Plant Profile: Wisteria

In today’s Plant Profile, we are going to take a look at Wisteria. The latin name for this vine is Wisteria sinensis and it is also known as Chinese Wisteria. There is another species that is grown in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region and it is Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). Chinese wisteria is by far the most common type that is grown and so it is on this species that we will focus our attention.

Many people are left stunned when they see the pendulous blooms of wisteria. They are a beautiful lilac purple color and can last for several weeks. The longevity of the blooms depends on the ambient temperatures when the vines are blooming. They generally bloom in late April but they have been blooming for a couple of weeks here in the Richmond, VA area. Our weather has been moderate so I expect them to last for a couple more weeks before they disappear into the background for the rest of the year.

wisteria

Let’s take a look at how the Wisteria vine grows. In case you aren’t familiar, vines generally grow in one of three ways: 1. Tendrils (think passion flower) 2. Clinging (like with Boston ivy) or 3. Wrapping (think honeysuckle). Wisteria grows by wrapping itself around a structure or a tree if there isn’t a structure around. If you are planting wisteria on a pergola or another structure, make sure that the structure is well made and heavy duty. Wisteria is the type of plant that can bring a loosely constructed arbor to its knees in a couple of years. If you are familiar with Maymont’s Italian Garden, it is wisteria that grows up and over the pergola there…and it is amazing when it is in flower. It’s no wonder that April is a favorite time for outdoor weddings there.

I have to throw in a good bit of caution regarding planting wisteria. It must be planted in an area where it can’t escape into the surrounding woods. If you doubt this, take a Sunday drive through a rural area near you and observe all of the wisteria growing in the woods. It’s readily apparent that someone planted the wisteria on an old homestead and the vine just got away from them. It will kill mature trees over time as it girdles them like a boa constrictor and also shades the tree’s leaves and reduces photosynthesis.

To help keep Wisteria in check, give it an annual winter pruning to reduce its size. Prune the main leaders (leaders are the stems that come off of the main trunk) back to 4 or 5 buds. This will keep the plant’s size in check and will help to promote flowering. It is amazing how quickly they can grow…here is a picture of one that hasn’t been pruned for approximately 3 years. It’s going to take a bit of pruning before anyone can sit comfortably under there.

wisteria

Let me know if you have experience with wisteria…the good, bad and the ugly. Most people either love or hate wisteria. What side of the fence do you fall on? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!