Privet HoneysuckleLonicera pileata
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The Privet Honeysuckle is a semi-evergreen shrub that stays low and spreads wide, thanks to the horizontal branches it sends out. The bright green foliage resembles boxwood, and this plant can be used as an easy substitute for those slow-growing plants. It can also be planted as a causal border or ground cover, in almost any garden setting. It has small fragrant white flowers in spring, and sometimes purple berries in fall, but its main charm is the glossy foliage and neat form of this versatile plant.
Almost all light conditions suit the Privet Honeysuckle, from full sun to full shade. It grows in any well-drained soil, from acid to alkaline, and tolerates salt spray in coastal areas. Deer, pests and diseases generally leave it alone, and you can trim it at almost any time of year, regularly for a neat, formal look, or once a year just to keep it low and bushy.
Every garden needs good plants for simple hedges, no matter if they are formal or more casual. Low hedges give form and structure to your spaces, and actually make planting easier, because even a random collection of plants somehow looks more organized when surrounded by a hedge – the way a frame brings sense to a dots and squiggles of abstract art. Boxwood is a traditional choice, but that plant has multiple problems, and can bring more work than pleasure to the garden. For a compact plant with similar small, glossy leaves, the Privet Honeysuckle is a great choice, not just for maintaining as a clipped hedge, but also for more casual borders and ground-cover, since it stays low and spreads horizontally. It’s an understated plant – a play of greens, light and shade, but not to be passed up because it isn’t a garden star. It’s simple and easy to grow, versatile and adaptable to different situations, so if hedges and edging is on your mind, your search could be over.
The Privet Honeysuckle is a low-growing spreading shrub with many horizontal slender horizontal branches, growing no more than 3 feet tall, but spreading beyond 5 feet in left untrimmed, even reaching 8 feet across. The many slender stems grow out in all directions, but mostly horizontal, creating an attractive low look that isn’t going to obscure flowering shrubs planted behind it. It is fast growing, adding between 12 and 24 inches of new growth in a season, so you won’t be waiting long for that hedge – very different from the few inches a year of boxwood. The small oval leaves are hardly more than 1-inch long, with a glossy, dark green upper surface and a lighter green underside. They look somewhere between a privet leaf and a boxwood leaf, although this plant is neither of those, but a true honeysuckle. In winter the leaves often turn very dark, bronzy green, and when the bright-green new leaves appear in spring they create a pleasing contrast with the older leaves. This plant is semi-evergreen, losing most of its leaves in cold zones, and keeping most of them in zones 8 and 9.
The honeysuckle nature of this bush becomes obvious when it flowers, producing small, fragrant, creamy-white flowers in spring, which turn into amethyst purple berries by fall. Both the flowers and the fruits are not very significant, but interesting if you look closely. Heavily trimmed plants rarely flower.
Privet Honeysuckle is usually grown in several different ways. It can be trimmed as often as needed to keep a low hedge, between 1 and 3 feet tall, placing plants 9 to 12 inches apart to quickly reach a dense hedge. From a short distance the look is very much like boxwood. Alternatively, grow it untrimmed, spacing plants 24 to 30 inches apart, for a casual and attractive border. This can be trimmed once a year, in spring, to keep it low, or left to grow taller, as you choose. It can also be grown as a broader ground cover, spacing plants 36 inches in each direction, for filling front-of-bed spaces in beds of large shrubs.
This plant is hardy to zone 6, where it is generally deciduous, all the way to zone 9, where it is reliably evergreen.
Privet Honeysuckle grows in almost all light conditions, from full sun to full shade, although in hot zones it can scorch in full sun if the soil becomes too dry. This makes it incredibly versatile around the garden, growing wherever you need it. It grows well in almost all soils that are well-drained, from acidic to alkaline, and it doesn’t need rich soils to do well. It has good tolerance of salt spray and can be grown in coastal areas.
This plant is generally free of pest or disease problems and generally ignored by deer. With its rapid growth it will quickly recover from any deer browsing. You can trim as needed from spring to fall, and of course more frequent trimming develops denser and more formal-looking hedges. Keep the lower parts a little broader than the top, to keep dense foliage growing right to the ground. Overgrown plants can be cut back hard in spring and will rapidly recover.
Privet Honeysuckle is also known as Box Leaf Honeysuckle, or as Lonicera pileata. It was found in the 1880s in southwestern China by Augustine Henry, an English plant collector and botanist who introduced many plants to Europe. It was first brought to England by Ernest Wilson, a famous plant collector who worked at one time for the Arnold Arboretum, part of Harvard University. He was working for a British nursery called Veitch and Co. when he brought back the Privet Honeysuckle in 1900.
We can’t say that the Privet Honeysuckle is a spectacular plant – but it certainly is an incredibly useful one, that makes edging an easy task, with a plant that is always pleasant to look at. This bush is often planted in large quantities for hedges, so our stock could run out very quickly. Order now and enjoy the simple charm of an easy-to-grow plant.