How to plant wisteria?

Growing Wisteria – Proper Wisteria Vine Care

There’s no mistaking the sweet fragrance of wisteria as it perfumes the garden – its beautiful violet-blue or lavender blooms cover this vine in mid-late spring. While growing wisteria is easy, you should take caution with it, as it can quickly overtake everything without proper care.

Growing Wisteria & Wisteria Vine Care

The most important factor to consider when growing wisteria is location. Wisteria is a twining vine that requires sturdy support and regular pruning to keep it under control. Open areas surrounded by lawn that can be easily mowed are ideal for growing wisteria.

Wisteria doesn’t fair well in cold so make sure it receives plenty of sunlight.

This vine requires deep, rich soil that is somewhat moist but will tolerate many soil conditions.

Once planted, pruning is about the only important requirement for wisteria vine care. Since this vine is an aggressive grower, there’s no need for fertilizing and being drought tolerant, wisteria requires little watering.

Training Wisteria Vines & When to Prune Wisteria

While wisteria is great for covering an arbor or pergola, training wisteria vines makes it easier to control. Keep in mind, however, when training wisteria vines the variety may exhibit different twining characteristics. For example, Chinese wisteria (W. sinensis) twines counterclockwise while the Japanese variety (W. floribunda) is the opposite, twining clockwise.

When training wisteria vines, select an upright stem and attach it to the chosen support. Remove any side shoots and continue to train the main vine upwards. New side branches can be trained as needed to fill in spaces of the support structure by attaching them where desired. For best results, keep these side branches spaced about 18 inches apart. Once the wisteria has reached the desired height, pinch off or cut the main vine tip to stunt its growth.

Even trained wisteria vines require regular pruning; otherwise, wisteria will quickly take over everything in its path. Knowing how and when to prune wisteria is important. While regular pruning of new shoots throughout its growing season helps keep the vine manageable, wisteria requires a heavy pruning in late fall or winter as well. Remove any dead wood or crowded branches and cut back the side branches to about a foot or so from the main trunk. Also remove any suckers from its base.

How to Propagate Wisteria Vines

Learning how to propagate wisteria vines is easy; however, doing so by way of seed is not a good idea. If choosing to propagate from seed, soak them overnight and plant. The seeds should sprout within a few weeks but keep in mind that blooming may not occur for 10-15 years, if ever.

The best way to propagate wisteria is through cuttings taken in summer or by layering branches. Either method will still take about three to four years for blooming. When layering branches, choose a flexible branch and bend it to the ground, placing a few inches into the soil (with leaf node included). Weight it down to secure in place and allow this to overwinter. By spring it should have enough roots for planting.

Growing wisteria doesn’t have to be a hassle. With proper wisteria vine care, such as pruning and training wisteria vines, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy this beautiful plant.

The charms of wisteria are almost impossible to resist. Lounging languorously over a fence or pergola, the perennial flowering vine will beckon to you with her heady perfume. Before you know it, her nodding, pendulous blooms have hypnotized you. Soon you are rushing to the nearest garden center, determined to own her, but be warned. This climber has a mind of her own.

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You are not the first to succumb. Marco Polo was an early conquest. He brought wisteria seeds out of China in the 13th century. But you would be wise to take the time to get to know this beauty before you commit to her. Like a Jezebel, she will steal your heart and then, after you are weakened and besotted with love, she will set about to dominate your garden and, if possible, your house. Take this caveat to heart: She is fully capable of attempting to murder your other plants.

Read on for tips to grow and care for wisteria without letting it take over your garden (or your life).

Wisteria on a Balcony

Above: For more, see Radical Urban Gardens from Antwerp. Photograph by Bart Kiggen.

Wisteria’s background is actually quite innocent. Wisteria is a genus of about 10 species of woody, deciduous twining vines. Eight are Asian and include W. floribunda from Japan, and W. senensis from China. W. frutescens, the often less fragrant and floriferous American type, is a native vine and often recommended as an alternative to the Asian varieties which are on the USDA list of invasive plants.

Wisteria on a Pergola

Above: In flower, in a Brooklyn garden by designer Kim Hoyt, a member of the Remodelista Architects and Designers Directory. For more of this garden, see The Garden Designer Is In: Kim Hoyt in Brooklyn.

