Growing and planting wisteria

The wisteria can add the most breathtaking wow factor to a landscape, providing beautiful flowers with a swoon-worthy perfume.

What you need to know about wisteria

Name: Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda), Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)

Plant type: deciduous, woody climbers

Height: generally restricted by pruning. Old specimens can reach 20m+ in length/height.

Foliage: compound leaves (multiple, small leaflets on a single central stem).

Climate: sub-tropical, warm and cold temperate.

Soil: adaptable to most soil types, but avoid waterlogged or dry situations.

Position: full sun with wind protection.

Flowering: spring/summer flowering.

Feeding: annual application of controlled-release fertiliser.

Watering: supplementary watering is not generally required for established plants.

Wisteria

Appearance and characteristics of wisteria

There is no garden plant that compares with the wisteria—it stands alone in its uniqueness. The plant is truly stunning in flower, with its divine flowers and perfume. It and provides brilliant foliage cover for cooling summer shade, and then lets the winter sun stream through. Unlike most climbers, the wisteria is very woody, developing a true trunk with age, so it can be planted where space doesn’t allow for a deciduous tree.

Wisteria is a large, vigorous climber that is generally kept to the desired size and shape with regular pruning. It is renowned for its truly gorgeous spring display—the flowers appear on bare wood, often totally covering the plant in blooms. As flowering finishes, the new foliage bursts through and is a vibrant light, limey green colour. In autumn the foliage will often turn a lovely buttery yellow before falling.

The floribunda in the botanic name of the Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) literally means “abundant flowers”—and that’s exactly what it has! The flower colours range from white to rosy pinks to violet blues. The pendulous, fragrant flower shoots (racemes) grow to an enormous 60cm or more in length. Truly spectacular.

The Chinese wisteria has flower colours ranging from lavender blue to white. The fragrant flower heads tend to be a stouter form than their Japanese cousins, and are around 30cm in length.

It’s important to note that the seeds of all wisteria and all parts of Chinese wisteria are considered toxic, so should not be ingested.

Uses for wisteria

Wisteria has many uses, including:

  • covering for large pergolas

  • plant over arbour walks or entry points to create a “wisteria walk” or entry

  • training to cover walls or fences

  • training as large standards

  • backdrops for an Asian-influenced garden.

How to plant and grow wisteria

When planting your wisteria, choose a position in full sun if possible. Select a position that’s sheltered from strong winds—this will ensure the flowering display is protected. Wisteria is tolerant of most soil types, but it may struggle in clay or sandy soil. Avoid waterlogged spots.

When planting wisteria, it’s best to not improve the soil unless it is extremely sandy or depleted. Wisteria is an extraordinarily vigorous plant, and very fertile soil may make the growth rate excessive!

Do turn the soil over and add some controlled-release fertiliser, but adding composts or manures is not generally required or recommended.

The wisteria is a vigorous and substantial climber, so adequate support, such as a strong pergola, is vital. If training along a wall or fence, use heavy wire and fixtures. If possible, have the wire standing at least 10cm from the wall or fence face to ensure adequate space for growth.

If planting a standard form, use a heavy central support post, preferably steel, and a large, heavy-duty standard ‘hoop’ on top.

Never grow wisteria up a tree, as it will kill the tree by strangling it.

Caring for wisteria

Once established, your wisteria will require very little care beyond pruning. Fertilise annually in spring with a quality controlled-release fertiliser.

How and when to prune wisteria

Pruning is a must to keep your plant performing as desired. Some plants need very particular styles and techniques of pruning—but not wisteria. Pruning is conducted to train the plant and keep it in check and can be conducted whenever required.

As new shoots are developing in spring you can train them or trim them as needed. After flowering, you may wish to trim off the spent flower shoots so they do not develop into seed pods.

If you don’t have anything to grow wisteria up and over, the plant can actually be maintained as a large shrub by pruning it back hard at the end of every season and then keeping wayward shoots in check across summer.

Diseases and pests

Wisteria is not bothered by any pests or diseases that merit control. Older plants may be attacked by borer in the main trunk if they are under stress. 

How to grow wisteria from cuttings

The most common wisteria propagation technique is layering. In autumn, position a pot filled with quality potting mix underneath a vigorous shoot. Bend the shoot down, scrape a small amount of surface bark from its underside, and then use a tent peg or similar to keep the stem in contact with the potting mix. Keep the mix moist, but not wet.

Late in the following summer you can cut the stem off from the plant side. The stem should have established a root system in the pot.

If you like this then try

Bonsai: wisteria can be trained to grow into a stunning Bonsai specimen.

Rhododendron: these spring flowering shrubs add waves of colour to cool gardens.

Japanese maple: wisteria and Japanese maple are both essential elements in an Asian-influenced landscape.

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