Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis)

Cape Honeysuckle

Tecoma capensis, commonly known as Cape honeysuckle, is a colourful garden plant that is frequently used for screening and accents. It can be pruned to create a hedge as well. It is frequently planted with the intention of luring butterflies and birds.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Tecomaria capensis, the Cape honeysuckle, is a species of flowering plant in the family Bignoniaceae, native to southern Africa. Despite its common name, it is not closely related to the true honeysuckle.

An erect, scrambling shrub, it grows to 2–3 m (7–10 ft) in height and a similar width. Normally evergreen, it may lose its leaves in colder climates. In certain habitats it may scramble, meaning that it shoots out long growth tips which lean on the stems and branches of other plants, as well as boulders, trellises, fences and walls; this can lead to the plant appearing untidy. The leaves are up to 15 cm (6 in) long. They are opposite, slightly serrated, green to dark-green, and pinnate with 5 to 9 oblong leaflets.

The flowers are tubular, narrow, about 7.5 cm (3 in) long, and are produced erratically at different times throughout the year, though they typically bloom from autumn to spring. They are grouped in 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long terminal clusters. The flower color ranges from orange to orange-red to apricot.

Tecomaria capensis has been in cultivation for many years and is often used for hedging, as it is a scrambling shrub. It can be propagated from cuttings or by removing rooted suckers during the active growth phase.

It can be planted in semi-shade to full sun. Tolerating temperatures down to 5 °C (41 °F), it can be grown in mild temperate areas with the protection of a warm wall. Otherwise it can be grown in a container and taken indoors through the winter months. To keep this shrub clean and tidy, it must be pruned back in late winter to promote new growth and flowers. The application of a balanced fertilizer after pruning will enhance the growth and flowering.

This plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Cape honeysuckle is a tropical plant that grows well in full sun or partial shade. In its native habitat, Cape honeysuckle is often found growing in dappled light in the forest understory. In extremely hot climates, it might actually do better in partial shade locations. The denser the shade, however, the less vigorous the blooming.

Temperature and Humidity

Cape honeysuckle is a tropical plant that thrives in USDA cold hardiness zones 9–11. It is heat and drought tolerant, but its branches and leaves tend to die back at temperatures under 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Watering

Young plants require weekly irrigation during their first growing season, depending on rainfall. Deep watering encourages roots to grow deeper into the soil, strengthening the plant and increasing its drought resistance. Dig a tiny hole in the ground with a hand trowel or your finger and feel the soil for wetness. If the top 2-4 inches of soil are dry, it is time to water. Keep an eye on young plants for the first two years to ensure they’re getting enough moisture.

Soil

This plant does well in almost any soil type provided it is kept moist and the soil is well-drained. Don’t fret about the pH of your soil too much, as this plant can handle both acidic and alkaline soils. It also grows well in salty locations like coastal regions.

Fertilizing

Mature trees should be nourished every two to three years. Feed plants when they begin to grow in the early spring. Fertilizers come in a variety of forms, including granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic, and synthetic. Determine which application technique is best for the situation, then select a product designed for trees and shrubs or a nutritionally sound, all-purpose composition like 10-10-10. Always follow the instructions on the fertilizer package for application rates and timing. Plant damage can occur as a result of over-fertilising plants or applying fertilizer at the incorrect time of year. 

Planting Instructions

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.

Pruning

Pruning your cape honeysuckle depends on the growth habit you want to maintain. If you’re growing it as a hedge, trimming might be required on a regular basis because the plant grows quickly. Cut it back to the ground every three to four years in the spring (or as needed) to prevent it from sprawling. At the beginning of spring, remove branches that have been damaged by frost.

This plant freely produces suckers. If you don’t want this plant to spread, remove the suckers immediately. If you are growing this plant as a vine, less maintenance is required to keep it trained to grow onto its support structure.

Propagation

Tecoma capensis can form suckers or upright stems due to which the plant will propagate naturally. However, if you plant to grow the plant in your home garden, you can propagate it by softwood cuttings.

Here’s how to propagate Tecoma capensis through suckers:

  • Wait till a sucker has rooted and you find a new growth. Now, clip the stem connected to the plant, dig it up, and place it in the garden.
  • Burying the off-shoot stems during the spring will help this process. Once the new growth is established, around fall, just cut the stem connected to the main plant, dig it and place in the garden.

Here’s how to propagate Tecoma capensis through softwood cuttings:

  • Clip off a five-inch-long softwood stems using clean and sharp pruners.
  • Trim off all leaves except a few around the top.
  • If the base is woody, scrape off portions of the bark using shears.
  • To promote growth, dip the base of the cutting in the rooting hormone.
  • Now, place the cutting in a flowerpot by adding a standard potting mix, preferably mix peat and perlite.
  • Make sure the cuttings are moist and maintained at a temperature of 70 to75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover the pot with a plastic bag to allow it to retain moisture.
  • Keep the cuttings exposed to normal daylight. The roots will be established in two to 14 weeks, when you can transplant them to your yard or garden.

Here’s how to propagate Tecoma capensis through seeds:

  • The plant can be grown from seeds collected from dried bean-like pods left by faded flowers. Plant the seeds in shallow containers. Cover the seeds properly with sand or seed-starting mix. They will germinate in six to 21 days. You can plant the seedlings after strong roots are developed.

Potting and Repotting 

Cape honeysuckle makes a great container plant if you live in an area with the tropical weather they crave. Plant them in pots with good-sized drainage holes, filled with standard potting mix, and increase the container size by two inches each time you repot—whenever roots are evident growing out the drainage holes. Bring potted plants indoors in colder months to protect them for the next season.

Overwintering

Within its recognized hardiness zone, cape honeysuckle requires no special treatment for the winter months. In USDA cold hardiness zone 8, it is sometimes possible to keep the plant growing in the garden if you give it a thick layer or protective mulch over the winter—these plants don’t like temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and will die back when temperatures reach 25 degrees.

If your plant is growing in a container, bring it indoors before the first frost and keep it by a bright window. If any branches are damaged by frost, wait until spring to trim them off before moving the plant outdoors.

Pests and Diseases

Common Pests 

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.

Aphids

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.

Scale

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.

Common Diseases 

Root Rot

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.

Maintenance

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.

III. Uses and Benefits 

This lovely garden plant is a popular garden shrub that is frequently planted to attract butterflies to the garden. It is also commonly used as a hedge, both sophisticated (clipped) and informal (unclipped). Farmers also plant it or encourage its growth along fences to provide extra grazing for livestock.

The bark is used in traditional medicine to treat pain and insomnia, fevers and chest ailments such as bronchitis, stomach pains, diarrhea and dysentery, and to encourage the flow of dairy in nursing mothers. Diarrhea and gastroenteritis are also treated with the leaves. To treat bleeding gums, powdered and dried bark is rubbed around the teeth.

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) Details

Common name Cape Honeysuckle
Botanical name Tecoma capensis
Plant type Shrub
Hardiness zone 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b
Growth rate Fast
Height 3 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
Width 3 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Gold/Yellow
Leaf color Green