Wisteria owes its ability to twine readily around a support to the fact that it is a member of the Fabaceae or legume family. Along with its gorgeous flowers, this vine produces large seed pods. In the early 1800s, collectors imported seed from China and Japan to the US and Britain. However, plants grown from the seed produced disappointing flowers. When plant collectors later brought home cuttings made from layering or grafting, the plant thrived and bloomed abundantly like its predecessors in Asia.

Wisteria on a Railing

Above: Wisteria trained on a stoop’s railing in Brooklyn. For more, see 9 Ways to Create Curb Appeal with a Flowering Vine. Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista.

If you have plenty of sun, lots of room and a very sturdy support, this is not a difficult plant to grow. It is hardy to zone 5 and likes good drainage and a slightly alkaline soil. It thrives in a spot protected from strong winds and needs plenty of water when it is in bloom. Avoid feeding with high-nitrogen fertilizer as legumes fix their own nitrogen and adding more will reduce flowering.

Wisteria at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Above: Photograph by Jeanne Rostaing.

Plan to enjoy your wisteria for a long time. Plants in China have been known to live 250 years. And here in Brooklyn, the vines in the Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are thought to be about 100 years old. A glance at their massive, gnarled woody trunks would seem to prove that point.

Buy yourself a heavy duty pair of pruning shears because, if you do plant this climber, you will need to become a virtuoso pruner.

Wisteria Fabric Dye

Above: Photograph by Sasha Duerr.

See a simple technique to dye fabric at DIY: Make a Natural Dye from Wisteria.

Wisteria Floral Arrangement

Above: For more, see Mysterious Wisteria: An Irresistible Flower Goes from Vine to Vase. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

What to do with an armload of wisteria vines? We tamed them with clippers, an X-Acto knife, and a vase from Ikea.

Above: For more of landscape architect Edmund Hollander’s work, see Required Reading: The Private Oasis.

See more tips and design ideas for growing wisteria in Wisteria: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design, and discover more of our favorite (and perhaps better behaved) plants in Vines & Climbers 101, including Creeping Fig 101 and Bougainvillea 101. For more flowering vines we love, see:

  • What to Grow on a Brick Wall.
  • DIY: Train a Wisteria Vine Not to Eat the House.
  • 9 Ways to Create Curb Appeal with Flowering Vines and Climbers.

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for wisteria with our Wisteria: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various vines and climbers with our Vines & Climbers: A Field Guide.

Complete Guide to Wisteria: How to Grow & Care for Wisteria

Stare out onto your garden landscape to see beautiful blue, lilac, and pink blooms draping from wisteria vines. Wisteria is a high-climbing variety of vine that blooms spectacularly in the spring and early summer.

These rapidly-growing vines produce some of the most visually striking blossoms you’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing, and the flowers release a pleasantly sweet fragrance that lights up the yard and tantalizes your senses.

Planting wisteria in your yard is an excellent way to transform the visual qualities of your garden. The drooping vines burst into color, creating a dramatic effect in your garden. We put together this guide to wisteria to give you everything you need to know about selecting the right wisteria for your garden, planting the vine, and caring for it year after year.

Order Wisteria Plants from Amazon

Understanding Wisteria

Wisteria is a vine that produces cascades of purple to bluish flowers during the late spring and summertime. These vines make a spectacular addition to your pergola or patio, providing a visual element that enhances your yard’s living areas.

However, wisteria is known for growing rapidly and taking over the local planting area. The vines can reach lengths of up to 75 to 100-feet in length, and the vine gets heavy, especially when it starts to flower.

Wisteria is a seeking plant, and it will work its way into any nook or cranny thy find. Therefore, we recommend that you avoid planting wisteria near to your home, as the vines can become problematic for homeowners. If the plant scales your wall, it might reach the roof, causing damage to the structure.

Wisteria flowers play on your senses, producing a sweet, intoxicating fragrance that lets you know summer is here. The flowers will only appear on new vines, and gardeners should continually prune old canes to inspire new growth and flowering in the plant.

