• December 19, 2014

On gardening: Coral honeysuckle blooms in sync with ruby-throated hummingbirds in Georgia

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Posted: Saturday, April 26, 2014 4:30 am

Nature’s timing is simply amazing. The native coral honeysuckle just started blooming in the Savannah, Ga., area, and guess who has arrived right on time: The ruby-throated hummingbirds. This is one of the best plants for you hummingbird lovers and native plant enthusiasts will delight in the fact that this scene will be repeating itself as spring moves northward.

The reason it is repeated is because the coral honeysuckle, known botanically as Lonicera sempervirens, is native to 32 states and the District of Columbia. This is a huge area from Texas to Florida and north to Maine and Michigan. This means almost anyone can grow it from zones 4-9. In the warmer zones 8 and 9 they normally retain some leaves throughout the winter while in colder zones they are considered deciduous.

While the mere mention of honeysuckle causes heart palpitations, this mild-mannered native offers so much to the garden. It is a climber with just the perfect amount of vigor for arbors, trellises, bannisters and pillars. It feeds hummingbirds and butterflies with nectar and then the fall orange fruits are relished by your favorite songbirds. Going vertical adds so much to a garden — like adding an artistic element to a wall indoors. Grow this vine on a Victorian style tower and your garden will begin to take on a wonderful three-dimensional appearance.

Again the spread of Blanche Sandman at 10 to 20 feet can make an impact without being considered rampant.

Our coral honeysuckle is a superior selection of the native species called Blanche Sandman. It is known for producing a bounty of orange red trumpet flowers exposing yellow flower parts. The flowers are not only extraordinary but the vine is known for blooming off and on throughout the growing season.

Coral honeysuckle can tolerate full sun, but performs well in areas of afternoon shade. It also tolerates a wide variety of soils. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, we have ours in part sun, growing on a small arbor entryway leading to our gazebo and cottage garden.

Spring is a great planting season. Choose your site, your support structure, and dig the hole as if you were planting a holly or some other shrub. It is best if you loosen tight, heavy clay by working in 3 to 4 inches of organic matter.

Dig the hole about twice as wide as the rootball and about as deep as the plant is growing in the container. In other words, the top of the rootball should be even with the soil surface. After planting, apply a good layer of mulch. Allow about 36 inches between plants.

The choice of companion plants is limited by your imagination. Ours is in close proximity to Spanish bluebells on one side and Dutch hybrid irises on the other. Yellow irises would also be absolutely magical. In a more typical garden, good companion plants might include coreopsis, shasta daisies or May Night salvia.

In addition to Blanche Sandman, there are other terrific named selections that you might enjoy. Alabama Scarlet (scarlet), John Clayton (yellow), and Dreer’s Everlasting (bright scarlet), are all highly recommended.

As you might expect from an environmentally friendly native, the coral honeysuckle’s needs are minimal. Don’t overfeed and do any needed pruning after the initial spring bloom.

Once it is growing on your structure your neighbors will think you have attended specialized training. Incorporate companion plants and they will be sure of it.

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