Removal of Wild Honeysuckle

Question: We have wild honeysuckle everywhere, especially along our creek. It smells so lovely, but it is growing up into the dogwoods we planted. A neighbor said it is a native and I should leave it alone, but I don’t want it to hurt my trees. How can I manage it so that I don’t affect the creek or hurt my trees?

Identify the Species

Thank you for your interest in knowing whether this honeysuckle is a native plant. Protecting or adding native plants to the landscape is important because the plants add beauty to our surroundings, preserve our natural heritage, create habitat and food sources for wildlife, require less water and maintenance and can help prevent species loss.

Japanese honeysuckle by Richard Garner (www.invasive.org)

Your description provides some relevant details (vine-like rather than bush-type growth and a strong fragrance), but not enough to make a positive identification. There are about 180 species of honeysuckle that have been identified in North America and Eurasia. To learn how to manage the honeysuckle successfully, be sure to identify the species of honeysuckle correctly. The coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), also called trumpet honeysuckle or woodbine, is one of many beautiful native species. Others, such as Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), are aggressive and highly invasive species that cause significant damage by smothering shrubs, small trees and native plants and destroying habitat for birds and other wildlife.

 

Let’s begin by comparing the coral honeysuckle to the Japanese honeysuckle, two common varieties.

Coral honeysuckle by Virginia Native Plant Society (www.vnps.org)

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a stunning plant, named the wildflower of the year in 2014. It is a semi-evergreen vine with glossy green oval leaves. Upper surfaces of leaves are dark green and pale green underneath. Leaves are opposite with the uppermost pair distinctly fused. The flowers are trumpet shaped with red on the outside and yellow inside, grow in whorled (ring-shaped) clusters at the end of stems and are up to 2 inches long. Flowers bloom from March – June and have little or no fragrance. The berries are bright red. This honeysuckle can climb or spread as a groundcover from 3 to 20 feet long.

Coral honeysuckle by James Reveal (www.wildflower.org)

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is one of the most invasive plants of the Blue Ridge. It is a semi-evergreen climbing vine with glossy, dark green leaves that are mostly oval and opposite on the branch stem. The leaves are distinctly separate (as compared to the fused leaves at the end of stems on the coral honeysuckle). It has large white to pink tubular flowers that fade to yellow. Flowers grow in pairs where the leaf attaches to the stem. It flowers in late spring until fall and one of its most distinguishing characteristics is its sweet fragrance. Japanese honeysuckle has purplish black fruits that grow singly or in pairs and are visible in the winter. Once established, Japanese honeysuckle can climb as high as 40 feet on a tree, severely damaging or killing it.

Not yet able to identify the honeysuckle species you have? Here is a resource to help you learn more about plant identification and you can consult the Virginia Plant Atlas.

Japanese honeysuckle by Chris Evans (www.invasive.org)

Control of honeysuckle

Once you have determined the species in your yard, you can develop a strategy to manage the specific honeysuckle based on its growth characteristics.

If identified as a coral honeysuckle, you may want to keep the plant and control its growth by pruning:

  1. Prune as much as 1/3 of the vine in any year after flowers bloom to avoid reducing the abundance of next year’s spring blossoms. However, pruning can be done almost anytime, if reducing future blossoms is not a concern.
  2. If vines are climbing into surrounding trees, the individual stems can be pruned back to the ground.
  3. Coral honeysuckle lends itself to being trained on trellises and other structures, which can be an effective way to train it to grow away from nearby trees.

For the Japanese honeysuckle, there are several methods of control, that will need to be repeated periodically:

  1. Pull up individual young vines by the roots. The entire vine (including runners, root, and seed) must be removed. Repeated pulling will be necessary for adequate control.
  2. If the vine climbs trees and also runs along the ground, pull up the crown (where stem joins the main roots) and cut it from the main stem and the root system. A foliar spray will still be needed to kill the plant.
  3. Mow fields and roadsides two times a year to slow down the vine, but this may increase the plants’ density.
  4. For large stands of Japanese honeysuckle, use a foliar herbicide spray (a spray applied to the leaves) following the recommendations of the 2021 Integrated Pest Management Guide: Home Grounds & Animals from Virginia Cooperative Extension. Spray the herbicide at the recommended time of year and use caution to avoid damaging or killing nearby plants and wildlife and polluting bodies of water.

For more details on control and alternatives to of Japanese honeysuckle, view this fact sheet.

With this information, you have the tools to identify and control the your honeysuckle, while protecting the dogwoods and nearby water. We hope you will spread the word on the benefits of planting native plants, including Coral honeysuckle.

prepared by Michelle Mrdeza

References:

“Featured Native Plant: Trumpet Honeysuckle,” Bridget Abernathy, Tree Talk, University of Kentucky, School of Agricultural, Food and Environment.

“In Search of ‘Wild’ Honeysuckle,” William Hamilton, Ecologist’s Notebook, PennState University, 1 July 2011.

“Invasive Alien Plant Species of Virginia: Bush Honeysuckles,” Charles E. Williams, Department of Biology, Clarion University, Virginia Department of Conservation and Resources, Virginia Native Plant Society.

“Japanese Honeysuckle,” Field Guide, Discover Nature, Missouri Department of Conservation.

“Lonicera Sempervirens,” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, University of Texas at Austin

“Wildflower of the Year 2014 Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens),” W. John Hayden, Virginia Native Plant Society, 2014.

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