Wisteria can give chalm to older properties

Is Wisteria Toxic?

While wisteria vines look amazing when flowering, it’s important to note that almost every part of this plant is toxic to humans and most animals. The wisteria vine contains a substance known as “lectin,” as well as the compound, “wisterin.”

Both of these compounds are toxic to humans and pets. If you eat the flowers of the plant, it could result in a bad case of diarrhea and nausea. If you consume too much of the flower, it could lead to death. These deadly compounds have the largest concentrations in the seeds and seed pods of the plant.

If your pets or children consume the seeds or the flowers, rush them to the emergency room and call the poison control hotline for advice while you’re driving to the hospital.

Is Wisteria Invasive?

Foreign varieties of wisteria include Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda), and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria Sinensis). Both of these varieties are not native to Northern America, and many U.S states classify wisteria as an invasive species.

Wisteria species native to the United States include; Kentucky wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya) and American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). Both of these varieties are native to America and make a suitable alternative to the Asian types.

If you’re wondering how to tell the difference between American and Asian varieties, then you’ll find the answer in how the vines grow. Asian varieties grow much faster than American types, and Asian varieties also produce fuzzy seed pods.

American varieties have smooth seed pods, and they produce seeds that have a cylindrical bean shape. American types also only start to flower in the late spring after the vines finish producing leaves. The flowers in Asian varieties appear before the leaves.

How to Plant Wisteria

Wisteria loves to grow in loose, loamy soil that has plenty of nutrients and proper aeration. The soil must drain well, as wisteria does not enjoy having “wet feet.” You can choose a planting site in your yard that gets full sun throughout the day, as wisteria enjoys the direct sunlight for optimal growth.

If you plat your wisteria in a shady area, the plant will still grow, but it might not reach optimal heights, and you might find that the plant fails to flower appropriately during the spring and summer.

When planting your vine, makes sure that you dig out a hole that’s deep enough to cover the roots without covering the crown of the plant. Covering the crown will result in the onset of root rot, and the plant will die.

Dig your hole as deep as the root ball, and two to three times wider than the root ball. Space your wisteria at least 10 to 15-feet apart to avoid the plants growing into one another. Plant your wisteria in the early spring, or the late fall. For those gardeners living in warmer areas, overwintering the plant is easy, and it’s the better choice to allow rapid growth in the springtime.

Choosing a Site to Plant Wisteria

When choosing the best planting site for your wisteria, we recommend that you avoid areas with any other plants. These vines grow fast, and the size of the plant will overpower any neighboring flowers or shrubs.

Make sure you avoid planting next to structures unless you want the wisteria to grow into it and cause you problems. However, there are times when planting next to structures that could benefit your garden. Planting the wisteria at the base of a pergola is a fantastic idea. The vines grow in and around the pergola, and when the vines flower, it makes the structure look beautiful as the flowers leap to life and cover the structure.

Mature vines get very heavy, so make sure that your structure can handle the additional weight of the plant, especially when it flowers.

Wisteria looks beautiful growing along walls

Tips for Caring for Wisteria

You’ll need to care for your wisteria if you want it to flower season after season. In the early springtime, apply a layer of nutrient-rich compost at the foot of the vine, and then cover it with a 2-inch layer of mulch. The mulch helps to retain the water in the soil while feeding the plant nutrients like nitrogen.

You’ll need to ensure that you aggressively weed around the plant when it’s young and keep weeding throughout the plant’s lifecycle. Some gardeners say that feeding the plant with phosphorus aids in the plant’s flowering process, producing the biggest and most colorful flowers.

Bone meal is also another nutrient you can add to the soil in the early spring to induce flowering. We prefer using granulated fertilizer over water-mixed fertilizer for our wisteria. The granules provide a slow-release into the soil that won’t damage or burn the plant.

Jobe’s Organics Bone Meal Fertilizer

Tips for Pruning Your Wisteria

The secret to good flowering is pruning your wisteria. Wisteria only produces flowers on new canes, so it’s best to remove all of the old ones at the end of the growing season in the late fall. Some gardeners in warmer states can start pruning as late as the mid-winter.

