From late December until early March a semi-deciduous shrub, Lonicera fragrantissima, winter honeysuckle blossoms in southern gardens. Pairs of small creamy white flowers tinged in pink line the arching branches at leaf axils and exude a lemon essence carried across the garden by winter winds.
The cold hardy shrub is commonly called Christmas honeysuckle, winter honeysuckle, standing honeysuckle, January jasmine and the sweet breath of spring.
Winter honeysuckle was first introduced as a landscape plant by Scottish botanist and plant hunter Robert Fortune who found it while exploring China in 1845.
The shrub grows well in full sun or partial shade. Winter-blooming honeysuckle adapts to many soils and pH but requires a well-drained site. The shrub is semi-evergreen in zones 6-9 and deciduous in zones 4-5.
The plant reaches a maximum height of 10 feet with an equal spread. The shrub may be pruned by removing as much as a third of its old growth after blooming to control its rampant and often rangy growth. The shrub bounces back rapidly after severe pruning to near the ground as well.
Winter honeysuckle is used to create hedges, thickets, and screens. If planted in a border with a variety of other shrubs which bloom in spring and summer, it can represent the winter-bloomers along with flowering quince, bridal-wreath spirea, and forsythia.
The shrub is also planted as a standing specimen. In the southern garden winter, honeysuckle is often planted near a gate, driveway, entranceway, or pathway for visitors and residents to receive the winter perfume.
Wildlife gardeners plant the shrub to attract bees and birds. The flowers provide nectar and pollen in winter, a time when few plants provide forage for bees. Birds are attracted to the ripe red berries which are borne under the leaves and not easily seen by humans.
Florists and gardeners cut branches to force into bloom indoors throughout winter.
In the southern United States, the shrub is known as one of the old-time pass along plants. Gardeners clip tip cuttings in spring and share with neighbors and friends. Cuttings root easily and readily in water. Rootings become sizable shrubs in a season.
The shrub may be planted by seed as well. Birds are responsible for seeding and naturalizing winter honeysuckle throughout the eastern United States.
Since the plant is easily transplanted, gardeners also propagate the shrubby dividing older clumps.
Winter honeysuckle is a wonderful plant for awakening the spirit with a sweet breath of spring.
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