Tartarian Honeysuckle Chokes Out Spring Ephemerals

– Posted in: Garden chores, Mud Season, Native/Invasive

One lesson I learned from Sara Stein, author of Noah’s Garden and Planting Noah’s Garden, was that non-native (also called alien) plants typically start growing and blooming before the native plants–at least in North America. That is because the climate they originally came from was milder, or warmed up gradually and consistently, and that is what they’ve adapted to.

Native plants are accustomed to our roller-coaster kind of spring, where it can warm up to 62F after a low of 17, and where in four days the high is expected to be a mere 30F. Native plants are not so eager to expose their tender new growth to the last salvos of winter. They rely on a combination of soil temperature, air temperature, amount of daylight, soil moisture–and probably other factors we haven’t yet discovered–to indicate when it is time for them to leaf out and bloom.

shrub honeysuckle flowers

Tartarian honeysuckle has pretty flowers. I believe it was originally sold as a landscape shrub.

Quite frankly, I am thankful for plants like snowdrops and crocuses, which aren’t native here but are tough enough to grow and bloom through the last weeks of winter. But when it comes to non-native shrubby honeysuckles, that early growth presents a problem. The honeysuckle shrubs I am talking about are Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica) and Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii), and their hybrid offspring, showy bush honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella). I am not sure which one grows here, but when I first tried to identify this shrub at my old house, I decided it was Tartarian honeysuckle, so I’m going with that.
tartarian honeysuckle leafing out

Tartarian honeysuckle leafs out before any native plant does.

Here’s the problem: Tartarian honeysuckle is leafing out–right now–all over our woods. None of the spring ephemerals are even poking out of the ground yet. None of the native shrubs are blooming or leafing out. By the time the native spring ephemerals are blooming, Tartarian honeysuckle will be fully leafed out and shading these native plants. They won’t get enough sun to build up their energy reserves and will eventually die out.
Tartarian honeysuckle berries

Birds and rabbits love these berries.

Birds love the berries of these non-native shrubs and where birds perch and poop, more shrub honeysuckles will show up. Tartarian honeysuckle is native to Russia, “where it is found in a wide range of habitats and can tolerate desiccating winds, near-drought conditions, and temperatures ranging from -50 to +110 degrees F,” according to a University of Maine Cooperative Extension Bulletin. It’s hardly surprising that so many of those pooped-out seeds germinate and thrive, given such adaptability.

What happens is these shrubby honeysuckles take over the understory of the woods, creating a monoculture. If you are riding in a car past wooded areas, you can pick out the honeysuckle invasion by the green haze of these shrubs, precociously leafing out before any of the native vegetation. During mud season I take the time to eliminate some of these shrubs. Since there are so many of them, I prioritize and start with the ones I find most inconvenient, because they are blocking a path or a view.

mature Tartarian honeysuckle

This mature honeysuckle has been cut down.

This mature honeysuckle shrub was blocking the path to a pondside bench. You can see the stumps of the branches I removed last year in the picture. This year I removed the whole shrub.

The soft, moist soil of mud season makes pulling small to medium shrubs a pretty successful operation, even for a middle-aged weakling like me. That is the method I try first, and if it works, one more shrub down and out. However, for mature shrubs that approach trees in size, I have to take a different tack. First I cut off as many branches with loppers as needed to access the main trunk. Then I cut the main trunk with either a reciprocating saw with a pruning blade or a hand pruning saw. I immediately brush a 20% solution of glyphosate on the cut stump. I keep the solution in a rubber cement jar–another tip I learned from Sara Stein.

It is hard work, and it seems like I am hardly making a dent in the problem. For every shrub I pull out, there are dozens still remaining. Some are on steep banks and I really don’t see how I will get them out without falling into the creek below. But every shrubby honeysuckle I do pull out is one less shrub that can make berries and spread even further. This is a perfect chore for mild days in earliest spring and late autumn, when there’s really no other gardening I can do.

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogosphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Donna Donabella April 8, 2016, 7:32 pm

These shrubs are all over my garden….I pull them out and ten fold come back. They are growing behind our property and I know it is the birds who are bringing them to us. So we keep pulling them. Thankfully they pull out easily.

Michelle @ramblingwoods April 7, 2016, 11:50 am

We keep trying to remove invasives here and are removing non-native and replacing with native if possible. Over 120 native plants and shrubs in the last 7 years have been planted in our yard..

Sophie April 6, 2016, 2:45 am

I am new to this plant. I have never seen this beautiful plant before here in Belgium!
I just stumbled on your lovely cool blog!

commonweeder April 5, 2016, 1:39 pm

I don’t know much about spring ephemerals, but have signed up for a walk in a woodland nearby where ephemerals do bloom. Hope we pick a good day f or bloom.