Remove all of the dead plant matter, leaving only a few buds on each stem. For those gardeners looking to enhance the blooming period, we recommend that you cut back the shoots of the plant every 2-weeks during the summertime.

If you have a new wisteria plant, it may take it a few years to start producing flowers. In this case, it’s best to cut the plant back close to the base after planting. The following year, cut the primary stem back to 3-feet from the previous year’s growth.

What to Do if Your Wisteria Doesn’t Bloom

Some gardeners might find that the wisteria doesn’t bloom. In most cases, plants fail to flower properly for the first three years as they establish themselves in the garden. However, after the plant reaches maturity, the blooms will begin in the late spring and last throughout the summertime.

Some gardeners swear by the addition of phosphate to the soil to spur flowering, while others rely on other gardening techniques to help the vines bloom.

One of the more popular methods for encouraging flowering in your wisteria is to drive a shovel 8 to 10-inches into the ground, at a distance of a foot from the trunk of the vine.

Intentional damaging the root system puts the vines into shock, and the vines start to flower as a survival response. Don’t worry about damaging the plant, as these hardy vines recover easily during the growing season.

  • Drive it 8 to 10 inches into the ground about a foot and a half away from the wisteria’s main trunk to slice into some of the roots.
  • Damage about half of the roots and the bush will be shocked into reproduction (flowering).

Don’t worry—it’s difficult to hurt this rampantly-growing, unrestrained, often-invasive plant!

Pests and Diseases Affecting Wisteria

Wisteria has its share of pests and diseases that gardeners need to be aware of during the growing season. Here’s a quick list of pests and diseases to look for on your wisteria vines.

  • Dieback and leaf spot.
  • Crown gall and root rot.
  • Viral and fungal diseases, like mildew and mold.
  • Insects like Japanese beetles, aphids, mealybugs, and leaf miners.
  • Scale growing on the vines.

Use organic pesticides and fungicides to remove disease from your plants, and check the plants each day until they return to health.

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Wisteria

Wisterias are gorgeous climbing plants, perfect for covering walls and fences or grown over pergolas and arches where their flowers can be appreciated cascading overhead. They flower from mid-spring into early summer, producing delightfully scented flowers in shades of purple, white or pink.

Cultivation

Wisterias need a sunny, sheltered position to flower well. They can be grown in very lightly shaded positions, but won’t flower as well.

They also need a soil that retains plenty of moisture in summer, but doesn’t become overly wet or waterlogged. If grown up against walls, the soil can become very dry, as can light, sandy soils, so may need watering during prolonged, dry periods – and certainly while plants are establishing. Give the soil a 7.5-10cm (3-4in) thick mulch to conserve soil moisture.

Types of wisteria

There are two main species of wisteria commonly grown in gardens:

  • Wisteria sinensis is vigorous and only really suitable for covering large areas. It produces its flowers before the leaves appear.
  • Wisteria floribunda is more compact and more suited to growing in smaller areas. It produces its flowers and leaves at more-or-less the same time.

Interestingly, the stems of Wisteria sinensis twine anticlockwise, whereas those of Wisteria floribunda grow clockwise – useful to know if you want to distinguish between the two.

Buying wisteria

Be wary when buying wisteria plants! Cheap, seed-raised plants can take many, many years to start flowering and the flowers are often a disappointing size and colour.

Grafted plants on the other hand, will reliably flower at even a young age. You can tell if the plant is grafted by looking for the graft union (a visible bulge) near the base of the main stem. Named varieties are nearly always grafted. Grafted plants are also much more expensive.

Wisterias are one plant that it is a good idea to buy in flower if at all possible, so you know it will flower early and you can see the size and colour of the flowers.

Suggested planting locations and garden types

Walls and fences, pergolas and arches, patios, containers, city and courtyard gardens, cottage and informal gardens.

How to care for wisteria

For best results, feed wisteria plants every spring. You can use Miracle-Gro Growmore Garden Plant Food or Miracle-Gro® Fish, Blood & Bone All Purpose Plant Food, but a rose or flowering shrub feed will generally give better results. In very well-drained soil, also feed with sulphate of potash in summer.

