in praise of honeysuckles (aphids be damned)

lonicera-sempervirens-detailI WAS SHOWERING MY HONEYSUCKLES RECENTLY, and not with affection, but with the stiff spray of a hose-end nozzle, washing off the aphids who might otherwise deprive me and the hummingbirds of the enjoyment of these showy vines. I grow three kinds of Lonicera: two colors of the American native L. sempervirens, a reddish (above) and a beautiful yellow, and a rose-and-orange heckrottii hybrid called ‘Goldflame.’ Their moment is now.

I gave L. sempervirens (Zones 4-9), whose woody stems twist around the corner post on my back porch the last decade, a serious pruning last year, after it seemed to have a lot of leggy growth that was especially appealing to the aphids. It has responded really favorably: heavy bloom and stronger growth after a year of recovery.

lonicera-sempervirens-flavaIts far more subtle yellow-flowered cousin (above), L.s. ‘Flava’ or ‘Sulphurea,’ hasn’t really been troubled by insects here in all the years I’ve had it, and seems content to grow in part shade, not just full sun, an added blessing. If you will only have one sempervirens, maybe this should be it? (Hint, hint.)

lonicera-goldflame-4The L. heckrottii hybrid called ‘Goldflame’ (above, Zone 5-9) has been around for years and is also sold as ‘Pink Lemonade’ and Mardi Gras’ and who knows what else (don’t get me started on the stupidity of renaming plants for “marketing” reasons). One of its parents is L. sempervirens; you can see the resemblance. Its dark pink flowers unfurl to reveal wild schoolbus-colored insides, and it is said to have a little fragrance (I don’t notice it; L. sempervirens has none, incidentally, not only to my nose but anybody’s).

All of these plants grow 10-20 feet, the books will tell you, but their stature and habit depends on how they are supported and pruned.

‘Goldflame’ seems to have more issues with the aphids for me, but lately I’ve been more careful, trying to stay ahead of them, and it has helped. The key to avoiding serious infestation:

honeysuckle-aphidsGet them early, and often. Honeysuckle aphids overwinter as eggs and you are better off getting them before they hatch, by crushing them or pruning off and destroying the affected plant parts or spraying them with insecticidal soap if you please, perhaps weekly depending on the infestation level from the time the leaves are small and the buds are emerging onward, meaning from May here. As I said, I just use the hose, no soap. My nifty backpack sprayer lays idle in the barn.

Once the leaves have rolled up (inside these formed tubes is where adult aphids love to hide), the job of knocking them back or off gets harder, and the plant is also weakened by the aphids’ sucking action.

may-30-honeysuckleLeft unchecked (or even some years in spite of care) it may even get so severe it causes witches’ brooming or extreme leaf folding, disfigurements as seen in these photographic examples. If any of these form, cut them off; again, better to go after eggs, though, than let it come to this, a manageable task if you only have a few plants to visit and shower with some attention. The hummingbirds will thank you, and so will garden visitors.

  1. dirtgirl says:

    in praise of honeysuckles (aphids be damned)
    Now that’s the spirit! lol (love that)

    Sadly, we have only one kind of honeysuckle (not an aphid in sight, though)…a native here in Tennessee that has been with us our 23 years here. There is a HUGE amount down the driveway by the road where our daughter, now 29, loved to pick as she waited for the school bus. She was rarely without a honeysuckle in her mouth if they were in bloom. Her Dad still lets it grow rampant…he doesn’t let much grow with abandon so. I suspect it occupies a soft spot in his heart.

    I LOVE the red one! How best to get them climbing on a post?

    You take lovely photos, btw.

  2. Cyra says:

    Help! Aphids have attacked our just blooming peas and newly planted tomatoes. Any thoughts/suggestions for treating them on food crops? I’ve noticed them in other places in the garden this year but am particulary concerned as I can’t really prune these and don’t want to treat them with anything inedible. Thanks for the timely post, Margaret!

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Cyra. I really do suggested regular showers w/the hose to knock the aphids off. It’s hard for them to crawl all the way back up and onto the plants. I showered my honeysuckles again this morning…the daily bath. :) See you soon, I hope.

  3. Abby says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen aphids on my honeysuckle vines, but now I will have to look more closely. My neighbor’s honeysuckle bush is invading my yard – curses upon its seeds! Ditto his mulberry tree.

