How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Wisteria

Are you wooed by wisteria? This robust plant boasts enchanting flowers that are hard to resist! In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago outlines everything you need to know about caring for wisteria and varieties to try in your garden!

Long, lavender blooms made up of clustered flowers hang from a wisteria vine.

Wisteria is one of the most recognizable plants in the world. The long clusters of flowers add a touch of whimsy and charm to each backyard they are growing in. 

While these plants are big on beauty, they are also big on maintenance. These plants are not for the faint of heart and can be invasive in many areas. 

Wisteria are excellent climbers and need support of some kind. They make fantastic choices for sprucing up an outdoor eating area. Let’s learn how to plant, grow, and care for wisteria

Contents

Wisteria Overview

Plant Type Vine
Family Fabaceae
Genus Wisteria
Species spp.
Native Area Asia, North America 
Exposure Full sun
Height 10-30 feet
Watering Requirements Average
Pests & Diseases Aphids, Beetles, Mealybugs, Scale, Spider Mites
Maintenance High
Soil Type Well-draining
Hardiness Zone 5-9

What Is It?

Wisteria has been decorating American gardens since the early 1800s. The plant was brought here from Asia as an ornamental plant. These plants are long-lived and symbolize immortality and wisdom. Wisteria is a pea family member and shares many characteristics with its edible cousins. 

Characteristics

Blooming Wisteria with classic purple flowers. It is a climbing vine with profusely flowering cascading clusters of delightful purple flowers. Individual flowers are small, tubular.
Wisteria boasts long clusters of fragrant flowers in various colors.

Wisteria is something to behold when it is in bloom. Its flowers bloom in clusters that can reach up to forty inches long! These sweetly fragrant flowers could be purple, white, pink, or blue.

The foliage is attractive and pinnate. When the flowers are done blooming, they are replaced by beautiful seed pods which resemble pea pods. These pods last into the winter. Do not be fooled by the pods’ attractive shape – the pods are toxic and should not be eaten! 

Native Area

Close-up of climbing Wisteria in full bloom. The plant produces hanging clusters of tubular purple flowers. The leaves are pinnate, consist of many oval pointed green leaflets.
This climbing perennial includes various species native to Asia and parts of North America.

Wisteria is a genus of plants with a few different species. This flowering vine has species that are native to Asia as well as parts of North America. 

Types of Wisteria

There are four main types of wisteria:

  • American Wisteria
  • Chinese Wisteria
  • Japanese Wisteria
  • Kentucky Wisteria

These four types can be divided into two groups: Asian wisterias (Chinese, Japanese) and American wisterias (American, Kentucky). So what’s the difference?

  • Asian wisterias are much more showy. Their flower clusters are longer and will bloom in the springtime. These wisterias are vigorous growers and can be invasive.
  • American wisterias have more compact flowers that bloom in the summertime. These species of wisteria are less invasive and are great options if you live in an area where wisteria is an invasive species. 

Planting

Close-up of a young Wisteria tree sticking out of its transplanting pot, on a round white backyard table surrounded by a light gray wooden fence. The plant has a thin vertical trunk and delicate feathery leaves, consisting of small oval green leaflets with pointed tips. There are also gardening tools and a red bowl on the table. There are two potted plants on the fence.
Plant wisteria in spring or fall, either in the ground or in large containers near a trellis or pergola.

You should plant wisteria in the spring or fall when temperatures are cooler than the summer heat. You can plant wisteria in the ground or in large containers near a trellis or pergola. Keep spacing in mind, and do not plant wisteria in an area you do not want to be overtaken. 

Transplanting

Once you have found a spot with full sun for your wisteria, it is time to get planting!

  1. Ensure that your soil is well draining and is not compacted. Amend with compost if you need to!
  2. Grab your favorite garden shovel and dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the rootball of your wisteria plant.
  3. Gently place your wisteria plant in the ground. Ensure that the top of the rootball, or the crown, is even with ground level.
  4. Backfill with your garden soil, and gently pat the soil down.
  5. Water thoroughly after planting.
  6. This is a great time to add support if it does not already exist. Trellises make great support for wisteria, as do pergolas, fences, or arborways.
  7. Wisteria plants should be planted at least 10 feet apart from each other or other plants.