Pruning wisteria

Wisterias don’t need pruning – but they can grow out of control and and the flowers hidden by the foliage, and they will flower much more profusely if you do. The aim is to build up lots of short flowering spurs.

Initially, it is more important to train the plants to produce a main framework of main branches, and tie them in to their support to ensure they fully cover the support evenly, than worry too much about flowering.

Once the framework has been produced, you can start pruning for flowers – which needs to be done twice a year. In summer (July or August) shorten the current year’s shoots to around 30cm (12in) long, or 5-7 leaflets from the main stem/framework. Then in winter (December – February) cut back the shoots that were pruned in summer to around 2.5-5cm (1-2in) or a couple of buds.

Pests

Wisteria may be susceptible to the following pests, diseases and problems: Birds, frost damage and graft failure.

Flowering season(s)

Spring, Summer

Foliage season(s)

Spring, Summer, Autumn

Sunlight

Full sun

Soil type

Chalky, Loamy, Sandy

Soil pH

Alkaline

Soil moisture

Moist but well-drained

Ultimate height

Up to 10m (33ft)

Ultimate spread

Up to 10m (33ft)

Time to ultimate height

10-15 years

Wisteria puts on the most spectacular display of flowers during springtime in WA and although they originate from Asia, they thrive in our well drained soil and sunshine. For those lucky enough to have a wisteria already, maintaining them becomes easier as they establish and for those about to plant one, be patient as the heady perfume and pendulous flowers are worth the wait.

Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) produces an amazing display of fragrant deep violet flowers that hang in masses from stems that twine anti-clockwise around verandah posts, gazebos and pergolas. It is also available with white flowers (Wisteria sinensis alba) which are only lightly fragrant but make a striking backdrop. Chinese wisteria is the variety most often grown in WA because it is big, bold and beautiful!

Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) can be quite varied in both colour and size. Dwarf varieties are compact and slow growing and form a shrub-like shape which makes it perfect for training as bonsai or into standards. Larger varieties have very long racemes (up to 40cm long) of pink, white, violet and lilac coloured flowers which hang like pendulums from long stems which twine in a clockwise direction.

GROWING
Wisterias are very vigorous vines which will quickly scurry up any structure that is available, even into the roof eaves if they can. They need a very solid frame of timber, metal or thick wire as they become heavy when they are laden with leaves and flowers.

Smaller growing wisterias look amazing in pots and can be trained into standards providing a strong metal pole is used and the pot is wide enough not to blow over from the weight in summer. Wisterias grown as standards in the garden need to be extremely well braced and care should be taken not to allow them to become too top heavy.

The best location for a wisteria is on a sun-drenched wall or pergola as its branches need the warmth to produce the best blooms. Grafted wisteria, the type mostly bought in garden centres, can take between 3 to 5 years to begin flowering and seed-grown can take up to 10 years but the superb display is worth the wait.

Sometimes a wisteria will go years without flowering so try to give it a kick-start with a weekly application of liquid fertiliser which is very high in potash from August through to February. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilisers as these will encourage a mass of leaves but no flowers.

PRUNING
The timing for pruning wisteria is different to many shrubs and climbers so that the newly forming flowering spurs are not accidentally removed before they get the chance to bloom. In WA, wisterias are best pruned twice a year. The main prune is in summer, a few weeks after it has finished flowering, to establish the main framework and thin the vine and the second prune is in autumn. It’s best not to prune wisteria in winter like other spring flowering shrubs as the flower buds have already formed and these may accidentally be cut off.

In autumn, remove any dead wood that may be coming from the base or within the framework of the plant. Then, stand back and look at the difference between the old, often gnarly wood, and the thinner side shoots that grow from them; you should be able to see a change in colour. Cut back the side shoots to about 4 leaves or 15cm. Older branches can also be cut back to about four buds to help their shape. The wisteria will now put all its efforts into producing lots of flower buds on these shorter stems that are in their second year of growth.

During summer, the same procedure can be followed but the side shoots should be cut back a bit harder to around two leaves from the branch. Also, the long whippy stems should be cut off unless the aim is to have the wisteria spread. These will grow fairly quickly and take hold on anything that they find.

