Wisteria tree or vine

How To Choose The Right Wisteria

The beauty of the pendulous racemes hanging down to form a colorful curtain of scented flowers in spring and summer, the elegant foliage, the fascinating drooping seed pods, the fall colors of most varieties and the attractive gnarled trunks and twisted branches in winter, make Wisteria one of the best ornamental vines.

Most gardeners are unaware of the wide range of characteristics offered by Wisteria species and their cultivars in terms of bloom season, fragrance, length of flower clusters (racemes), flower colors, fall foliage. Consequently, one can not eliminate varieties merely by color alone.

Moreover, Wisterias are slow to establish. It might be far more satisfying to buy a variety known to produce flowers early, regardless of color or size of bloom, rather than to wait years for the plant to produce its first flowers. Go for named varieties propagated from cuttings, buds, or grafts. They will start blooming within the first couple of years after planting. Avoid buying seedlings as they may take 10 to 20 years to bloom.​

Wisteria Species

  • There are about nine species of Wisterias in North America and eastern Asia. Wisteria sinensis (Chinese Wisteria) and Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria) have far outstripped the others in popularity, at least in northern gardens, because of their profuse blooms, their large flower clusters, their color variety and fragrance.
  • Wisteria sinensis – Chinese Wisteria. Vigorous climber, twining anticlockwise. Leaves with 9-13 elliptical or oval shaped leaflets, which are usually copper or bronze when young. Scented blue-violet, violet or reddish-violet flowers appearing with the leaves in dense racemes of 25-95 blooms. About 12 in. long (30cm), the racemes form a fragrant flower curtain buzzing with bees in late spring or early summer. Chinese Wisterias bloom in sun or partial shade.
  • Wisteria floribunda – Japanese Wisteria. Vigorous climber, twining clockwise. Leaves with 13-19 elliptical or oval shaped leaflets, which are usually pale green or bronze when young and generally turn yellow in fall. Scented violet flowers appearing with the leaves in pendulous racemes, about 12 in. long (30 cm), in late spring or early summer. This splendid species has given rise to many cultivars, some having dramatic racemes up to 4 ft. long (120 cm)! More decorative than Wisteria sinensis, Japanese Wisteria remains in bloom longer, enjoys a graceful growth habit and attractive fall colors. However, it requires a little more care in its training and pruning to obtain the best results. They bloom best in full sun.
  • Wisteria brachybotrys – Silky Wisteria (Wisteria venusta). Vigorous climber from Japan, twining anticlockwise. Leaves with 9-11 leaflets have silky hair and turn golden-yellow in fall. Broad racemes of strongly scented, heavy-textured flowers blooming early in the season and appearing with the leaves. Short, 6 in. long (15 cm), the racemes feature flowers that open all at once in late spring. Silky Wisterias bloom best in full sun.
  • Wisteria frutescens – American Wisteria. Slender vigorous climber, twining anticlockwise. Leaves with 11-15 leaflets. Faintly scented racemes of 30-65 blue-violet flowers which look modest in comparison to those of the Asiatic species. Flowering occurs when the foliage is well developed, so that the blooms are hidden by the foliage. Native to the east coast from Virginia to Florida and Texas, American Wisteria, while vigorous, is less invasive than the Asian species. Today, it is not widely grown.
  • Wisteria macrostachya – Kentucky Wisteria. Slender vigorous climber, twining anticlockwise. Leaves with 7-11 leaflets. Faintly scented racemes of 70-80 pale violet flowers which bloom late in the season, after the leaves are developed, so that the blooms can be considerably hidden by the foliage. Easy to control, tolerant of wet soils, this American native is not widely grown.

Wisteria Blooms Sequence

Typically, Wisterias bloom throughout a 4-5 week period starting in late spring with Wisteria brachybotrys (Silky Wisteria), the earliest, and ending with Wisteria macrostachya (Kentucky Wisteria), which blooms after the others have all faded.