How to Grow

Now that your wisteria is planted in your garden, it’s time to start caring for it! Here is everything you need to know to keep your wisteria growing beautifully. 

Light

Close-up of Wisteria flowers hanging from fences, under full sun. Beautiful pale purple clusters of loose tubular flowers hanging from a black fence. Each individual flower has a pea-like shape, they have a central "keel" petal, two "wing" petals on the sides, and two fused "banner" petals at the top.
This plant needs full sun conditions to produce its plethora of beautiful flowers.

Wisteria requires full sun. This means six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Wisteria will benefit from some afternoon shade if you live in warmer zones. 

Achieving full sun for your wisteria plants may require some overhead pruning to clear the area of shade-creating branches. 

Water

Close-up of Wisteria flowers covered with water drops. The flowers are small, tubular, with a unique pea-like shape, purple in color. Flowers are collected in long racemes.
Wisteria requires regular watering in the first year but can tolerate minimal watering once established.

Wisteria has average watering needs. Water the plants regularly in your garden’s first year of growing wisteria. Once it has become established, it is moderately drought-tolerant and can withstand periods of low watering, although it flowers more prolifically with regular watering. It puts down very deep roots as it matures, enabling it to access moisture in the lower soil profile.

Soil

Close-up of a woman's hand holding soil against a blurred background. The soil is moist, dark brown.
Wisteria tolerates various soil types but requires well-draining soil.

Wisteria is tolerant of many different types of soil. What this plant is intolerant of is wet feet. The soil that you are growing wisteria in must be well-draining. If your soil lacks organic material, add some compost during planting. An annual application of compost around the base of the plant will keep the organic matter high. This improves the soil overall and can provide some nutrients to the plant. 

Temperature and Humidity

Bottom view, close-up of Wisteria's corridor in full bloom. The plant hangs from a specially constructed frame. Long loose racemes consist of many small pea-like flowers. They are light magenta and magenta in color.
Wisteria thrives in USDA zones 5-8.

Wisteria is hardy in USDA zones 5-9. Once you get above zone 9, the heat and humidity levels are not optimal for growing wisteria. 

Fertilizing

Close-up of a woman's hands holding a bunch of blooming wisteria. The plant produces abundant clusters of many small, pea-like flowers. Flowers of a delicate purple hue. Clusters are elongated, hanging down.
Feed wisteria with a high-phosphorous fertilizer in spring to boost flowering. Avoid excessive nitrogen.

A springtime application of fertilizer will work wonders for your wisteria. Because wisteria is a type of legume in the pea family, avoid using a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Leguminous plants are nitrogen-fixers, absorbing nitrogen from the air and fixing it into nodules on their root systems.

Too much nitrogen can lead to beautiful foliar growth but minimal flowering. Instead, use a high-phosphorous fertilizer such as Flower Tone to feed your wisteria and help promote a prolific blooming period. 

Maintenance

Pruning blooming Wisteria in a sunny garden. Close-up of a gardener's hands with red pruning shears pruning branches of Wisteria. This plant has delightful hanging clusters of fragrant flowers. The flowers are small, pea-like, with light purple and violet petals.
Prune wisteria twice a year for better flowering and shape.

Wisteria needs to be pruned twice a year. This garden task will encourage blooming while maintaining an attractive shape throughout the vine. This can be a big undertaking, depending on your wisteria size. It is best to prune in the late winter and again in the late summer. 

  • Winter pruning requires you to remove half of last year’s growth. Be sure to leave a few buds on each stem!
  • If you want to keep your wisteria neat, prune again in the summer. This pruning is lighter and meant solely for the plant’s appearance and should be limited to any new green growth that looks unruly. 

Propagation

Close-up of a woman's hand planting a small wisteria seed with a small root into a small plastic pot with potting soil. The seed is round, slightly flattened, glossy, brown-black.
Propagate wisteria via softwood or hardwood cuttings, or by air layering.

A few methods of propagation are widely used for propagating wisteria. Begin with a healthy plant, and follow along with the instructions below. 

