join other stems as well.
This redirects stems that are growing in the wrong direction, and prevents them from rubbing against each other.
Remove any stray stems, and thin out the top of the plant. This allows for good air penetration and allows sunlight to reach the bottom of the plant. This can also prevent it from going woody.
After Pruning Care
Light pruning can be done throughout the year. Pruning a few branches a year can actually prevent the plant from becoming woody, while still allowing it to bloom each season.
You should always prune after the flowers fall off during the spring. You should also prune any damaged, dead, or diseased stems. Leave at least 6 inches of stem.
There are a few ways to control pests and prevent infestations. These include monitoring, horticultural oils, and introducing predatory insects.
The first step to treating or preventing an infestation is careful monitoring. The faster you catch invading insects, the fewer of them you have to contend with. This also allows you to limit the amount of damage the pests can do.
Horticultural oils are a type of pesticide that doesn’t contain harmful ingredients. They were originally developed for fruit trees. Because the fruit was consumed, strong pesticides that could pose toxicity to humans were off the table.
Horticultural oils solved the problem, allowing pest control without toxicity. Most are made from petroleum products, but a few are made from vegetable oils.
Heavier oils are known as dormant oils and are suitable for treating over-wintering insects. Summer or all-season oils are lighter and can be used during the growing season to eradicate pests without damaging foliage.
The oils typically suffocate the insects. It also disrupts the egg’s ability to metabolize, essentially causing them to starve before they hatch.
Predatory insects can also be used for pest control. The beloved ladybug is a popular choice for aphid management. Wasps can also eradicate aphids and other pests. Lacewing larva can also be introduced to control harmful insects.
Lastly, the healthier the plant, the less susceptible they are to pests. Ensuring the honeysuckle gets the proper amount of water, sunlight, and nutrients can help prevent pest infestations.
Honeysuckle Care Tips
Knowing the basic honeysuckle care tips will also help keep it healthy. Honeysuckles love to have their feet in the water and their heads in the sun.
This means they prefer moist but well-draining soil with partial shade. Ideally, the roots will be in the shade and the stems will be in the sun. They do well growing on a west-facing wall or fence for this reason.
If the roots of the plant get full sun, adding a layer of mulch can help shield them from too much heat and sun. They are happy when climbing. Fence rows, a wireframe, or a trellis are all great for climbing honeysuckles. Young plants may need some support. You can accomplish this with a few well-placed wires.
Shrubby honeysuckles also prefer moist but well-drained soil. They can grow well in partial shade or full sun.
Be sure to water any type of honeysuckle during dry spells. You want the soil to be moist, not dry or waterlogged.
Final Thoughts on Woody Honeysuckle
Honeysuckles are beautiful fragrant plants that are fast-growing. However, they do require regular pruning to remain healthy and attractive. Pruning lightly during the spring is recommended.
Be sure to prune after the flowers fall away. If the plant has woody branches, remove these, preferably by pruning them during the winter.
If the plant is severely woody, cut back the entire plant. Leave 12 inches of honeysuckle above the ground, and remove the rest by pruning.
Remember to fertilize well in the spring, particularly after a heavy pruning in the winter.