Issue: February 18, 2006

Pruning honeysuckle vine


We have quite a few honeysuckle bushes that we have grown on a trellis for privacy. The bushes are about six years old now and are quite large, but the growth at the bottom is very woody and has no living leaves. How do we prevent this and when/how is the best time/way to prune honeysuckle?



The Japanese honeysuckle vine (there are other climbing honeysuckles and some shrub honeysuckle plants) is very vigorous and often produces a plant like you described. The upper portions of the plant shade the lower portions resulting in defoliation and death of lower branches and twigs. It is a desirable plant because of its rapid growth to provide the privacy you mentioned and because of its fragrant blossoms. However, the vigorous growth has also given it a reputation as an invasive weed in areas with more moisture than New Mexico. Its vigorous growth requires periodic pruning to rejuvenate the lower portion of the vines.

Some authors recommend pruning in the autumn and winter (dormant season), and others prefer pruning in the late spring. The vigor of the Japanese honeysuckle allows it to survive pruning at almost any time. However, because yours is overgrown and needs severe pruning, the late winter will be the best time.

Remove a significant portion of the upper branches when you prune. This will be difficult because they will be intertwined. It is even possible to prune them to within a foot or two of the ground. After such severe pruning, it will often re-grow rapidly but may fail to flower. Pruning to remove only one-third to one-half of the branches at the top of the vine, you should have less vigorous vegetative growth. Leaving some of the older growth will allow the vines to produce their fragrant flowers this summer.

As growth begins in the spring, water the vine well because the plant will be attempting to replace the portions you pruned away. To conserve water, apply an organic mulch (wood or bark chips) around the base of the vines. This will also reduce weed growth. Wait to fertilize until after the leaves have reached full size on the earliest growth.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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