For years, one of my favorite shrubs has been winter honeysuckle. Its Latin name, Lonicera fragrantissima, tells you everything you need to know, since “fragrantissima” means “most fragrant.” (And before you pooh-pooh the idea of planting an invasive honeysuckle, let me assure you that this particular species is a well-contained shrub, with no spreading tendencies whatsoever!)

Winter honeysuckle flowers

The lemony-fresh scent of winter honeysuckle perfumes the air on warmer winter days.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Winter honeysuckle plant

The bluish-green leaves are enhanced with new purple stems that emerge in spring.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Winter honeysuckle and bee

Winter honeysuckle provides winter forage for hungry honeybees.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4-8, winter honeysuckle is an old-fashioned shrub that our grandmothers may have had in their yards but people don’t seem to plant as often now. I’ve often wondered why fragrant shrubs aren’t as popular as they once were, and I’ve decided that air-conditioning is to blame: If your house is always closed up, you don’t get a chance to enjoy the wonderful scents that many plants produce. Despite my great theory, this still doesn’t explain why winter honeysuckle isn’t popular, since the shrub flowers in winter. (Yes, winter!) I’ve seen plants with open flowers in every month from November to April. It’s a fantastic plant!

Each cream-colored flower on this beautiful species is small – only ½ an inch or so – but the amount of lemony-scented goodness packed into the overall floral show is amazing. Depending on a winter’s harshness, winter honeysuckle will either retain some or none of its leaves in cold weather, and flowers appear on rather bare branches. Often in late January or February, when temperatures are mild for a few days, the flowers begin to open. You might not notice them at first, but your nose certainly will! (The honeybees will pick up on it, too – winter honeysuckle is a wonderful nectar and pollen provider in the depth of winter, when little else is available.) From spring through fall, winter honeysuckle is covered in blue-green leaves and the occasional flower. New stems are a dark wine-purple.

This winter beauty forms a shrub up to 10 feet tall and wide, so give it plenty of room at planting time. (Like most shrubs, winter honeysuckle is best planted in fall, but spring is good, too.) One of the best places for it is close to your driveway, so you can smell the flowers when you get in and out of your car every day. (I’ve also seen the plants sheared into hedges, but I don’t recommend this look.) The shrub appreciates lots of sun, too, although it can live in some shade. With time, it can grow a little rangy and appreciates a good pruning. You can prune them anytime of year, but I like to prune mine in winter and bring the cut branches indoors.

Thanks to its beautiful blooms and wonderful fragrance, winter honeysuckle will continue to be one of my favorite plants. Maybe it’ll be one of yours, too.