in praise of honeysuckles (aphids be damned)
I WAS SHOWERING MY HONEYSUCKLES TODAY, and not with affection, exactly, 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, avec aphid) 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.
Its 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.)
The 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 this year I’ve been more careful. Try to stay ahead. The key to avoiding this:
Get 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, May here. As I said, I just use the hose, no soap, but that is just laziness. 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.
Left unchecked (or even some years in spite of care) it may even get so severe it causes witches’ brooming or extreme leaf folding, disfigurations 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, like the ones who asked about my sempervirens, below, at the recent tours).