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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.