Cuttings

Softwood Cuttings:
  • Take cuttings in the summer. Ensure that these cuttings are about six inches long.
  • Gently remove leaves from the bottom half of the cutting. Keep a few leaves at the tip so it can photosynthesize.
  • Dip the end of your cutting into rooting hormone and place it into moist growing medium.
  • Keep the soil moist. Use a plastic bag over the cutting to create a greenhouse effect.
  • Place it in indirect but bright lighting.
  • You will see roots in 3-4 months.

 

Hardwood Cuttings:
  • Take cuttings in the winter while the plant is still in dormancy. These cuttings should be about 12 inches long.
  • Stick the cutting into moist growing medium, keeping a few buds above the soil line.
  • You should have root development by the spring. If kept in bright but indirect lighting, your cutting should start leafing out then, indicating that it rooted.

Air Layering

  • Select a low-lying branch.
  • Dig a shallow hole or trench in the ground.
  • Place the low-lying branch into the trench or hole, ensuring that there’s a good point of contact with the soil below. Cover that portion of the branch with soil.
  • Use a rock to keep the area being rooted in place. Alternatively, a piece of looped wire or landscape fabric staple can anchor it.
  • Check for roots in a month or so.
  • Once the wisteria has produced roots, cut the branch from the parent plant. You can now replant it elsewhere in the garden.

Alba

Close-up of Wisteria floribunda 'Alba' in bloom in a garden. Wisteria floribunda 'Alba' is a beautiful flowering vine known for its cascading clusters of fragrant white flowers. The blossoms are pea-like in shape and hang gracefully from the vine, creating a stunning display.
This Japanese wisteria is known for its beautiful white flowers that bloom in late spring/early summer.

Wisteria floribunda ‘Alba’ is a Japanese wisteria. This variety is prized for its stunning white flowers that have a dreamlike quality. The flowers bloom in late spring or early summer and can reach lengths of 24 inches. 

‘Alba’ is a long-lived wisteria that can grow to 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Its leaves are light green during the summer and turn yellow in the fall. ‘Alba’ is a winner of the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Amethyst Falls

Close-up of Wisteria frutescens 'Amethyst Falls' in bloom. Wisteria frutescens 'Amethyst Falls' is a charming American wisteria cultivar. It features clusters of fragrant, lavender-blue, or amethyst-colored flowers that hang gracefully from its vines. The blossoms resemble small, pea-like flowers and are more compact than some other wisteria varieties. 'Amethyst Falls' also has attractive, dark green foliage.
This American wisteria has smaller but charming purple flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer.

Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ is an American wisteria. While the American wisteria flowers are not as showy as the Asian types, they are still lovely.

‘Amethyst Falls’ blooms in late spring or early summer, reaching 6 inches long. The flowers are a beautiful shade of purple. ‘Amethyst Falls’ is great for smaller spaces, growing quickly to 10 feet but possibly reaching 30 feet over time. 

Prolific

Close-up of Wisteria sinensis 'Prolific' in bloom along a green fence. Wisteria sinensis 'Prolific' is a vigorous and prolific flowering vine. It boasts cascades of fragrant, violet-blue to lavender flowers that hang gracefully from its woody vines. The individual blossoms are pea-like and form dense, pendulous clusters, creating a breathtaking and lush display. The vine is adorned with bright green, pinnately compound leaves.
This Chinese wisteria blooms with continuous purple-blue flowers in late spring/early summer.

Wisteria sinensis ‘Prolific’ is a Chinese wisteria. Blooming before leaves appear in the late spring or early summer, these purple-blue flowers keep going all summer. The flower clusters will grow to one foot long. This wisteria will grow to 30 feet high and 15 feet wide.  ‘Prolific’ is a winner of the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Rosea

View from below, close-up of Wisteria floribunda 'Rosea' in bloom against a blue sky. Wisteria floribunda 'Rosea,' also known as Pink Japanese Wisteria, is a charming vine prized for its graceful appearance. It features cascading clusters of pale pink to lavender-pink, pea-like flowers that drape elegantly from its woody vines.
This Japanese wisteria features fragrant, rosy-pink flowers in late spring.

Wisteria floribunda ‘Rosea’ is a Japanese wisteria. ‘Rosea’ is loved for its sweetly fragrant flowers. The rosy pink clusters of flowers appear in late spring or early summer, around the same time you will see the leaves. These perfectly pink flowers can reach lengths of 24 inches.

