In the Garden with Miriam Jabour|Versatile vine: Coral honeysuckle easygoing native plant

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 9, 2009

The white and yellow blooms of Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, may smell sweet, but most gardeners consider it nothing more than a pest.

Once this invasive vine gets a foothold under a tree or in a shrub, it will do its best to grow up and over the top and anywhere else you will let it. It is a chore to get rid of the Japanese variety, but there is another honeysuckle that deserves more recognition and use.

Lonicera sempervirens or coral honeysuckle is native throughout most of the eastern United States in zones 6 to 9. I have seen it growing in the wild once or twice, but was truly impressed when last week I saw a clump in full bloom that was planted by our local Master Gardeners in the shade garden at the Truck Crops Experiment Station at Crystal Springs.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Planted on the fence, it was covered with 2-inch clusters of narrow, scarlet, trumpet-shaped blooms with orange tips.

This vine blooms heaviest at this time of year, but it will continue to bloom intermittently during the growing season. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the bright blossoms.

This native variety is neither invasive nor aggressive, according to Sally Wasowski in “Gardening with Native Plants of the South,” and can grow 15 to 20 feet high. It is a great vine for a trellis or arbor, says Wasowski. It produces fruits that are eaten in winter by birds, including the cardinal, purple finch, goldfinch, quail, hermit thrush and robin. It is also a larval plant for the spring azure butterfly.

The planting at Crystal Springs is located under one of the large oak trees that dominate the shade garden, where it receives dappled light most of the day. It also grows well in a full sun location.

Norman Winter, Mississippi State Extension horticulturist, suggests planting it in the spring in a manner similar to how a holly or other shrub is planted. It is not fussy about soil; however, the soil will need to be loosened in an area twice as wide as the rootball and as deep as the plant is growing in the nursery container. About 3 or 4 inches of organic matter should be added to the hole and incorporated into the native soil before it is planted near the structure that it is to climb. As with all new plantings, it needs a thorough watering after planting and mulch, plus periodic watering until it is well established.

It will develop a deep root system and may colonize in the area.

It is propagated by softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings in summer or by layering off the mother plant.

Companion plants that work well with coral honeysuckle, said Wasowski, include oaks, hickories, serviceberry, posumkaw, viburnums, fringetree, ebony spleenwort, Christmas fern, green-and-gold partridgeberry, smilacina and spigelia or Indian pinks.

 I personally think it would look good planted near almost anything in a dappled shade or sunny garden site that needs a showy, bright vine for accent.

Winter suggests looking for this wildlife champion at nurseries in Mississippi that specialize in native plants. It is an easy-care vine once established in a landscape and a real show sstopper while in bloom.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and master flower show judge, has been active with the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs for more than 20 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.