Winter holly (Lonicera fragrantissima) is one of the most popular and widely grown plants in North America. It grows wild throughout much of Canada, Alaska, Russia, Scandinavia and parts of Europe. It was introduced into Florida during the late 1800’s when it was brought over from Europe by settlers. Today it thrives in warm climates all around the world including California where it is native.
The plant is native to northern Europe and Asia, but it became established in the United States after European settlers arrived here. It was first cultivated in Massachusetts in 1750 by John Hancock, who named it “honey-tree” because of its sweet fragrance. By 1806, there were approximately 1 million acres planted with holly (Hancock).
In Florida alone there are nearly 100 varieties of holly (Florida Herbarium).
Winter holly is an evergreen shrub or small tree up to 30 feet tall. Its leaves are opposite, heart shaped and alternate along the stem. They have five leaflets each arranged in two rows.
Leaves turn brown before they die back completely in fall (Florida Herbarium).
It produces white flowers which open in spring and last until summer. Flowers are followed by yellow berries that ripen in early autumn (Florida Herbarium).
The plant is also used for decoration and many varieties are available, including:
Lonicera x purpusii (Purple Leaf Honeysuckle) has green leaves with purple leaf stems and veins. The flowers are lavender.
Lonicera x brownii (Brown’s Hybrid) has green leaves with white undersides. The flowers are white.
Lonicera x brownii (Warneckei) has green leaves with white veins and stems. The flowers are creamy yellow.
Lonicera henryi (Henry’s Hybrid) has gray leaves with white undersides. The flowers are light yellow (University of Florida IFAS Extension).
Trimming Winter Honeysuckle
The best time to trim winter honeysuckle plants is in early spring. You should wait until the plant has fully leafed out before trimming. You can lightly trim it at other times of the year, but spring is best.
Use hand clippers or hedge shears to remove dead, diseased, damaged and stray growth. Make your cuts at a 45 degree angle just above a joint. This will encourage outward growth and denser foliage (University of Florida IFAS Extension).
You need to keep the plant under 3 feet in height and 6 feet in width. This can be done by pruning the longer branches back to the trunk. You should never reduce more than one third of the plant’s foliage at a time (Warnock).
Dead branches can also be removed at any time.
If you are shaping a single stem hedge, form a tepee shape for a formal look or a multi-branch shape for a more natural look.
If you want to allow the plant to grow over an arch or trellis, leave it unpruned so that it can reach its destination on its own (Warnock).
Fertilizing Winter Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle does not require a lot of fertilizer. Apply a general purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10 in the early spring just before new growth begins or in the summer. Do not apply nitrogen based fertilizers.
This will cause lush green growth that will not harden off before winter. The nitrogen will not be absorbed by the plant and will just cause it to break down quickly once cold weather arrives (Warnock).
Pruning Winter Honeysuckle
An unpruned winter honeysuckle plants can be shaped into many forms including an arch, a single stem and a multi-branch shape. You can also grow it over an arbor or trellis.
Sources & references used in this article:
Do native birds care whether their berries are native or exotic? No. by M Davis – BioScience, 2011 – academic.oup.com
Effects of the exotic invasive shrub Lonicera maackii on the survival and fecundity of three species of native annuals by AMA Gould, DL Gorchov – The American Midland Naturalist, 2000 – BioOne
Habitat‐specific resilience of the invasive shrub Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) during repeated clipping by JO Luken, DT Mattimiro – Ecological Applications, 1991 – Wiley Online Library
Seedling distribution and potential persistence of the exotic shrub Lonicera maackii in fragmented forests by JO Luken, N Goessling – American Midland Naturalist, 1995 – JSTOR
Leaf and root extracts of the invasive shrub, Lonicera maackii, inhibit seed germination of three herbs with no autotoxic effects by M Dorning, D Cipollini – Plant Ecology, 2006 – Springer
Amur honeysuckle, its fall from grace by JO Luken, JW Thieret – BioScience, 1996 – JSTOR