  4. Jim says:

    Do you do roses? I’m lusting for the climber “EDEN” aka ‘Pierre de Ronsard’. All my usual sources are out of stock. Can you help?

    1. margaret says:

      @Jim: I am not a big rose grower…only 3 here, a rugosa, a ‘William Baffin’ and a Rosa rubrifolia. Nothing fancy, just durable basics. Eden is lovely; afraid I don’t know a source particularly, and I assume you have tried all the basics (as you imply). Sorry not to be able to help.

  5. Justin Russell says:

    Nice plants Margaret. Love the look of L.s. ‘Flava’. Much nicer than Lonicera japonica, a ubiquitous, rampant growing weed here in Australia that redeems itself solely with a heavenly perfume.

  6. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Margaret, you have made comments on… the Aphids be damned, Trouble in Paradise, and 1 Million questions…. My question is…… How are you, and the ladies that maintain your gardens protecting yourselves from ticks that can give a person Lyme Disease????? Have you ever had lyme disease yourself, or a scare? I have heard Columbia county has a large amount of ticks.

  7. margaret says:

    @Dirtgirl: At first I string wire vertically on each side of the porch posts (between two eye hooks per side, on each of four sides of the post, top to bottom) and nudge the young shoots to use the wire to get going. Then the vines get so woody, you don’t need to tell it what to do…it supports itself.

    @Utblickaren: Zone 4 hardiness is -30 to -20°F (or -34 to -29°C, I think that’s the conversion) so how cold so you get there?

    @Justin: Death to the Japanese honeysuckle!!!!! (Though yes, quite sweet scented.)

    @Fred: I do a very careful tick check each time I come in from gardening, and remove any embedded ticks with a Tick Twister. I have had several embedded over the years, but none so far this year. I have not had Lyme yet, which I attribute to my very vigilant approach to after-gardening checks…changing clothes, showering, checking, etc.

  8. Charlotte K says:

    Can you write about honeysuckle that doesn’t flower? I don’t have any aphid problems but my HS hasn’t flowered since the 2nd year or so that I planted it. It is in partial shade,but I have seen HS in partial shade blooming up a storm. A clematis growing on the same wall is a mass of bloom every year. I thought HS would be a no-work kind of vine, but it’s just a big green mass (OK, but I would like the scent in my garden).

    1. Doyle Dumas says:

      My honeysuckle (hybrid) has never bloomed.Very healthy vegetation–adequate sunshine–no blossoms, maybe two or three each year.

  9. Deirdre says:

    I used to have a heckrottii that was fragrant at dawn and at dusk, not during the day. Maybe it was fragrant all night. I don’t know. My staying up all night days are long gone.

  10. Jenny says:

    Hi Margaret,

    I was hoping to cover one part of my garden fence with Honeysuckle, though I’ve never grown it before (I’m a California transplant to Long Island that is still learning the ropes). Given this new info about aphids, do you think growing it close to the garden is a recipe for disaster?

    Also, regarding Lyme disease. Both myself and 2 friends recently came down with it in the past year! I never saw the tick, the bad ones, deer ticks, are so small that they are easily missed. Out here in Amagansett, I recommend testing early in the spring and again in the fall for the antibodies. If you catch it early enough, it’s not a big problem, which fortunately I did.

  11. Tricia from Western New York says:

    Two really great topics in one – hummingbirds and honeysuckle. At our previous house, we covered a pergola with sempervivens (full sun) and trumpet vines and our front porch with serotina florida. The latter got very little sun – just in the morning, but bloomed enthusiastically anyway! The sempervivens bloomed all summer and was the hangout for hummingbirds until they left in the fall. They were both very easy care.

    Except for the aphida. They loved the sempervivens way too much. Two years in a row I lost all of the first blooms. In desperation, I used the Safer product that came out a couple of years ago (can’t remember the name — I left it for the woman who bought the house). It seemed to do the trick. For some reason they didn’t touch the florida.

    In our new gardens, we’ll have to hope the hummers will find our agastache, climbing nasturtiums, mina lobata, cypress vine, Monarda, and cup plant. I’m waiting to see if I can tuck a couple of lobelias somewhere as well. But there’s no place yet for a honeysuckle. Yes, I am obsessed!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Tricia, who has a very lovely kind of obsession. Thanks for the details. I love hummingbirds (all birds) and yes, loathe aphids, but you know what? I don’t get such a bad infestation on that sempervirens. Who knows why?