Wisteria Blooming Sequence

Week 1 Wisteria venusta and varieties
Week 2 Wisteria floribunda macrobotrys, Wisteria formosa, Wisteria sinensis and varieties
Week 3 Wisteria floribunda and varieties
Week 4 Wisteria macrostachya

Wisteria with strongest Fragrance

Length of Wisteria Clusters

The length of the Wisteria clusters (or racemes) varies with the species, variety and growing conditions. A same variety might produce longer or shorter clusters depending on weather and growing conditions. Moreover, the flower clusters will get longer as the plant matures and becomes well established.

  • Wisteria frutescens has the shortest clusters, about 2-5 in. long (5-7 cm), thus eliminating it as a spectacular ornamental vine.
  • Wisteria floribunda has the longest, some of its varieties having clusters 36 in. long (90 cm). Most floribunda cultivars range between 12-14 in. long (30-35 cm).

The length of Wisteria racemes is an important factor to consider when buying.

  • If you wish to cover a pergola, the best effect will be obtained by Wisterias with long racemes. Wisteria floribunda, which has the longest racemes of all the species, provides a dramatic display on garden structures such as pergolas where the racemes can hang free, unimpeded by branches or foliage.
  • If you wish to cover a wall, while most wisterias would be effective grown in this manner, the short-racemed Wisterias would be more successful. Wisteria sinensis is the species most suitable for walls where its shortish racemes are displayed to advantage.

Here is a list of Wisteria cultivars organized by their raceme lengths.

Wisteria Colors

Wisteria with Attractive Fall Foliage

Wisterias are deciduous climbers. Despite the fact that they lose their leaves in the fall, some varieties and cultivars reward us first with brilliant golden-yellow foliage before falling. Most Wisteria floribunda display attractive fall colors, but ‘Violacea Plena’ is by far the best with its foliage turning butter-yellow.
A few other cultivars are also displaying remarkable fall colors such as ‘Rosea’, ‘Kuchi-Beni’, ‘Lawrence’, ‘Macrobothrys’ or ‘Royal Purple’.

Popular Wisteria Varieties

If you are still undecided which species or cultivar to select for your garden, you may want to review the most popular Wisteria varieties or those rewarded with prestigious awards.

Wisteria

Facts: Wisteria

Family: Fabaceae

Genus: Wisteria – Named for Casper Wistor (1761-1818), Professor of Anatomy, University of Pennsylvania

Common Name: Wisteria

Origin: China, Japan, Eastern United States

Characteristics: Extremely fragrant flowers are pea-like, held in terminal or axillary clusters, or racemes. Bloom occurs in April-May. Ferny light green foliage is sometimes covered in fine white hairs. Vines attach by twining, growing very fast, and developing a thick tree-like trunk in time.

Culture: Full sun to partial shade, with better flowering in sun. Regular water and fertilizer are important for such a vigorous plant.

Bound feet – Container Growing Many people ask us if they can grow this vine in a pot on a deck or patio. The answer is one of those yes-and-no answers.

The root system of a massive vine wants to be equal in size to the “above ground” portion of the plant. Grown as a vine, Wisteria will outgrow a container quickly. The roots will just need more space to spread out in order to support such a large mass of leaves and flowers.

However, if a Wisteria is grown with the idea of bonsai or topiary, it is possible. Regular pruning to maintain a smaller plant is the key. That is pruning not only in the visible portion of the plant, but also in the roots.

Pruning: When your training program provides you with the main structural wood that has developed from long running shoots you have tied or trained to your support system, you will want to do an annual structural pruning in winter to maintain the basic skeleton.

You can cut back small wood (pencil sized or so) and unwanted spring and summer growth at almost any time. A simple rule is to cut back to 2 growth buds (2 leaves in spring and summer) on growth that is well placed for bloom production but is not going to be useful as permanent long vine wood. When in doubt, cut back to two buds above the point where the growth originated. This often removes most of the tangle of summer growth.

Carefully untangle and tie any long growth in summer that you may want to keep for future training. It will harden into usable wood by the time you are ready to do next year’s deciduous phase pruning.

On my pergola there are three evenly-spaced parallel main stems running 24 feet each from south to north. From these are growing all the shortened blooming branchlets which have been created using two bud rule of thumb described above.

