A Gardening Journal

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Standards of 'Winter Beauty' Honeysuckle

Despite its name, 'Winter Beauty' honeysuckle is interesting year-round: fragrant flowers in late Winter or early Spring, purple bark on the new stems in Summer, colorful bark on the older ones all Winter and, perhaps closest to my heart, the ability to be trained into espaliers as well as standards, coppices, or even standard-topped coppices. Talk about multi-tasking!

 

I'm training a pair of this exceptional cultivar into standards. They both have years to go before they assume their mature shapeliness but, already, there are quirks to ponder. Here's the report from the one that's farther along.

 

When seen from the north, its ball-on-a-stick configuration seems well underway. Growth is extending vigorously and evenly east and west of the center. 

 

Lonicera x purpusii Winter Beauty 040215 looking south 640

 

But when seen at ninety degrees, there's quite a difference between growth on the left side and that on the right. 

 

Lonicera x purpusii Winter Beauty head 040216 640

 

The left side is the north, and the right the south. Is vigorous growth only on the east, south, and west sides because the north side receives less direct sun? Not likely: The still-developing head of this standard is small and still gappy. It's not going to block much sun. Plus, in the Summer the sun is overhead during mid-day, so can shine on all sides of the canopy fairly evenly.

 

Instead, the difference is from the innate orientation of side growth of stems of Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty'. Leaves of this honeysuckle's stems are arrayed only on either side of a stem and, while all the leaves face upward, they are not arrayed in a single plane. Rather, they extend outward and upward at an angle from either side of the stem. If you looked down the length of the stem from the tip to the end, the two ranks of leaves would form the sides of a "V" with the stem at the bottom. Side stems emerge from vegetative buds at the base of each leaf. They also project upward and outward, reinforcing that "V" profile. Because branches of a shrub of 'Winter Beauty' that are allowed to grow free-range naturally arch over and then down, this upward "V" orientation ensures that their side stems point upward almost vertically when young, so that their foliage is higher than that of the older growth and can absorb the maximum sun.

 

So far, so good. But forming a standard involves choosing a single stem and then, as I've done, staking it vertically. This removes the upward-over-and-downward arch the stem would otherwise assume. Further, because side stems will still start into growth only at either side of that main stem—and will spring outward within the "V" of that stem's foliage—they will form on just one side of the canopy-to-be. And, at least for a while, they'll point only side-to-side and forward, not upward or backward.

 

For this standard, I had inadvertently selected a stem for staking whose ranks of leaves pointed roughly east and west and, so, the side growth has tended to point east, west, and south. Few side stems are pointing back to the north. Yes, I can prune the bulkier growth on the east, west, and south sides to help balance the developing canopy. I'll also pinch the tips of the few stems already pointing north, so they'll form more side branches. Even so, it might take several years to achieve a consistent volume of growth all around.

 

My other standard-to-be of 'Winter Beauty' is still just settling in, and hasn't yet begun producing any of the long stems that could be staked vertically as a trunk. This honeysuckle cultivar is nothing if not twiggy, so what if I could select a pair of such stems and tie them back to back up the same stake? As long as the foliage of one faced one way and that of the other faced, if not in the fully opposite direction, at least in a different direction, then new growth would be vigorous on all four sides right from the start.

 

I'll find out if a given stem can be both tied to a stake and twisted, even somewhat, so that its foliage faces in the necessary direction. Foliage orientation along the lower three-quarters of the stem doesn't matter, because any side stems there would be cut off. It's only at the top portion of the stem that I'd want the foliage to face any particular direction. Is there a way to secure, say, a half-turn in the stem across its full length? 

 

Thank goodness that I wasn't able to get this second 'Winter Beauty' standard into training the same time as the first. If I had, I wouldn't now have the opportunity to figure out how to secure two well-oriented stems that will form a twin-trunked standard, let alone determine whether it is easier and quicker to shape to full-figured maturity. 

 

Here's how to grow 'Winter Beauty' honeysuckle, as well as close-ups of its flowers.

 

Here's how handsome this shrub's colorful new stems are in combination with their blue-green foliage. You can also see how regularly the leaves are arrayed on both sides of each stem: facing up while also pointing upward and outward. 

 
 
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