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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Honeysuckle brings both tropical flowers and tropical birds to a garden

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) makes a great addition to a tropical garden. Not only does it look great, it also attracts those tropics inspiring hummingbirds!

Unlike the invasive Japanese honeysuckle, trumpet honeysuckle (sometimes referred to as coral honeysuckle) is native to the eastern half of the United States. In fact it is listed as endangered in the state of Maine!

Trumpets can be distinguished from other honeysuckles by their flower. While most honeysuckles have flowers that open wide with the long stamens mostly exposed, trumpet flowers are long and tubular with a small opening at the end, perfect for a hummingbird's beak! There are many flower color varieties to choose from (the one I have has a bright red tube with a yellow tip).

Trumpet honeysuckles are easy to care for. When I plant them I mix in compost or potting soil and make sure that the soil has good drainage by adding a little sand if necessary. A couple inches of mulch will help control weeds and help retain moisture. I fertilize using a slow release, low nitrogen fertilizer as trumpets don't need the "high octane" stuff bananas do! Once they have had a year to spread their roots they are drought tolerant, but I water them like my tropicals.

In Virginia trumpets are deciduous. After the leaves drop the bare vines will be covered in bright red berries which song birds relish. New growth will come from both the woody vines and the roots in the spring.

Honeysuckle requires a trellis to grow vertically, and like moonflower it has no suction cups or holdfasts that could cause damage. I want mine to grow up the side of my shed, so I covered one side of the shed with green wire garden fence. As the honeysuckle grows I thread the vines through the fence in different directions so that eventually the entire side of the shed will be filled with flowers!

Honeysuckle is easy to propagate, so if you need to fill in a large area I recommend buying just a few plants, then filling in the area with cuttings. To take a cutting, snip off about a foot of vine and place six inches of it in water. Place it in a sunny location and in a few weeks when there are sufficient roots plant it a couple feet from the parent. Make sure you take the cutting from new growth (old growth looks woody) or it will not root!

Unfortunately, trumpet honeysuckle is susceptible to tomato horn worms, so be vigilant! Two years ago my honeysuckle was attacked by horn worms and was almost completely defoliated in less than a week! (they have since recovered)

If you're looking for a great cold hardy tropical looking plant to fill in that fence line, get some trumpet honeysuckle. The hummingbirds will thank you!

1 comment:

Titania said...

Jason I had just a quick visit in your tropical garden. I like this Trumpet Honeysuckle it looks beautiful, the birds like the berries and it is easy to look after, all I want from a plant! I will have a look if I can get it in my nursery. I garden in the subtropics in Australia. I will com back to see your other posts.