As you become more comfortable as a Wisteria pruner, you may begin to remove some of the bloom wood in order to create a harmony between open space and plant. Often the empty space along the vine is equally important to the blossom-laden branches.

Pests and Diseases: Wisteria are fairly unfussy, and really seem to thrive in our climate. They can be susceptible to fungal and insect problems, but they are typically not life-threatening. Aphids and scale insects have been observed on some plants, as well as thrips and mites. Powdery mildew and leaf spot can cause minor cosmetic damage, and crown gall can be problematic.

The hardy Summer Cascade™ wisteria was bred from a hardy strain of Kentucky wisteria and first known as ‘Betty Matthews,’ after a White Bear Lake resident in whose yard it grew. It blooms on new growth in June. Individual flowers are borne on long showy racemes and open as a lovely shade of dark lavender before fading. This beautiful flowering vine thrives in full sun, and can easily cover an arbor or pergola to create a shady retreat. An interesting seed pod in late summer provides multi-season interest.

Carefully consider where to place a new wisteria. It can be an aggressive grower that develops a heavy wood structure of its own. Supports such as a fence, arbor or trellis must be able to accommodate that weight. Once established, new canes can grow up to 10 feet in a summer. Routine pruning several times throughout the growing season will restrain its size and promote blooms.

U of M Wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya) Variety

Image Variety Year Flower Color Features Plant Size
Summer Cascade™ 2013 Lavender Cascading 10-12″ bloom clusters 15-25′ vine

Wisteria Vines

Full blooms on classic vine growth.

Whether you choose the Blue Moon or the Amethyst Falls, we have the ideal Wisteria Vines for nearly any space in your garden. And the best part? They’re grown easily and are virtually carefree. Plus, we’ve planted, grown and shipped each of our Wisteria Vines with care, so you get healthy roots and a head start on growth.

How to Care for Wisteria Vines

Caring for Wisteria Vines is effortless, from planting to growing and beyond. First, it’s important to learn more about your growing zone and select the correct plants for your area.

How to Plant Wisteria Vines

Though specific planting directions depend on the variety you choose, Wisteria Vines must be grown in the proper growing zones. The main factors are sunlight and watering needs. Generally, Wisteria Vines prefer well-drained soil and full sun to partial sun, or 4 to 8 hours of sunlight per day, but specific instructions will depend on the variety you choose.

From there, planting is simple. Find an area with well-drained soil or select a container large enough to accommodate the plant’s root ball, place your plant and backfill the surrounding soil. Finally, water to settle your tree’s roots and mulch to conserve moisture.

You may need support for your Wisteria Vines – think trellises, fences, walls or any other surface you’d like to cover.

When to Prune Wisteria Vines

Generally, you should wait until the dormant fall and winter seasons to prune your Wisteria Vines (and also after blooming). You can remove diseased, dead or broken areas at this time. It’s important that you make your cuts with a clean, sterilized pair of shears as well, making your cuts at a 45-degree angle.

Growing Wisteria – Tree-Form, or Standard, Wisteria

Latin Name Pronunciation: wis-teer’ee-uh

The spectacular beauty and astonishing vigor of Wisteria are best employed by growing it in the form of a small tree, properly known as a standard. Long racemes of fragrant May flowers drape down from soft green heads of foliage shaped by pruning, and shift gently with every breeze. The effect is graceful and stately, and the compact head of a Tree Wisteria looks sensational in a mixed border of perennials, bulbs, and annuals.

Please note: Wisterias are generally slow to break dormancy after planting. Please be prepared to wait until early summer for your plant to leaf out. In subsequent years, it will leaf out at the normal time (midspring).

Choosing a Site: Wisterias flower best and grow most vigorously where they receive ample sunshine – at least 6 hours a day. They thrive in any type of soil, as long as it is well drained.

