Pruning the Honeysuckle

Alas, the title of this post isn’t some esoteric euphemism: I really did just prune my honeysuckle bush today.

Back in May, this particular bush featured tiny, delicate flowers. As with many of the bushes and plants that my landscaper couldn’t identify early in the spring, I went to the Twitternets and asked my followers:

Dear #lazyweb: What is this #white #flowering #tree called? My landscaper couldn’t tell me.

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Swift came the reply:

And @martinivixen wins the #lazyweb prize! My plant appears to be Amur #Honeysuckle, per Google Image Search. Thanks!

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It wasn’t until July that it started to get out of hand: huge, top-heavy, and increasingly unattractive. Today, during Connor’s nap, I took a leaf bag and my bypass pruners — and my cameraphone, of course — and went to town.

The research I’ve done so far says that a honeysuckle bush will benefit from occasional rejuvenation pruning — that is, cutting back all branches to six inches above the soil. Since most of the plants on this property probably haven’t seen a proper pruning in years, I figured I’d plan to do some severe cutting back of this honeysuckle next spring, and just do some out-of-season shaping to keep it in check until then.

I’ll post the before and after side-by-side later on, but here’s an idea of why I wanted to trim back this giant bush:

My plan was to completely ignore online advice and trim back the gangly long branches, knowing full well that I was inviting additional growth from those pruning points. I figured that since I’m intending to do a major rejuvenation pruning in the early spring, it really shouldn’t matter.

I took a deep breath, assessed the general shape of the plant, and went to work.

I saw what seemed to be a grapevine twining itself amongst the branches. Since my experience with our highly invasive Maypop vine, I’m on a mission against vines of all kinds that try to use other plants for trellises. Found its main branch, snipped it, and pulled off as much as I could off of the honeysuckle.

Eventually, I got into the inside of the honeysuckle, underneath the hugely long branches I was cutting, and I saw the inner branches/trunks.

“To fully rejuvenate your honeysuckle bush,” says GardenGuides.com, “use pruning shears or loppers to cut all stems down to 4- to 6-inch stubs.”

Loppers? Seriously? This thing is gonna need our hacksaw.

I started to rethink my rejuvenation strategy, but kept trimming, anyway.

Eventually, once I’d trimmed back what seemed to be about a third of the height overall, I called it quits for now. (I filled up the remainder of the lawn bag with weeds and invasive vines.) Once I stepped back and reassessed, I realized that I hadn’t taken out as much of the bush as I’d intended — I’d either been more conservative than I meant, or I just straight-up missed a couple of viewing angles while I was cutting.

At any rate, it looks considerably better than it did.


From the angle I usually see it, though, there’s not nearly as dramatic of a difference:


Although I’m not sure what I intend to do with the massive amount of branches that will result, I think I may still attempt a rejuvenation pruning next spring when the forsythia blooms. (I have quite a bit of gardening planned for that time frame, and it’s going to be interesting to see what gets first priority.)

I’ve also realized that I have multiple tiny honeysuckles coming up along the fence in other, unwanted spots. I’m hesitant to cut them to the ground, though, just in case they react as if I had pruned them. I may just dig them up and rid my fence of them that way.

As a postscript… Once I had finished pruning the honeysuckle (for now), I took some time to survey my property yet again. It seems like every time I manage to accomplish one task, I look around and see five more that await (or are long overdue). The good news, I guess, is that I’m getting a feel for the regular maintenance that this property needs, and what plants I’m not going to feel the least bit sorry to see go (lambsear, honeysuckle babies, maypop vine).

As overwhelming as it seems, though… I still enjoy it.

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