How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Cape Honeysuckle
Are you looking for a fast-growing, prolific flowering plant that can be grown as both a shrub and a vine? Cape Honeysuckle fits all of these qualifications and is very easy to care for. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares everything you need to know about planting and caring for Cape Honeysuckle.
Cape Honeysuckle, or Tecoma capensis, is an evergreen vine or shrub native to Southern Africa. Don’t let its name fool you, though, Cape Honeysuckle is not actually a type of honeysuckle or even a close relative. Rather, it is a member of the Tecoma genus, typically known as Trumpetvines, or Trumpetbushes.
These attractive flowering plants can be grown as a shrub, growing to about 10 feet tall for larger cultivars and 6-8 feet in more compact varieties. They can be trained to have a vining habit as well, so they can be grown as a trailing vine or a liana (hanging from trees) and can reach up to 30’ long if grown in this fashion.
In its native regions, the bark of this plant has been used to make medicine. However, now it is most commonly grown for its ornamental value. It is a hardy, low-maintenance, and sprawling plant that is very easy to grow and brings a lot of color and interest to the garden.
Ready to learn more about this lovely vine’s maintenance and care? Let’s dig in and look at everything you need to know about successfully growing this plant in your garden.
Cape Honeysuckle Overview
Plant Type Evergreen Shrub or Vine
Season Year Round
Species Tecoma (tecomaria) capensis
Native Area Southern Africa
Plant Size 20’+
Water Requirements Low to Moderate
Sun Requirements Full Sun to Part Shade
Hardiness Zones 9-11, 8 with frost protection
Soil Type Well-Drained, Fertile, Sandy
Soil pH 5.0–8.0
Diseases Root Rot
Pests Aphid, Scale
Native Regions and Cultivation
In its native region of Southern Africa, T. capensis is typically found growing in the forest understory beneath a canopy. It commonly winds its way up trees, where it likes to trail from branches in the filtered sunlight.
In cultivation, it is a versatile plant resistant to pests and diseases. It has been cultivated in Australia, India, Europe, Singapore, and some island environments in the Pacific Ocean. It is considered invasive in Australia, though.
This species is not difficult to find in the Southern United States. It grows very well in tropical and subtropical climates and can be grown as a perennial or with some protection from frost in zone 8. It can also be grown as a container plant in colder climates, although it will be much smaller under these circumstances.
Cape Honeysuckle is an evergreen shrub or vine belonging to the Bigoniaceae family of predominantly flowering vines known for their trumpet-shaped flowers. Most members of Bigoniaceae are woody, including T. capensis, making the vines tough and sturdy, giving them good wind resistance.
They are of the genus Tecoma, also known as Tecomaria, which encompasses 14 species. Of those, 12 species are native to the Americas, and two, including T. capensis, are native to Africa. Related to this plant are the Jacaranda and Esperanza, as well as the Yellow Elder, or Yellow Bells. All of these plants are notoriously attractive to pollinators, especially hummingbirds.
Cape Honeysuckle has very attractive foliage. The leaves are pinnately compound, meaning they are made up of small leaflets arranged to either side of a central stem or axis. They come in odd numbers of 5 – 9 leaflets.
The leaves are up to 7” long, and the leaflets are ovate and serrated and typically come in pairs with the odd-numbered leaflet occurring at the end of the branch. The leaves resemble rose leaves, and some varieties are nicknamed to pay homage to this characteristic.
The bright green color of the foliage presents a wonderful complement to the color of the flowers. The overall effect of the foliage is rather dense but with a delicate, fernlike quality that sees them rustle with the breeze. It makes a great privacy screen when grown on a trellis or other supporting structure.
The flowers are the main event for this plant. If the foliage is lovely, then the flowers are positively stunning. Trumpet-like blossoms of red, orange, or yellow bloom in clusters at the ends of branches. When it blooms, it does so with great enthusiasm, producing these clusters at the end of most, if not all, branches.
The flowers are tubular in shape and about 2” long. These blooms are very attractive to birds, butterflies, and bees, and in particular, hummingbirds. The best thing about Cape Honeysuckle is that it can bloom year-round in warm climates. Even in cooler climates, it will have a nice long blooming season. Many varieties have a late blooming tendency, flowering from fall through the winter when fewer plants are in bloom.
Cape Honeysuckle plants are easy to propagate and practically does it for you if you are willing to wait a year. This nice, easy-to-manage plant really dresses up the garden with color for a long portion of the year. It’s a great plant to share with your fellow plant lovers, and it can be propagated by seed, cuttings, and runners that it produces on its own.
When the flowers are pollinated, which they nearly always are, they produce a seed pod. Allow these pods to dry, and then harvest the seeds. It’s best to start these seeds in the spring, soaking them overnight, and then plant them in a shallow seed starting tray. Cover lightly with a mixture of sand and potting soil.
Germination should occur within 6-21 days. Once they have developed substantial roots, they can be planted in the ground. The only drawback to growing this plant from seed is that it won’t bloom until its second year. Be certain to protect young plants in the winter. They will be much more vulnerable to fluctuating temperatures in their first year.
