Death to Honeysuckle

Adventures of a Landless Gardener: Death to Honeysuckle

weeding honeysuckleHate is a strong word, especially when used in the garden realm. We can be very annoyed with pests such as slugs and moles, and it can be quite unfortunate to have disease wreak havoc on our tomatoes. But hate? Most gardeners have a healthy respect for the trials and tribulations that come with gardening. Like golfers who chuck their clubs in disgust and swear never to step foot on the course again, we are nevertheless hooked. Gardening is in our blood, and as much as it can make us want to toss in the trowel we always come back for more.

I have allowed myself one exception to the hate rule—Amur honeysuckle, AKA Lonicera maackii. Oh how I loathe this invasive plant. This tall, arching shrub leafs out earlier than most and then hangs onto its leaves well into the fall and early winter. As a result, spring ephemerals and other natives and desirable non-natives are shaded out. I cringe when I see honeysuckle carefully pruned as if it was deserving of such pampering. I must show restraint, and sometimes I fail, when I hear someone say how nice its early spring leaves look after a bleak winter and how cheery the berries are in the fall and winter. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes?

There is one redeeming quality of this plant—it can be a lot of fun killing it! Those who manage native areas, arboreta and parks want it gone. And this, my fellow landless gardeners, is where we come in. If you look you will find work parties in need of volunteers to help eradicate this blight on the landscape. Yes, we are doing our part to preserve nature’s balance and giving back to the community. But what is even better is you get to have at it, completely, no-holds-barred, let loose for a while. It is exhilarating!

My first honeysuckle eradication mission was in the early spring. Wet, sloppy snow landed on our heads and backs as we wielded chainsaws and loppers for hours. At the end of the day we were cold, wet, filthy and wonderfully exhausted. We made a good start creating a honeysuckle-free corridor along a hiking trail and celebrated our accomplishment with hot food and cold beers.

The second eradication mission to the trail fell on a sunny day. Our work crew had doubled in size as had the number of power tools. As I cleared felled shrubs and broke down large piles of debris, the men cut through “trophy” honeysuckle—plants over eight feet tall and several inches in diameter—like butter. Honeysuckle clearing had become a sport!

So while I still hate honeysuckle, it does give me the opportunity to burn some energy as I lay siege on it, play with garden tools too large for my very small garden in the park and spend time with friends.

Watch out, purple loosestrife, we are coming for you next!

Jenny Koester is a landless gardener in Cincinnati. You can read more about her adventures at her blog—The Garden Life.

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