Planting: Remove the packaging around your bareroot Wisteria and soak the roots in a pail of water for a few hours. Then dig a hole wide enough to accommodate the spread of the roots and deep enough to allow you to set the crown (the point where the stem meets the roots) 1in below the surface of the soil. Place the roots in the planting hole and arrange them like the spokes of a wheel or in whatever fashion appears natural. Take extra care when arranging the roots in the planting hole not to break them; the roots of many woody plants are brittle. Holding the crown 1in below the surface of the soil with one hand, push soil into the hole with the other, working soil around the roots to prevent the formation of air pockets. Then firm the soil around the crown, pressing down with both hands. Make a rim of soil around the edge of the planting hole to form a basin. This basin serves to catch and hold water and channel it to the roots. Finally, give the plant a thorough soaking.

Please note: Bareroot plants dry out quickly once they are removed from their packaging – especially on a sunny, breezy day. We strongly recommend that you keep the roots covered with packaging material until you are ready to plant.

Staking: Tree Wisterias need extra support to hold their heads up in strong winds. After planting, push the wooden stake provided with your tree into the ground 6-12in deep and 1/2in away from the plant’s trunk. Secure the trunk to the stake at several points about 8in apart, using the plastic tie tape provided with your tree. As the head grows and the trunk expands, you’ll need to replace the original stake with a larger wooden stake or a heavy steel pipe. Check the tree in spring and fall to make sure the stake is holding firm and the tie tape used to secure the trunk to the stake is not too tight and restricting expansion of the trunk. Plants should always remain securely staked.

Watering and Fertilizing: The first year after planting, Wisterias need the equivalent of 1in of water per week to speed their establishment. If sufficient moisture fails to fall from the sky, water deeply once a week. Established plants need watering only during prolonged dry spells. Wisterias require little if any fertilizing; excessive fertilizer inhibits bloom. If your soil is especially poor or sandy, you might give plants a light feeding of 5-10-10 or 5-10-5 at the rate of 3/4 cup per square yard in early spring each year.

Overwintering: In cold-winter climates such as ours here in Litchfield (Zone 5 ), protect the main stem for the first few winters after planting with a piece of plastic tubing. Make a straight cut from one end to the other and pry the cut open to enclose the stem. (Your local garden center may sell precut tubing.) On older specimens, tie the branches together with twine, cat’s-cradle fashion (creating a web of crisscrossing strings), to prevent wind and ice from breaking branches.

Pruning: To preserve the globe shape of the head, tree Wisterias require light but frequent pruning of the long twining branches produced in summer. They also need one hard pruning in late summer or early fall – a few weeks before your first frost date. Cut the current season’s growth back to just 5 to 6 large buds (leaving stubs about 6 inches long) and remove poorly placed branches entirely. This severe haircut controls growth and encourages some of the leaf buds to change into flower buds. Don’t lose sleep over pruning mistakes. Wisterias are very forgiving; vigorous growth the next season will give you a second chance.

Choosing a Wisteria

In the western China province of Hubei, the much-loved vine that westerners know simply by the scientific name Wisteria is called chiao teng (beautiful vine).

In Japan, it’s called Fuji.

By any name, this rambunctious climber with lacy green foliage is an exceptional beauty in bloom.

Dramatic clusters of flowers in blue, pink, purple, and white can dangle from 1 to 3 feet in length.

You can train these twining woody vines as climbers, ground covers, or trees (tree wisterias are often sold already trained).

Plants will thrive in any soil that drains well and in every climate zone in the West. Make sure, though, that you have room to grow them: Wisterias are vigorous, even rampant growers.

Chinese and Japanese wisterias are the most widely sold types. Silky wisterias, also from Japan, deserve equal attention.

These three types have surpassed the southeastern American species (W. frutescens and W. machrostachya), introduced in the 18th century but now seldom planted here.

Go for named varieties propagated from cuttings, buds, or grafts; they’ll start blooming within the first couple of years after planting. Avoid buying seedlings (often sold as floribunda white or floribunda blue), cautions wisteria grower Guy Meacham of Rippingale Nursery in Oregon. “They may take 10 to 15 years to bloom, and one has no idea of the quality and quantity of the flowers,” he says.

A twice-blooming 85-year-old Chinese wisteria ‘Alba’ is espaliered over a window.

