There are two main varieties of winter flowering Honeysuckles normally grown. Both are shrubby types, rather than the more common climbing honeysuckle and both are considered as semi-evergreen or deciduous. This depends upon the planting situation and the seasonal differences. Both have strong scent, which is an added bonus for anything flowering in mid-winter. The scent is however, best ‘viewed’ close up – as in close-up photography. It does not fill a garden such as the scent of Sarcococca.
The flowering period of the winter flowering honeysuckles can be as long as 3 months – December to February – with the dainty drooping, creamy white flowers held on branches that have little or no foliage. At first sight, the flowers do not seem to resemble the traditional tubular trumpet blooms of the Lonicera family, but a closer look will reveal the splayed trumpets and also the protruding yellow anthers.
The main differences between the two, being that the young shoots of Lonicera x purpussii ‘Winter Beauty’ are an attractive red-purple during late spring early summer. Not so with L fragrantissima which as slightly more dull green foliage. Lonicera fragrantissima also has dull red berries later in the year, but you would not grow this just for those! Winter Beauty rarely has berries.
Lonicera fragrantissima - a sweetly scented bush-type honeysuckle. NOT a climber, though can be grown against a wall or trellis.
Creamy-white scented flowers on this shrubby Honeysuckle throughout much of the winter, through to early spring. Always attracts attention when I have been taking photographs. Does not suffer too much in hard frosts or cold rain.
Other than its winter attraction, tends to be a sprawling shrub up to 2 metres tall for the rest of the year, with not-too-dense a foliage canopy - so suitable for underplanting with low perennials or spring flowering bulbs.
As with most Honeysuckles, can be prone to aphid pests and also powdery mildew by way of disease. Mildew though unattractive, rarely has any long term effect upon the health of this shrub.
Winter Honeysuckle will grow into a medium sized shrub – height of around 1.8m and a spread of slightly less than that. They are rounded in shape, but with lax spreading habit. For this reason they are both best given plenty of room and allowed a space where they can do their own thing without interference, if grown as shrubs.
Both are best grown in a sheltered but sunny position, near or against a wall or fence, which can have suitable anchors for restraining the shrub if required. Winter Lonicera can also be grown as a trained shrub – though not really a climber – against wall, fence or trellis. This is best done by training a framework and pruning back some of the flowered growths immediately after flowering. It will not be happy with severe pruning back, so best take just one in three branches back each year – otherwise there will be a lack of flower. Far better as a wall shrub than ‘trained’ as a climber of sorts!
Any soil will suite as long as not over-acidic. Moist situation is fine, as long as not flooded or water logged in winter months.
Hardiness is not a problem, for most of UK and similar areas, though it does like its fair share of summer sun. It will also be suitable in dappled shade areas, though possibly with fewer flowers, but enough to brighten up a winter woodland setting.
As with all members of the garden Lonicera group, it can suffer from powdery mildew – which though unsightly, rarely causes long term harm.
It’s main pest is the ubiquitous aphids – greenfly in particular.
Both disease and pests can be prevented by an all in one spray fungicide/insecticide.
They are normally grown from cuttings, and can be carefully rooted with softwood cuttings in early summer, or more easily with semi-ripe cuttings in late summer.