SEED PODS
The long seed pods can make a wisteria look a bit messy at the beginning of spring. These can be cut off but don’t remove too much of the stem as this may have some buds which, if left, will flower next spring.

Wisteria can be grown from the seed pods but they may not be identical to the parent plant. To do this, put the pods in a large paper bag and leave them to dry in a warm spot. Sue McDougall recommends putting them on the dashboard of the car for a few weeks until the pods burst allowing the seeds to be separated from the pod. Plant the seeds about 2cm deep in a pot of premium potting mix and put this on a south facing wall so that it gets a bit of shade. Once it’s germinated, it can be moved into more sun.

Election Section

Wisteria, one of the most beautiful plants on earth, can last for 50 years and more. It can also, and has a reputation for doing so, drive you and your heirs nuts.

To begin with, after you plant wisteria, years and years may go by before you see a first bloom.

Also, unless you’re prepared to watch closely and prune ruthlessly, wisteria vines will take over whatever they cling to. If it’s the side of your house or a porch railing, beware. In some settings, wisteria gets treated as an environmental pest requiring rigorous measures of eradication.

If you’re lucky to own a fieldstone fence, that’s a good place to grow wisteria because you don’t have to worry about it getting into woodwork.

All this aside, a gardener with patience, determination and the skills to erect trellises, arbors or pergolas, can get to enjoy one of springtime’s loveliest sights — vines bearing large, hanging flower clusters that come in white and shades of pink, lilac blue and purple, and smell sweet. Lengths of rust-free copper or aluminum wire attached four inches from the wall make good supports.

I bought a 5-foot-tall wisteria this spring planning to raise it as a small tree near a shed. I chose the site because I wanted to try a free-standing wisteria variety, needing no supports, that would still serve as an ornamental plant to hide the shed. The plant was healthy, not to say bursting with potential energy, and its sunny and sheltered location looked good.

After planting, I noticed that some of the tendrils were really too close to the side of the shed. That prompted a vision of tentacles reaching out and strangling the shed. So I dug it up and planted it farther away.

Growing it as a tree doesn’t mean I won’t have work to train it. The plant came already staked upright and with its top cut off. I must now allow side shoots to develop on the upper part but remove any lower down. Then I have to follow strict regimes of winter and summer pruning.

At the end of all this I hope the tree will live up to the nursery tag on my plant which promises 8- to 12-inch grapelike bunches of white flowers in mid-May.

I won’t be holding my breath for it to bloom next spring. That would be phenomenally fast for it to happen, and I’m resigned to waiting longer. Many reasons are given for delay or failure to bloom. To begin with, wisterias have a longer than average period of acclimatization. Plants that have been grown from seed may take as long as 15 years. Grafts or plants grown from cuttings will usually bloom earlier.

Also, the site may not be sunny enough. Or, the nursery where you bought it may have given it too much nitrogen fertilizer, stimulating leafy growth but not blooms. Poor pruning is another factor. A harsh winter may have injured or killed flower buds.

My daughter, who gardens in Maryland, says the only way she can get her wisteria to flower is to dig a trench near the roots each spring and fertilize with phosphate.

Clearly, there are a lot of “ifs” to wisteria, but the plant is so good-looking that many gardeners are tempted at one time or another to try their luck with it.

Two renowned kinds for the garden are Japanese (Wisteria floribunda) and Chinese (Wisteria sinensis). There is also a native American (Wisteria frutescens) once known as Kentucky kidney bean.

For what it may be worth, vines of the Japanese variety twine clockwise around their host while the Chinese twine counterclockwise. Both varieties can reach heights of 25 feet and more. The Chinese flowers bloom before the foliage expands while the Japanese bloom and leaf out simultaneously.

A Chinese cultivar named Alba produces fragrant white bloom. Two other featured Chinese cultivars are Black Dragon, with dark purple flowers, and Plena with rosette-shaped lilac flowers. A lovely Japanese cultivar is Longissima Alba with clusters of white flowers 15 inches long. Pale rose Rosea has purple tips and grows 18 inches long.

Wisteria was named in honor of Caspar Wistar, a distinguished 18th century botanist who was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, president of the Philosophical Society and a friend of Thomas Jefferson. The plant had flourished earlier in England.

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