  12. Lyhn says:

    You really do have a bad case of aphids… too much rain and dampness… sun is supposed to come out (humid tho) for the rest of the week w/interrmittent showers..

    I have not used anything for aphids on flowers but I do this for my sugar snap peas.. and other UGLY eating bugs on my veggies.. I take “tin” foil and put on the top of the soil.. when the sun comes out it reflects on the underbody of the plant. Aphids as u know hate heat! Kills em dead!

    Tin foli is alumimum foil… called it that when I as a kid.

    Nice website you have!!!!

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Lyhn, and welcome. I have not tried the tin foil trick — will read up on it more, thank you. Hope to see you again soon.

  13. Melissa says:

    I’m hoping you can help. I have 5 goldflame honeysuckle plants growing in our backyard in NJ. Aphids have attacked and I’m at a loss of what to do. This year 3 suffered early and my husband sprayed them with Sevin. now not only are the majority of aphids dried up but the plants look horrible, mostly stiff bark branches, little leaves. I’m considering pruning these down to the ground, but am not sure if that will hurt the plant. They are starting to so read to my 2 healthy plants.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Melissa. Oh, dear: Sevin! Carbaryl (the chemical in Sevin) is an old one, around since the 1950s I think, but not a nice one. And it’s not effective against many kinds of aphids (see the Kentucky Extension bulletin saying so here). What you end up doing by applying the wrong pesticide is a form of overkill, meaning you kill the beneficial insects and maybe or perhaps not necessarily the ones you were targeting.

      With aphids the key is to get out ahead of them — before they are infesting the plant in a major way. Pruning in earliest spring; after that cutting off any hint of the start of trouble; maybe using nontoxic horticultural oil to suffocate them. Probably cut them back, keep them well-watered while they regrow, and take the Sevin to the local dump to turn in on hazardous material day.

  14. Matt says:

    I have been growing the red and yellow varieties of (what I call “tubular or trumpet”) honeysuckle vines for years, as well as “Hall’s Honeysuckle” which has the flower form of the invasive Japanese Honeysuckle without the invasive habit. The Hall’s Honeysuckle starts out as pink with a golden center, then turns red-purple with an orange center. Not very fragrant, but the humming birds love them.
    The tubular honeysuckles also have the humming birds fighting for feeding rights and are very entertaining! Since they bloom heavily in spring here in NJ, I also grow the climbing lily,gloriosa rothschildiana. The flowers drip nectar if the humming birds don’t keep up with them. They produce so much nectar, the humming birds can revisit the flowers again after about an hour. They are some of the most lazy humming birds I’ve ever seen, they just sit around preening and they love to just stand on the vine and feed.
    I always have the climbing lily, gloriosa rothschildiana, just outside my living room window and I get months of fun watching their antics.

  15. Deborah says:

    I have been looking for the honeysuckle to grow on the poles of our grownup sons’ backyard fort. Want to change the open bottom floor into a summer place for my indoor plants.
    Don’t want to change the the building. just how we use it. I think the climbing honeysuckle can change the building’s appearance and add some lovely shade. We lost our sugar maple a few years ago. I am still trying to deal with the baking sun. The fort was nestled in the tree but not attached to it.
    I am wondering if climbing hydrangea might work one one side if I add wire fencing to support it. Any ideas?

  16. Steve W. says:

    Yes hose blasting certainly helps, but I have read many times that ants actually herd aphids onto the vines to get the sweet sap they leave not sure if thats true. So this year besides all the other tried and true methods Im dosing diatomacious earth around the vines , theory is stop the ants stop the aphids, hey at least its worth a try.

  17. Barbara MacPherson says:

    Thanks for honeysuckle and aphid advise. I was seriously thinking of ripping them out. I have sprayed with insecticidal soap and the hose is next.

  18. Adrienne Ricci says:

    How does one prevent these from occurring at all? Are they in the soil?
    We had beautiful blooms, healthy looking plants and then noticed they were covered with these gross aphids. We sprayed with soapy water and trimmed off affected areas. The plants reacted negatively to this treatment.
    New growth has occurred but, we are fearful that these aphids are still present.

    1. margaret says:

      A good roundup about aphids, including a tab about “management” to click in the left-hand navigation, is over on the Morton Arboretum website. It will be important to do extra-careful sanitation in fall and again in spring cleanup in the affected areas to reduce overwintering eggs, for example.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.