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Growing Wisteria

Few plants can rival the dramatic spring beauty of a wisteria vine in full bloom. Despite the showy flowers and delightful scent, wisteria plants have acquired a reputation for being difficult to grow. Don't be fooled. With the right growing conditions and some occasional pruning, wisteria is a beautiful, fast growing vine - and a worthwhile addition to nearly any garden.

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Plant Characteristics

Popular for their long, hanging clusters of violet flowers, there are around a dozen wisteria species available to gardeners, including two native to North America. The most common types grown are the Asian species Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda), and Chinese wisteria (W. sinensis). Japanese wisteria tends to have more vibrant color blooms and Chinese wisteria a sweeter scent. Both species need a large amount of growing space and look very similar in appearance. You can tell the difference between the two by the way they climb. The stems of Japanese wisteria twine around supports in a clockwise direction, while the stems of Chinese wisteria twine in a counterclockwise direction.

Wisteria grows best in zones 3 to 9. Not all varieties are suited to all zones, however, so check carefully to make sure the wisteria you choose is a proven performer where you live. If you lack space (or the ability to erect a sturdy support structure), the smaller American forms of the vine, such as Kentucky wisteria (W. macrostachya) or American wisteria (W. frutescens) don't grow as quickly and can be good substitutes for smaller gardens.

Where to Grow Wisteria

Wisteria will grow in partial shade and marginal soils, but performs best in sunny locations (6 or more hours per day) and in moist, fertile soils that drain well. Wisteria needs a large amount of growing space. These plants are vigorous climbers (growing 10 feet or more annually) and are easily capable of climbing to heights of 25 feet.

Once established, the Asian species can become invasive and difficult to get rid of - especially in the east. To help restrain the plant's spreading root system, wisteria can be planted in large containers buried in the ground.

Planting Wisteria

To plant wisteria, work the soil deeply (18 to 24 inches) around the hole where the vine will be planted. Mix a couple handfuls of compost or well-rotted manure in with the original soil. Set the plant in the ground at the same height it was growing in the pot. Water in well and add a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant. Keep your newly planted wisteria watered well for several weeks after planting to allow it to become established.

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Pruning

Wisteria needs to be pruned a minimum of twice yearly to keep plants tidy and promote flowering.

1st-Summer Pruning (just after flowering)

  • Cut off the tips of all of the side shoots as well as the tips of any new growth. Also remove any suckers that appear at the base of the plant.

2nd-Late Winter Pruning

  • Cut the main stems back by about half.
  • You may also shorten side shoots slightly; cutting them back to only a couple of inches from where you see the flowering spurs (little pegs).

Training

You never have to worry about over-building supports for wisteria. Mature vines are heavy and will require ample support. To train young plants to grow on a trellis or arbor, choose an upright stem to serve as the leader and secure this to the support. You can then remove some of the side shoots and train the remainders to grow horizontally across the supports, or simply let them all twine across the supports naturally. Pinch off the main leader when it reaches the desired height.

Five Reasons Wisteria Fail to Bloom

One of the more frustrating aspects of growing wisteria is waiting for them to reach maturity and then watching them fail to bloom. Here are five common reasons wisteria fail to produce flowers:

  • Immature plants. Depending on whether you are starting new plants from seeds, cuttings, or young nursery stock, it can take 5, 10, or even 15 years or more before wisteria start to produce flowers. Start with grafted plants or those grown from cuttings that are known to have flowered relatively young. These plants usually flower much sooner than those grown from seed.

  • Too much nitrogen (or insufficient phosphorus). Some gardeners make the mistake of over-fertilizing wisteria to encourage them to flower. This can actually work against them, because excess nitrogen encourages the plant to produce foliage, usually at the expense of flowers.

  • Planting too deeply. Setting plants in the ground too deeply may result in a delay of flowering or prevent them from blooming altogether.

  • A lack of sun. Too much shade can cause vines to flower poorly. Although some types of wisteria may be root-hardy to Zone 4, many varieties won't bloom reliably there. In Zone 5, plants may sometimes fail to bloom after a severe winter freeze kills off flower buds.
  • You're being too kind. Pruning is key to getting wisteria to flower. You have to keep pruning all of those errant new vines that keep sprouting up. Depending on soil the species you're growing, and environmental conditions, you may need to snip shoots as often as every 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Growing Wisteria from Seed

    Wisteria plants are often started from layered cuttings, but they are also easy to grow from seed. When the seedpods turn brown in the fall, remove the seeds and allow them to dry. Store them in the refrigerator until spring.