‘Rosea’ grows to 25 feet tall and 8 feet wide and is a strong climber. This wisteria is a winner of the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Summer Cascade

Close-up of a blooming Wisteria macrostachya 'Summer Cascade' in a sunny garden. Wisteria macrostachya 'Summer Cascade' is a lovely native American wisteria cultivar. It features long, pendulous clusters of fragrant, lilac-purple flowers. The blossoms are pea-like and hang gracefully from the vine. The plant has lush, compound-pinnate, green foliage.
This Kentucky wisteria bears purple flowers in late spring or early summer.

Wisteria macrostachya ‘Summer Cascade’ is a Kentucky wisteria. Blooming in a pretty shade of purple, ‘Summer Cascade’ produces flower clusters that can reach one foot in length. Blooming in the late spring or early summer, the ‘Summer cascade’ can reach 25 feet

Common Problems

Both Japanese and Chinese wisteria are vigorous-growing vines. These plants are listed as an invasive species in 19 states. Wisteria spreads through stolons, or above-ground stems that grow very closely to the ground. 

Spreading

Close-up of a blooming Kentucky Wisteria 'Blue Moon' in a garden. The Kentucky Wisteria 'Blue Moon' is known for its striking appearance. It features abundant, fragrant, sky-blue to lavender-blue flowers that form in long, cascading clusters. These blossoms are similar in shape to pea flowers and create a stunning display. The vine is adorned with lush green foliage, providing a beautiful backdrop to the vibrant blue flowers.
Consider American or Kentucky varieties, or plant Asian varieties in a contained space for better control.

Wisteria is best controlled by pruning the vine twice a year and by digging or pruning off any runners or shoots as they appear. This can be quite a bit of work. American and Kentucky wisteria are not invasive and are great alternatives. 

Another option is to plant your wisteria in a container or a raised bed that can be placed near its support structure. This round metal raised bed by Birdies is a great option. It is attractive and deep enough to keep the roots and runners in check.

Failure to Bloom

There are a few reasons your wisteria may not produce its stunning flowers. Let’s take a look:

  • Check your fertilization. These plants do not need much fertilizer but can benefit from high phosphorous fertilizer, which helps to promote flowering.
  • Is your wisteria growing in full sun? Too much shade can prevent a wisteria from producing flower beds. These climbing vines need at least 6 hours of sun per day!
  • How old is your wisteria? Young plants may not bloom. It can take several years for wisteria plants to mature enough to produce flowers.
  • Pruning is very important for wisteria flowers. Pruning should be done twice a year to help encourage healthy growth and prolific blooming.

Pests

Luckily, wisteria does not have issues with any specialized garden pests. Below are a few common garden pests you may encounter while growing wisteria. 

Aphids

Close-up of a Wisteria plant infested with a swarm of black aphids, against a blurred green background. Aphids are tiny insects with soft, pear-shaped bodies that suck the juices from plants.
Remove aphids with a jet of water, or use neem oil or insecticidal soap to treat them.

These pesky insects are hard to see but can be found munching on all parts of wisteria plants. Your first sign of aphids may be a large presence of ants, which feed on the honeydew that aphids excrete. Try spraying aphids off of your plant with the spray of your hose. If that doesn’t work, grab some neem oil or insecticidal soap from your local garden center. 

Japanese Beetles

Close-up of a Japanese beetle on a blooming Wisteria in the garden. The Japanese beetle is a distinctive insect with a glossy, metallic appearance. It is about half an inch long and has a rounded, oval-shaped body. Its head is greenish-bronze, and its elytra are a shiny metallic green with copper-brown margins. The Japanese beetle has six legs and prominent antennae.
These pests feed on your wisteria plants and will overwinter in the soil.

Japanese beetles are easy to spot but harder to catch. These beetles have a copper back and a blue metallic head. If you notice a lot of these beetles, your plants could be in trouble. They will munch away on the leaves of your wisteria plant until they have had their fill. Knock the beetles into a bucket of soapy water to remove them. Milky spore powder can be applied annually to reduce the grub population, and beneficial nematodes will attack and kill the grubs overwintering in the ground.