This is the easiest way to propagate Cape Honeysuckle. All you have to do is wait for the plant to send out a runner, which they do about a year after planting, once the plant is established and has a solid foundation of roots. A runner will usually pop up a short distance from the mature stems, and it will be an exact replica of the parent plant.
These runners can be removed from the parent plant and transplanted to another location in the garden. Make sure to do this type of propagation during the plant’s active growing season. Use a sharp tool to detach the runner from its parent plant, leaving it with a bit of root to get started on.
Cape Honeysuckle can be propagated by cuttings as well, and it is about as simple as growing them from seed, but it will get you a plant ready to bloom in the first year if the cutting is taken from a mature plant.
Take 4”-5” cuttings and remove all but a few small leaves toward the end. Scrape the lower 1” of the stem, removing some of the woody outer layers. Exposing the tender tissue of the stem makes the cutting root faster. Dip this end in rooting hormone and plant in a moist potting medium.
Caring for your cuttings is simple. You can cover the pot in a plastic bag or other covering to help maintain moisture, creating a greenhouse environment. Don’t allow the soil to dry out completely. Your cuttings should be rooted and beginning to grow in about 2-3 months.
How to Grow
Growing this plant is nearly foolproof. It grows as a perennial in my garden here in Zone 8. I give it very little attention and it dies back to the ground every winter, but in spring it pops back up, and by the end of summer, I have a very attractive and floriferous plant!
Although most nurseries will sell this as only hardy to Zone 9, it grows nicely in Zone 8, and with a thick layer of mulch and some extra protection, I am willing to bet it would survive in Zone 7 as well. It is incredibly resilient.
It is best to plant Cape Honeysuckle in the spring or fall to give it the best start. The stressful heat of summer should be avoided, as the plant will need more resources during this time to get established.
Keep in mind the mature size of this plant when choosing a location, making sure to give your plant plenty of room to spread out. Think about the height of the plant as well and decide whether you plan to train it to be a shrub or a vine.
As a vine, Cape Honeysuckle can grow up to 30’ long. This is a significant plant and needs ample support! Ensure that any structure you plan to grow this vine on is strong enough to hold up under its weight. It is a woody vine and heavier than an actual Japanese honeysuckle.
Once you’ve chosen a location, dig a hole that is as deep and 3 times as wide as the root ball. Loosening up the soil in this diameter will give the roots a healthy start. Position your plant in the hole and backfill.
If you live above zone 8, it is perfectly reasonable to grow this plant in a container that can be brought indoors when the temperature drops below freezing. The plant will remain smaller and more manageable when kept in a container.
This tropical flowering vine is not picky about sun exposure. It will bloom in full sun or part shade. In hotter climates, though, it will appreciate some shade in the afternoon to protect it from the harshness of the afternoon sun. In cooler climates, likewise, this plant will appreciate an abundance of sunlight during the cooler months.
This is a water-loving plant; if given plenty, it will reward you with ample growth. However, it is also a drought-tolerant plant. That seems contradictory, but keep reading, and I will explain.
During the first year after planting, ensure that your shrub or vine gets at least an inch of water weekly. You may be able to water less frequently if your plant gets more shade, but as a rule, watering deeply once per week is a good idea. Watering deeply will encourage the roots to grow deep.
Once your plant is established, it shouldn’t need nearly as much attention. A Cape Honeysuckle with strong, healthy roots is quite drought-tolerant and hardy. An established plant may only need water occasionally during prolonged periods of dry weather.
Cape Honeysuckle tolerates most soil types as long as the drainage is good. If planting in very compacted or clay-heavy soil types, it’s a good idea to amend the soil with some coarse sand for improved drainage and root establishment. It is not picky about pH and can live in acidic or alkaline soil. It also grows well in coastal areas where the soil is sandy. It is salt tolerant as well.
If your soil is lacking in nutrients, you can feed Cape Honeysuckle once a year with a balanced fertilizer. However, it might be better to simply amend your soil with some organic compost or other material, such as worm castings, before you plant. In general, this plant is efficient in making use of nutrients in the soil and is a very vigorous grower, so fertilizing is not always needed.
Climate and Temperature
Cape Honeysuckle is a tropical landscape plant that loves warm, rainy climates. As such, it can become invasive in this environment, so gardeners living in tropical climates will need to keep a close watch and remove runners regularly to prevent it from taking over larger areas that you want to give it.
How you prune your Cape Honeysuckle will largely depend on what shape and size you want it to take on. As I mentioned earlier, this plant is very versatile in how large and in what form you can grow it.
If you are growing it as a shrub, more pruning will be involved, as it will tend toward vining. Initially, pruning longer stems will encourage branching. As the plant grows, this will give it a denser, fuller appearance, and encourage it to spread out.
Once you have attained the desired number of branches, trimming the top periodically will help to keep the foliage full and lush. It is best to prune in spring or fall.