    In the spring, sow seeds directly in the ground (or in containers) after soaking them in water for 24 hours. It's important to note that wisteria grown from seed may not resemble the parent plant in form or color. They will also take longer to reach flowering size - anywhere from 10 to 15 years.

    About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com


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    Solutions

    Share on ThriftyFunThis guide contains the following solutions. Have something to add? Please share your solution!

    September 12, 2016

    Some varieties of wisteria have a raceme (a particular type of bloom), that can be as long as 30 inches and covered with over a hundred flowers. The variety I'm growing has a raceme averaging 12-18 inches and is covered with many fully developed flowers. So why would I post a picture of what appears to be a little, underdeveloped raceme? I thought you'd ask.

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    About 21 years ago, I was walking down a street where wisteria were growing to one side. They had bloomed earlier and now were dispersing their seed pods. The walk was littered with hundreds of them. I collected a few and brought them home.

    I planted several seed in small pots rather than in the open ground. My plan was to grow these wisteria as standards (having a tree like, rather than running vine, habit). I wanted to keep them small and I knew the small pots would help keep their size in check.

    Over the years, the plants grew to a height of about 6 feet and stayed at that height for several more years. I thought that by the fifth year I would have seen blooms. My heart would break a little each year as wisteria bloom time would come and go and there were no flowers.

    After 18 years of caring for these plants and still no blooms, I removed them from their pots and planted them in the ground where they grew vigorously. Even with such vigorous growth, years 19 and 20 came and went, and still no blooms.

    Today, I was watering some newly planted Pampas grass when something caught my eye. What!? Could this be? I saw a bloom on one of my wisterias. Small and underdeveloped, but a bloom. Oh, happy day! Twenty-one years of waiting was over. To make this moment even more joyous, was the fact that the bloom appeared when it did. It is now autumn. Normally, wisterias are one of the first plants to bloom in early spring.

    Unchecked wisteria growing in the wild can attain a height of a hundred feet or more and be somewhat invasive, almost like kudzu. I didn't have room for, nor did I want a plant of that size. Checking their growth in pots was a good idea, but I overdid it, hence the 21 year wait. Had I grown them in 5 gallon buckets, I probably would have had blooms within 5 years.

    My tip: If you plan to grow wisteria from seed (or small cuttings), and have them develop into standards, be sure to plant them in at least 5 gallon buckets. An exception for planting them in small pots would be if you want a bonsai. And truth be known, they make some of the most beautiful bonsai you will ever see.

    Come this spring, I expect these wisteria to be covered in blooms. In following years, I expect them to take on a beautiful appearance, not unlike a large and ancient bonsai.

    Twenty-one years, people, twenty-one years. Be happy for me!

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    Comment Was this helpful? 1
    September 13, 20160 found this helpful

    Look closely at the top of the bottom picture. My little Wisteria 'tree' is sprouting runners. I will be pinching these off as long as I have this plant.

    The Wisteria program is to grow a vine. I am forcing it to be a standard. So strong is the force of the program, if I could keep it as a standard for a thousand years, it would still try to be a vine.

    And should I die after a thousand years and there was no one to pinch back the runners, they would continue to grow, longer and higher til their weight forced them to fall to the ground.

    There, they would run along the ground, taking root as they went. Eventually, they would find a tall tree, climb it and make it it's home.

    And true to the Wisteria program, it would grow to the tree top. Every Spring it would cover the tree with beautiful and deliciously scented racemes.

    All that is, is a program.

    Reply Was this helpful? Yes
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    February 15, 20170 found this helpful

    Beautiful flowering Wisteria

    Wisteria can actually be propagated from both soft and hard wood cuttings, depending on the time of year one works better than the other. This is a guide about starting a wisteria from a cutting.

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    February 15, 20170 found this helpful

    Wisteria Photos

    Wisteria is a vining, flowering plant member of the legume family. The draping clusters of purple flowers are quite fragrant. It is typically grown as a woody vine, but can also be trained as a standard or small tree. This page contains wisteria photos.

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    January 26, 2014

    The wisteria is not a tree. It is a vigorously growing and often invasive vine. It can be kept in check by training it to grow as a standard, whereby it takes on the appearance of a small tree.

    Read More...

    Questions

    Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

    April 13, 20120 found this helpful

    How do you plant wisteria with just a dry root?