Scale

Close-up of a branch affected by Scale insects. Scale insects are small, sap-feeding pests. Adult scale insects are flat and oval-shaped. They have a protective, waxy covering that resembles a tiny, smooth, or ridged shield.
Monitor branches for signs of scale insects.

Scale insects can be tricky. These little bugs, particularly hard scale insects, often resemble part of the plant! If you notice scale insects on your wisteria, head to your garden center to grab a bottle of neem or horticultural oil. Monitor your branches for evidence of these flat, woody-looking sucking pests.

Spider Mites

Close-up of Spider mites on the plant. Spider mites (Tetranychidae) are tiny arachnids. They are pale orange in color with dark brown markings. These insects make a thin web.
Detect spider mites by checking for their fine webbing.

Spider mites can be tricky to see. You will likely notice their webbing before you notice the insects themselves. In this case, you have a pretty infested wisteria. You can try to spray the mites off with your hose, but you may want to have some neem oil on hand, just in case. 

Diseases

Wisteria can have issues with a few diseases. Luckily, many diseases can be prevented with good planting practices. This includes planting in the right soil, sunlight exposure, and watering the right amount.  

Powdery Mildew

Close-up of leaves affected by Powdery Mildew, in the garden. The leaves are oval, dark green, with pointed tips. The leaves are lightly wrinkled, curled, and have a powdery-white coating.
Treat powdery mildew quickly to prevent further spread.

This fungal disease can be found on the leaves of wisteria. You may notice white patches of what looks like a powdery mold dusted on your foliage. Powdery mildew is an overarching term for several fungal pathogens that produce this sort of leaf damage. While the disease is usually not fatal to wisteria, the fungal spores can float through the air and infect other plants, so it’s best to control it. Using a sulfur fungicide or neem oil will treat the disease easily. 

Leaf Spot

Close-up of a wisteria leaf affected by a fungal disease. The leaf is oval, dark green, with a pointed tip. The leaf has yellowish and brown rotting spots due to the disease.
There are many bacterial and fungal pathogens that cause leaf spots.

Many forms of fungal or bacterial leaf spots create black or brown spots on the leaves of your wisteria plants. Copper fungicide or neem oil will help eliminate fungal pathogens and some bacterial ones as well. 

Crown Gall

Crown gall disease is a plant disease caused by the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Its appearance includes the formation of tumor-like growths, called galls, on the plant's stem. These galls are irregularly shaped, rough, and knobby.
Prevention of crown gall is essential as it cannot be cured.

Crown gall is a bacterial infection that creates unsightly swollen areas on stems and the plant’s crown. There is no chemical control for this disease. The bacteria live in the soil around your plants. Removing the plant and as much infected soil as possible is the best way to eradicate this disease from your garden.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What can you plant Wisteria with?

Due to its ability to spread, it is not necessary to plant anything along with wisteria. If you do want to interplant your wisteria, add clematis. It is a favorite companion for wisteria among gardeners.

Is Wisteria safe for pets?

Wisteria is toxic both to pets and humans. The entire plant is toxic if ingested, but the seeds and seed pods are the most toxic part of the plant. Ingestion of wisteria can cause severe stomach discomfort.

This is troubling because planting wisteria on a  pergola over an outdoor dining table is beautiful and creates a romantic ambiance. If you are concerned that your pets or kids may ingest part of this plant, try planting purple passion vine instead.

How do you overwinter Wisteria?

If you are growing your wisteria in zones 5-9, you do not need to do anything to help your wisteria survive the winter.

  • Adding mulch around the root zone can help insulate the plant, as well as controlling ice heaves from damaging the roots.
  • If your wisteria is exposed to wind, wrap your vines in burlap to prevent the flower buds from freezing and dying.

Final Thoughts

Wisteria is a beautiful plant to add to your garden. It can be tricky to grow due to its aggressive and sometimes invasive nature. It takes a diligent and dedicated gardener to keep wisteria in check. American wisteria options are great for gardeners. They are not quite as dramatic but still offer stunning blossoms without the hassle of keeping the plant from spreading. Whichever you choose, you will be pleased with the fragrant beauty you have added to your garden. 

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