Rule to follow when pruning honeysuckle for ‘correct’ results

Carol Klein explains the importance of judicious pruning

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Although pruning honeysuckle isn’t strictly necessary every year, it’s a simple way to keep it in shape for the space it’s in and remove any unsightly, damaged areas. Plus, doing so will encourage healthy new shoots and blooms for the following season. These fragrant, climbing, cottage-garden plant favourites will certainly reward gardeners for their efforts, whether they’re training it up a garden wall or around a patio pergola.

Jackie Carol, gardening expert at Gardening Know How has shared when to prune honeysuckle for “major pruning”.

She said: “Honeysuckles include both vines and shrubs. Prune honeysuckle bushes in the spring, as soon as the flowers drop off. You can prune honeysuckle vines lightly any time of year. Wait until fall or winter when the vine is dormant for major pruning jobs.”

When pruning these plants, the experts suggest following a simple rule. She said: “Correct honeysuckle pruning always begins with the removal of the three D’s: dead, damaged, and diseased stems. This avoids vital energy being lost and helps to maintain a healthier plant.

“Next, correct stems that are growing in the wrong direction and those that rub against each other. Cut a stem all the way back to a point where it joins another stem, or shorten the stems by cutting just beyond a leaf node.”

Once gardeners have resolved these problems they can shape the plant by removing stray stems that wander away from the support. 

Jackie added: “You should also thin out the top of the plant to let sunlight and air inside. Good air circulation is essential to prevent diseases like powdery mildew.”

Neglecting to prune honeysuckle, particularly when overgrown, can prove to be a big issue. The expert said: “When a honeysuckle vine is overgrown, the branches become a tangled mess, making it impossible to prune selectively. 

“Another problem with neglected and severely overgrown honeysuckle vines is that sunlight can’t reach the bottom branches because the top is too dense. When this happens, the leaves fall off the lower branches, leaving bare stems.

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“The best way to correct a severely overgrown honeysuckle is to cut the plant back to about a foot (31 cm) from the ground. Severe pruning should be done in the winter while the plant is dormant. The vine grows back quickly but doesn’t bloom the following spring. Keep the soil around the plant moist at all times to help the vine regenerate.”

According to experts at Gardeners Dream, honeysuckle shrubs benefit from pruning after the flowering season. 

They said: “A light trim in late summer or early autumn will help the current season’s growth. 

“For deciduous honeysuckle bushes, more severe pruning should wait until late winter or early spring, when the plant is in its dormant phase. Doing this will promote new growth and a flourishing blooming season.”

Severe pruning is the easiest way to tidy up honeysuckle shrubs and remove a tangled mess of stems. The honeysuckle bush will grow back quickly, but you’ll find it won’t flower the following spring.

If gardeners have an established honeysuckle that’s looking a little congested at the top, sparse at the bottom, and generally lackluster, a good pruning can help to refresh it to get it back to its former glory. 

Jackie explained that gardeners can also “rejuvenate” overgrown honeysuckle bushes this way, but it’s better to rejuvenate them gradually. 

She said: “Removing one-third of the branches each year for three years rejuvenates the plant over time without leaving a hole in the landscape.”

The Royal Horticultural Society experts advised doing this in mid-winter, by cutting back stems to a height of 2ft (60cm). As new shoots grow, pick the best ones to create a new framework over your garden trellis or other structure. 

According to plantsman Toby Buckland of Amateur Gardening, the plants may miss a year’s flowering but will bloom as normal after that.

What’s more, doing this job in winter means gardeners will avoid disturbing any birds, as it won’t be nesting season. 

On the other hand, if gardeners are looking for wildlife garden ideas they may simply wish to leave their climber as is. Robins, wrens, and other small feathered friends will love to use the tangle of branches for shelter.

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