Below we list varieties recommended by Guy Meacham or by Peter Valder in his book Wisterias: A Comprehensive Guide (Timber Press, Portland, 1995; $32.95; 800/327-5680).

CHINESE VARIETIES (W. sinensis) produce 1-foot-long flower clusters in midspring before foliage expands. Leaves are divided into 9 to 13 leaflets. Chinese wisterias bloom in sun or partial shade. Vines twine counterclockwise.

‘Cooke’s Special’. Clusters of fragrant blue-purple flowers are 20 inches long. The variety can rebloom. It was introduced by a California nursery, L.E. Cooke.

‘Prolific’. Cloaked in dense, blue flower clusters. ‘Prolific’ blooms at a very early age; it flowers sporadically throughout the summer.

JAPANESE VARIETIES (W. floribunda) produce dramatic 11/2- to 3-foot-long flower clusters, usually in midspring before or while foliage is expanding. Leaves are divided into 15 to 19 leaflets and turn yellow in fall (except where noted). Flowers of most varieties are scented. Vines twine clockwise. Japanese wisterias are most effective when grown on pergolas so the long flower clusters can hang freely. They bloom best in full sun.

‘Caroline’ (most likely W. floribunda ‘Caroline’, but sometimes sold as W. sinensis ‘Caroline’). Mauve flowers come out in early spring. The variety is fast growing and early flowering.

‘Macrobotrys’ (also known as ‘Longissima’). Grows exceptionally long clusters (sometimes as long as 3 feet) of moderately scented violet-purple flowers.

‘Royal Purple’ (also known as ‘Black Dragon’). Sweetly scented dark purple flowers emerge in midspring.

‘Shiro Noda’ (also sold as ‘Alba’, ‘Longissima Alba’, and ‘Snow Showers’). Blooms in long clusters of densely packed white flowers. In Wisterias, Valder calls the late-flowering ‘Shiro Noda’ “one of the most beautiful of all,” although it has poor autumn color.

‘Violacea Plena’ (also sold as ‘Black Dragon’). Bears double deep purple flowers. It is the only known double.

SILKY VARIETIES (W. brachybotrys, also known as W. venusta) produce a profusion of short (6-inch), fat clusters of large, strongly scented flowers that open all at once, usually in midspring when leaves are just opening. Broad leaves with 9 to 13 leaflets have silky hairs. Most vines twine counterclockwise (an exception is noted). Silky wisterias have velvety seed pods and bloom best in full sun.

‘Murasaki Kapitan’ (also sold as ‘Murasaki’ and ‘Violacea’). Profuse blue-violet blooms in early spring. Twines clockwise.

‘Shiro Kapitan’ (also sold as ‘Alba’). ‘Shiro Kapitan’ has white flowers with yellow markings. “Superior in color to the white cultivars of W. sinensis,” notes Valder.

Care and pruning

Choose a location that allows shoots room to spread. Water newly planted wisterias regularly for the first year or two, until the plant is well established. While plants are young, fertilize twice a year, in early spring and midsummer. Once it is established, water infrequently (more frequently in hot climates). In coastal areas, old vines need little to no supplemental water.

Unless grown as a ground cover or trained as a tree, wisteria needs the strong support of a sturdy pergola or trellis. Pruning is also critical to maintain this vigorous grower.

Late winter

1. Once the vine has developed its structure, cut back side shoots to two or three buds (count from where shoot originates). Shorten the flower-producing spurs that grow from side shoots to just beyond the last flower bud (flower buds are fatter than leaf buds).

2. Thin any excess shoots by cutting them back to the main stem.

3. Cut back the growing tips to limit length.

4. Remove seed pods.

Summer

Cut long, whippy shoots back to three leaves. Do not cut shoots that are needed to extend the vine or fill in gaps.

Marka / Getty Images

Sources

Look for named varieties at local nurseries or order by mail from one of these suppliers:

Forestfarm, 990 Tetherow Rd., Williams, OR 97544; (541) 846-7269 or www.forestfarm.com; catalog $5. Sells 19 kinds.

More: 20 favorite long-lived flowers

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