    By db

    Answer Was this helpful? Yes
    April 18, 20120 found this helpful

    Not sure what a 'dry root' is, although the words make me think of a piece of the plant that's been removed from the mother plant and then permitted to dry out-not such a good mental image of a plant that can survive, sorry.

    However, if I'm am misunderstanding, and you have a viable plant part known as a whip, simply plant it so the root parts are at least 6" under good quality soil.

    Then stake, mulch, and water it in well. You can apply a rooting hormone available in most garden centres to encourage root growth, and feed specifically formulated for wisteria at the same time. Keep the soil moist but not soggy the first spring and summer it's in the ground.

    And then wait about five years for the whip to become a blooming shrub.

    You'll wait about ten years for it to climb as high as a roof or along a fence, and about twenty before the runners become woody and thick enough to pull down said roof or fence:)

    Or you can buy a potted wisteria that is already blooming. Transplant it and stand back, although it may not bloom the first season after transplanting.

    Wisteria is one of the plants I miss most about the Deep South, crepe myrtle is the other.

    Reply Was this helpful? Yes
    May 3, 20120 found this helpful

    Frugalsunnie is correct, "You'll wait about ten years for it to climb as high as a roof or along a fence, and about twenty before the runners become woody and thick enough to pull down said roof or fence:)"

    Remember to sink 4x4 or even 6x6 treated posts in the ground with concrete to withhold the weight. DO NOT think you are going to buy one of those store bought vine climbers or trellises for one of these. My wisteria is heavy and the only part of my arbor that is holding up to it are the posts, which are 6x6. I am getting ready to cut the top of this wisteria and rebuild the arbor. I would recommend buying cedar planks (boards) and building your own trellis for a wisteria.

    Reply Was this helpful? Yes

    March 13, 20130 found this helpful

    I had been trying to look for wisteria cutting suppliers, but could not get any. If any one can help me out with addresses of suppliers who can supply me few pieces of wisteria cuttings with roots. I am ready to pay for cost and freight

    By Mohammad Ismail

    Answer Was this helpful? Yes
    March 7, 20140 found this helpful

    Search the Internet for 'Wisteria Plant Liners'. You should find several suppliers. 'Liners' is a term used by nurserymen for small, recently rooted plants in about 4" containers.

    Reply Was this helpful? Yes

    August 11, 20130 found this helpful

    Ellen Brown suggests planting the wisteria in the ground in a container in order to limit the aggressive expansion of its root system. My question is: what should the container be made of in order to prevent the roots from breaking out? We are considering building a wisteria walkway with a pergola on the side of our house. Unfortunately the sewing piping runs in the same area and we are worried about the roots invading that system. The manholes are concrete and the sewage lines in between are plastic piping? Thanks for any info.

    By Moti Kl

    Answer Was this helpful? Yes

    0 found this helpful
    September 26, 2005

    Question:

    What is the purpose of those very heavy seedpods that eventually dry up and fall off of a wisteria plant? I know that I don't want another wisteria plant, but want to take some of the weight off of the trellis, unless someone knows another reason why mother nature grows those wisteria seed pods!

    Answer:

    Those long, velvety seeds pods are Mother Nature's way of propagating your wisteria, although propagation from stem cuttings is likely to be a more reliable way to successfully start a new plant. Unless you're a giraffe or a monkey, the seeds are poisonous and should be kept away from children and pets. There really isn't any good reason to not lighten the pod load on your trellis. In fact, removing overblown seedpods and spent flowers will encourage more blooms for next season. The pods can also be used for crafts, to add interest to season ornaments or garlands.
    Answer Was this helpful? Yes
    September 27, 20050 found this helpful

    for you to share the seeds with everybody

    Reply Was this helpful? Yes
    September 27, 20050 found this helpful

    That is what i do is share all of my seed to everyone that wants them.

    Reply Was this helpful? Yes

    May 27, 20130 found this helpful

    What is a suggested way to stabilize a wisteria plant that is slightly leaning? This plant was started by some shoots about 18 years ago. It is a beautiful plant that has heavy purple clusters of flowers in the spring. It has become overgrown, but is easily trimmed.

    By K. Tate

    Answer Was this helpful? Yes

    0 found this helpful
    April 1, 2012

    Where can I find wisteria?

    By barbiewantstobeme from Munford, AL

    Answer Was this helpful? Yes
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