Honeysuckle- it's just the WORST Thing!

Honeysuckle is one of the most invasive and detrimental shrubs in the urban landscape. Find out why you should care about it and how you can go about eradicating it.

OK, I have to admit it- I am on the “remove honeysuckle at all costs” bandwagon.  The shrub has absolutely no merit. The wood isn’t good for anything; the berries have little to no nutritional value; even the deer won’t eat the foliage!  It grows at such an astounding rate that it can overtake an urban landscape or park in no time flat. In addition to spreading like wildfire, it self seeds to the point of being a real nuisance. Left unattended, babies will pop up at an alarming rate.  How is one person supposed to solve a problem as invasive as bush honeysuckle?  And, why should we care?

In a nutshell, honeysuckle is rapidly eliminating most native species of plant life from the landscape in our community. Forests that previously contained May apple, Trillium, Woodland phlox, ferns and sedges now are overrun with honeysuckle.  The natives at the forest floor don’t get a minute of sun due to honeysuckle’s thick canopy. Scientists at Washington University now believe that honeysuckle forests carry a much larger (up to 10 times more!) concentration of ticks. Deer love the denseness the shrubs afford, ticks love deer, and humans going into the forests get ticks.  I’m making it sound simple; you can do a little investigating on the web to learn about the deer-borne tick issue. 

You may have honeysuckle at your home and have no intention of getting rid of it. It gives you privacy, especially given that it’s the first shrub to green up and the last to defoliate. Even if you love the privacy it affords, you also realize that you have no diversity in your landscape.  You have no fragrant spring flowers like ‘Miss Kim’ Lilac or ‘Korean Spice’ Viburnum.   In the summer, you won’t be blessed with the voluptuous flowers of the ‘Mophead’ or ‘Limelight’ hydrangea.  And, in the fall, few shrubs attract butterflies and hummingbirds the way that a butterfly bush does.

Hopefully, I have piqued your interest in slowly removing your honeysuckle and creating a more diverse landscape.  So, how should you go about removing it?

Honeysuckle can be somewhat of a bear to eliminate, especially if you’ve let it have its way for a decade or two.  I did hear of a creative way the St. Louis Zoo partnered with Forest Park Forever to eradicate honeysuckle in the park.  They bring goats on leashes to portions of the park that need to be tamed.  Goats LOVE honeysuckle and just gobble it up!  I’d call that a real “win-win!” 

However, if  you don’t have access to a few goats, I’ll share my easy removal tips. 

First, small honeysuckle can be popped up quickly if the ground is moist. A pointed shovel makes short work of the little guys. The larger ones can still be removed with a shovel, but it will take more elbow grease.  Bring on the big tools- you’ll need a sharp ax to chop those roots.  One tool I find incredibly amusing and useful is the “Honeysuckle Popper.”  If you go to the website, www.misterhoneysuckle.com you’ll see the tool and a short video. I have actually tried this tool and it is very useful for small to medium honeysuckle. I have to admit, though, that it’s somewhat heavy.  If you’ve got a lot of honeysuckle to remove, and you want a new toy, it’s certainly worth a look.

The large honeysuckle, with trunks of 8” or more, will need a chainsaw. When removing the larger shrubs, cut the honeysuckle down to the trunk and spray Roundup on the stump.  Purchase Roundup concentrate (do not buy the “ready mix” variety) and mix it 20% Roundup to 80% water.  It is very important to treat the stumps within 30 minutes of removing the honeysuckle. This prevents the honeysuckle from resprouting. You’ll need to check the stump periodically to see that you don’t have any regrowth from the base of the stump.  If so, just spray the sprouts with your Roundup. 

So you’ve eliminated your honeysuckle but you now have bare spots in your yard. This is the fun part!  There are more trees and shrubs than you can shake a stick at that are superior replacements for honeysuckle. 

Witch Hazel, Forsythia and Lilacs bloom in spring and are great for bouquets. Viburnum is an enormous family of shrubs that provide flowers and berries throughout the growing season. Hydrangeas come in many varieties; I keep the flower heads on all winter long for interest in my landscape. Other great shrubs for winter interest are the Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood.  When defoliated, bright red or yellow stems brighten the landscape.  

Revel in the glory of what you have accomplished; gotten rid of invasive honeysuckle; purchased and planted trees and shrubs that will provide cover as well as flowers and fruit for wildlife.  Finally, pat yourself on the back.  You have become an official “Honeysuckle Buster!”




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