With its long-lasting green leaves, pretty flowers and abundance of berries, honeysuckle — a woody shrub — appears to be a great addition to Ohio’s landscape.
But, you know what they say about appearances. They can be deceiving.
Honeysuckle is an invasive plant that produces unhealthy berries for wildlife, and because it retains its leaves much longer than most plants it creates a canopy of shade on the forest floor which suffocates native wildflowers, explained Ryan McEwan, assistant biology professor at the University of Dayton.
“Honeysuckle is the first shrub that you will see that greens up in the spring, and the last to drop its leaves in the fall,” said Mary Klunk, Conservation Manager of Five Rivers MetroParks in Dayton.
Honeysuckle takes over quickly and can grow to 20-feet tall, said Jeff Dorton, landscape designer and salesman at Berns Garden Center & Landscaping located in Middletown and Beavercreek.
“It is a threat to our landscape because it can rapidly invade and overtake an area forming a dense shrub layer that will crowd out our native plants,” Dorton said. “The spring flowers develop into a red fruit that is attractive to over 20 species of birds, who then deposit the seed everywhere, accounting for the rapid spread of the plant.”
And each year, honeysuckle is gaining more ground.
“Honeysuckle is getting worse through time, so this year is worse than last year which was worse than the year before,” McEwan said. “Here in Ohio, the invasion really started; it is very widespread even all the way into Kentucky.”
Honeysuckle was planted originally in Oxford for erosion control, McEwan said, and scientists are trying to unravel the complicated question of why the plant behaves so differently in North America than it does in its native China where it is almost impossible to find.
But scientists are sure that honeysuckle is invasive, aggressive and down right stubborn here in Ohio.
HOW AND WHEN TO ELIMINATE IT
“It is extremely difficult to eliminate. When mowed, it will try to regenerate itself quickly. You can’t cut it or spray it once and expect the job to be done,” said Greg Meyer, Ohio State University Extension Educator – Warren County.
Honeysuckle can be mechanically removed or chemically treated, he said.
“For just a few plants, homeowners should cut it off at the ground; treat it with a brush killer and then mow/bushhog the area on very regular basis to keep the plant from making any new leaves. New leaves mean photosynthesis and more energy for the plant, Meyer said. “You are trying to make the plant use up all of its stored energy. Once its energy is gone, then that part of the battle is over. Once eliminated, work to get some desirable plants established, so the honeysuckle doesn’t have a blank slate to start all over again.”
Any time is a good time to get rid of honeysuckle, Dorton said, but fall makes identifying the plant easy because of its bright red berries.
“There are a number of ways to get rid of honeysuckle. Small plants can be pulled by hand. A great way to get a strong grip on small plants is to use a pair of pliers, grasping the plant near the base. Larger plants can be dug or pried out of the ground. Full size plants will need to be cut down with a chainsaw and the stumps removed with a stump grinder,” Dorton said.
According to Klunk, the drought has shortened the amount of time to remove honeysuckle in some areas. She said that as the honeysuckle leaves turn yellow it is getting ready to enter its dormant stage, which will decrease the effectiveness of a herbicide so a cut-and-treat option will work better — cut the tree and treat the stump immediately with a herbicide.
“When you have small populations of honeysuckle — when the plants are small, that is the time to act,” McEwan said noting that the larger the plant the more labor intensive the removal can be.
For more information on honeysuckle control, McEwan recommends visiting www.oipc.info, the website of the Ohio Invasive Plants Council and clicking on Invasive Plants/Species List/Amur, Morrow & Tatarian Honeysuckle; this will direct you to the Department of Natural Resources Website.