All About Winter Honeysuckle, One of the South's First Signs of Spring
Whether blooming delicately along leafy vines or profusely on branching shrubs, honeysuckle in all its forms is a longtime fixture in Southern gardens, in no small part due to its sweet fragrance. Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is an early-blooming honeysuckle that brings blooms and springlike fragrance to the garden in late winter and early spring.
Also known by the evocative names "kiss me at the gate," "January jasmine," and "sweet breath of spring," winter honeysuckle is a deciduous shrub that's semievergreen in the Lower South region. It's an early-flowering and long-blooming bushy shrub that's considered invasive in many states because it's fast-growing and can restrict native plant growth. (That's why gardeners are encouraged to consider planting native plants instead—check your local extension office before planting in your area.
According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, Lonicera fragrantissima has been "a longtime favorite of Southern gardeners, with arching, rather stiff growth to 8 feet tall and at least as wide. It has oval, 1- to 3 inches-long leaves are dull dark green above, blue-green beneath." It gets its name from its perfume—"fragrantissima" points to the strong fragrance of the shrub's small blooms.
When it blooms in late winter and early spring, winter honeysuckle produces creamy white flowers. They emit a sweet fragrance that's one of the first intimations of spring in Southern gardens. The New Southern Living Garden Book says that it "can be used as a clipped hedge or a background plant; bring budded branches indoors to bloom." According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, "Flowers are a harbinger of spring. Budded branches may be cut for an early, fragrant, indoor arrangement."
The New Southern Living Garden Book recommends that gardeners "provide good drainage. Honeysuckles typically need some thinning; ideal time for the job is after bloom. Cut old, straggling honeysuckles to the ground before spring growth begins; they will regrow rapidly. Generally free of serious pests, though aphids sometimes infest them."
You can learn more about honeysuckle at southernliving.com/plants/honeysuckle.
What are your favorite types of honeysuckle? Do you have any honeysuckle vines or shrubs growing in your garden this year?