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!
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.
Plant Type Vine
Native Area Asia, North America
Exposure Full sun
Height 10-30 feet
Watering Requirements Average
Pests & Diseases Aphids, Beetles, Mealybugs, Scale, Spider Mites
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.
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!
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.
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.
Once you have found a spot with full sun for your wisteria, it is time to get planting!
- Ensure that your soil is well draining and is not compacted. Amend with compost if you need to!
- Grab your favorite garden shovel and dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the rootball of your wisteria plant.
- Gently place your wisteria plant in the ground. Ensure that the top of the rootball, or the crown, is even with ground level.
- Backfill with your garden soil, and gently pat the soil down.
- Water thoroughly after planting.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
A few methods of propagation are widely used for propagating wisteria. Begin with a healthy plant, and follow along with the instructions below.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Luckily, wisteria does not have issues with any specialized garden pests. Below are a few common garden pests you may encounter while growing wisteria.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.