If you want a climbing plant that takes on more of a vining habit, you can leave your plant to its own devices for a few years, pruning little else but damaged or dead branches from time to time to maintain the plant’s general health.
Once your plant has reached the size you would like it to remain, you can prune yearly, in spring or fall, or both, if you have a specific size or shape you would like to maintain.
Cape Honeysuckle is a very low-maintenance plant. It truly can handle as little or as much tending as you are inclined or have the time to carry out. Once it is established, this plant happily occupies its space and any additional space you want to give it. It requires little in the way of supplementary irrigation or fertilization, and it is quite disease and pest resistant.
Pests and Diseases
With very few exceptions, Cape Honeysuckle is unlikely to give you any issues in terms of pests and diseases. In fact, aside from root rot, there are no diseases that are a particular danger to these plants, and only the everyday garden pests to keep an eye out for.
If you notice shriveling leaves and brown spots, you may be looking at an insect infestation. Aphids are enemy number one in the garden, as they feed on a wide variety of different types of plants. These tiny insects appear in clusters, typically on newer growth, such as tender branches or flower buds.
Aphids suck the sap from the plant tissue, leaving it malnourished and unhealthy. They also leave behind a sticky, sweet excrement called honeydew. This honeydew provides the perfect environment for black sooty mold to grow, which interferes with photosynthesis, and stunts the plant’s growth.
A mild solution of soapy water sprayed on the aphids will go a long way in safely treating this infestation. They also dislike aromatic herbs and are a main food source for ladybugs. Attracting or bringing these little predators to your garden will do good for all of your plants.
Scales are another common garden pest that likes to feed on sweet plant sap, leaving behind shriveled leaves, brown spots, and honeydew. They are small and brown and commonly hang out in groups around the joints of stems and the underside of leaves.
Scale can be treated with a horticultural oil spray. The oil coats and suffocates the scale by clogging their breathing pores. Wasps also like to eat scales, as do some beetles and lacewings.
Root rot is an issue with many plants, especially those that need good drainage in terms of soil and containers. Cape Honeysuckle falls into this category. While they are not as susceptible to root rot as some other tropical plants, it is not unheard of.
If you notice your leaves turning brown or looking spotty, there is a chance your plant may have root rot. The best solution is to give the plant a break from watering. Root rot prevents the plant from transporting important nutrients from the soil to the foliage. This can manifest in an unhappy-looking plant.
If you accidentally planted in an area with poor drainage, you can rectify the situation in one of two ways. You can relocate the plant, which Cape Honeysuckle is quite tolerant of. The other option is to amend the soil around your plant’s roots by mixing coarse sand to increase drainage.
|botanical name Tecomaria capensis ‘Apricot’
|sun requirements Full Sun to Part Sun
|hardiness zones 9-11
‘Apricot’ is a compact variety. This plant with the pretty, peachy flowers has light green foliage and is typically kept as a small hedge. Unlike larger varieties, this one is easier to manage in terms of invasiveness.
It is, however, rare and more difficult to find than other varieties. Apricot blooms best during cooler weather and prefers full sun but will still bloom in part shade.
|botanical name Tecomaria capensis ‘Aurea’
|sun requirements Full Sun to Part Sun
|hardiness zones 9-11
This larger variety can grow quite large if left unchecked. If you’re looking for a vining cultivar, this one’s branches will grow quite long. At the ends of these long, sprawling branches emerge large clusters of bright yellow, tubular flowers. This fast grower blooms best in winter and likes to climb.
|botanical name Tecomaria capensis ‘Coccinea’
|sun requirements Full Sun
|hardiness zones 9-11
Coccinea is a midsized variety with a moderate growth rate, making it easy to manage. It can grow up to 12’ tall over time and equally as wide if not trimmed regularly to maintain its size and shape.
The flowers on this cultivar are bright red, and most prevalent in spring and fall, although they have been known to bloom through the summer as well.
|botanical name Tecomaria x ‘Orange Jubilee’
|sun requirements Full Sun
|hardiness zones 8-11
Technically a hybrid, this variety is a vigorous grower with slightly better cold tolerance than other varieties. It will grow under just about any circumstances and is an exceptional bloomer, with a long season spanning from spring through the fall.
Its brilliant flowers are orange and red, tubular, and striking against bright green foliage. Hummingbirds will flock to this plant!
|botanical name Tecomaria capensis ‘Salmon’
|sun requirements Full Sun to Part Shade
|hardiness zones 8-11
Also known as ‘Hammer’s Rose,’ the ‘Salmon’ variety is simply wonderful. It is cold tolerant to 23°, making it commonly evergreen to zone 8, although it may lose leaves when the temperature drops below freezing.
The flowers are a bright salmon shade and bloom most in fall and winter, although they are likely to stick around throughout the year in warmer climates. This cultivar is more difficult to find and more compact than others.
Whether you want to grow it as a large shrub, trailing vine, or indoor plant, this tropical flower is a dazzling addition to any garden. It requires very little care and attracts beautiful hummingbirds. Just be sure to check if it is invasive in your area before planting outside.