Pol of Garden Services London April 5, 2016, 5:03 am

That Tartarian Honeysuckle sure has pretty looking flowers. However pretty or not, it has to go. Kinda reminds me of another weed called the Himalayan balsam which also looks deceitfully pretty.

Here in London, UK we have a nasty weed of our own called Fallopia japonica or better known simply as Japanese knoweed. I believe people in the US have it too, correct me if I’m wrong. I get to see examples of this invasive plant almost every week. While most people recognise it before it’s too late, I have seen some serious cases in neglected gardens. This weed is really hard to dig out if you want to be eco friendly. It can also cause damages to your home is left unattended long enough. Seriously, people need to take a closer look at their gardens.

Kathy Purdy April 5, 2016, 9:21 am

You are right; Fallopia japonica is a big problem here, too. And some here have trouble with the Himalayan balsam as well.

Les April 4, 2016, 7:18 pm

I’m glad we don’t have L. tartarica here; we have enough trouble with L. japonica, which is the devil to get ride of.

Kathy Purdy April 4, 2016, 8:26 pm

I grew L. japonica at my old house, after reading it was not invasive in my zone. At the time, it was the only fragrant, vining honeysuckle that I knew of (pre-internet days). And they were right: not invasive. Dead after three years.

Charlie@Seattle Trekker April 2, 2016, 7:07 pm

Fascinating information, I learned a lot that I can use to manage my garden; there is always so much more to know.

Pat Webster www.siteandinsight.com April 2, 2016, 3:57 pm

Using goats is working in my sister’s community in Annapolis Maryland, both for honeysuckle and kudu. You rent them by the day or week or month.

Kathy Purdy April 2, 2016, 6:31 pm

I would wait until all the spring ephemerals have gone dormant, at the very least. We have raised goats before and I know they are not without their own problems. Sure, they will eat shrubby honeysuckle, but they love lilacs even better and our buck would stand on tiptoe to eat willow leaves and stems. To use goats in this way you need to fence them in and you also need to make sure you have nothing in the fenced area that you want to keep. Like deer, there are an awful lot of plants they like to eat!

Susanne Lipari April 2, 2016, 8:17 am

My whole hillside was getting overgrown with honeysuckle when I stopped mowing there. But we are getting the better of it now with help of the “weed wrench.” The weed wrench is an ingenious tool that allows the gardeners to pull out small trees up to big shrubs with their roots, especially this time of year when the soil is still moist. The Tompkins County Cooperative Extension owns one and people can borrow it without charge. I suggest smoothing out the soil and mowing the area for at least a couple of years, or alternatively pulling seedling by hand. There will be plenty of them. A full grown honeysuckle is no match for the weed wrench. While I have to admit that I generally let my guys do the pulling, I have done it and even for an old lady like me it is not impossible to manage.

Kathy Purdy April 2, 2016, 10:00 am

Lucky you, that you have access to a Weed Wrench! They are no longer made, and I have been unable to locate a used one.

Judy April 2, 2016, 7:49 am

I just learned about this problem. I was thinking to get a vining Loncera Scentsation and can’t seem to find out if it, too, is considered harmful and invasive. Do you know?

Kathy Purdy April 2, 2016, 9:59 am

Scentsation is a form of Lonicera periclymenum, which is not native but doesn’t seem to be invasive. But Illinois Cooperative Extension says grow it up a fence or trellis because it is too vigorous to grow up plants. I might get a Scentsation myself after reading about it.

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern April 2, 2016, 7:39 am

Carry on brave warrior! I admire your tenacity! I am worried now that I planted a honeysuckle given to me by a friend for its wonderful scent. I will have to look that up and make sure I am not contributing to a problem. It is still quite young and hasn’t yet produced flowers or berries (white flowers I believe). I love the rubber cement jar treatment – this will work well for the bindweed I plan to begin eradicating this year with, gasp, chemical warfare. I don’t want to do it but it is war!

Kathy Purdy April 2, 2016, 10:03 am

I’ve been talking about bush honeysuckles. Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is a fragrant but invasive vine–but may not even be hardy for you. Woodbine (L. periclymenum) is fragrant but not invasive.

Mark April 2, 2016, 6:57 am

It’s definitely an uphill battle but more power to you for even taking it on. The stuff is a plague here along with buckthorn.

gail eichelberger April 2, 2016, 6:55 am

Bush honeysuckle and a vining honeysuckle, both non-natives are big problems here. Goats love honeysuckle, if you wanted to rent them from someone they would take the honeysuckle down. I’ve seen them do this at Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary where I volunteer. It’s so cool to watch them climb up those tall bushes and trample them over to get at the leaves.

However you remove them, the seed bed of native plants might still be ready to make their presence known. Good luck.

Leslie April 1, 2016, 9:57 pm

I hope you have some success in keeping it under control…I imagine your native plants would be very grateful.