Lonicera, commonly known as honeysuckle, is a member of the Caprifoliaceae or honeysuckle family with many species and named cultivars that offer various growth habits and blossom colors. All are vines or shrubs, withstand some neglect, tolerate average-to-poor soil, bloom best in full sun, and require-low-to moderate water.
Vining types need sturdy support; some require tying up until their twining stems can hold them. Most are vigorous growers; some become thickets when not regularly maintained. Numerous species are loved for their fragrance and somewhat spidery-looking flowers that attract pollinators and hummingbirds. Red, blue, green or black berries appear after bloom in late summer and autumn.
The Japanese honeysuckle vines, Lonicera japonica, are the most aromatic and vigorous, able to reach 30 ft. They have long been favored for their sweet scent easily wafted on a breeze; however, they are known to become invasive due to birds eating fruits and dropping seeds.
One of the most widely planted Japanese honeysuckles is long-blooming Hall’s, the vining Lonicera japonica ’Halliana,’ with creamy white flowers that deepen to yellow and are loved by bees. Although it is suited to covering a wall or fence or sprawling on a bank as a groundcover, Hall’s honeysuckle can be overly aggressive and turn into a tangle of thin, woody stems underneath the evergreen foliage and blossoms. If not severely pruned annually, after a few years this woody growth threatens to become a dangerous fire hazard.
Woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum, is a far less troublesome honeysuckle with twining stems that rarely go beyond 10-15 ft. ‘Serotina’ bears multi-colored cream, pink, and purple fragrant flowers. ‘Berries Jubilee’ is loved for its late-season profusion of red berries that follow long-lasting fragrant yellow flowers. ‘Peaches and Cream’ has cream, purple, and pink flowers on restrained growth to 5-10 ft. and is small enough for containers. ‘Sweet Tea’ is similar and even shorter growing; creamy white and yellow ‘Scentsation’ is highly scented as its name suggests.
Large clusters of pink and white lightly fragrant flowers adorn Lonicera x americana ‘Pam’s Pink’ that can be grown either as a vine trained on a trellis or a shrub mounding 4-5 ft. high and as wide. Blossoms are long-lasting and repeat often enough to be in almost constant bloom. This honeysuckle is fairly heat and drought-tolerant, although it appreciates part shade where summers are excessively hot.
Lonicera hispidula, western or California honeysuckle, grows in sunny and partly shaded sites in the Sierra foothills and is valued in gardens either as a shrub or small vine 4 ft. high by 8 ft. wide. Without support, it rambles along the ground. Pink blossoms appear in spring and summer and attract hummingbirds. It will grow in moist soil and looks best with regular summer water.
Lonicera nitida is an evergreen shrub that goes by the common name box honeysuckle for the resemblance of its foliage to that of boxwood (Buxus). The plain green species plant is a large shrub 10-12 ft. high and wide.
Its several cultivars have a more manageable size 4-6 ft. tall and wide after several years and are far more useful in most home gardens, but they must be monitored to prevent unwanted spreading on underground rhizomes. Give them little water and some shade in hot areas. ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ has golden yellow tinted foliage; ‘Lemon Beauty’ blends chartreuse and lemon yellow; leaves on ‘Red Tips’ emerge red and retain reddish tips and margins on green leaves.