Growing Wisteria

Wisteria is hardy, fast growing and suited to most climates. Learn how to cultivate it.

The stunningly beautiful purple wisteria is a member of the legume, or pea, family. When its seedpods appear in autumn you can clearly see that it is a legume, as they look very much like dark, velvety pea pods.

Most people think of wisteria as being purple. It actually comes in a variety of colors, from dark blue through shades of purple to pink, and a pure white.

Wisteria is much admired, and popularly believed to be difficult to grow. In fact it is hardy, fast growing and suited to most climates. It makes for a very showy garden centerpiece, although its famous blooms only last in their full glory for a few weeks. Its leaves are also attractive. During the depths of winter, when all the leaves have fallen off, it is not an attractive plant, so be prepared to have more suitable plants for winter interest in your garden.

Originally native to China and North America, wisteria grows happily in most climates. It likes full sun - however, plant it in deep shade and it will merely continue growing until it reaches the sun. It prefers a moist, well-drained soil with average nutrients in it, however will grow pretty much regardless of the soil it is planted in. Over-feeding will retard production of blooms.

Wisteria is extremely rampant. The Florida climate suits it so spectacularly that it has been listed as an official invasive species in that state. It will continue to grow along or up whatever you have planted it against. As it grows bigger over time the stems become very heavy, so it is wise to grow it onto a strong structure. Trellises must be firm and secure, as must pergolas. Wisteria will ramble enthusiastically up trees, too, and can look very attractive spilling through a tree with dark bark and foliage. If you feel you do not have enough room for such an attractive climber, wisteria can be kept under control in a large pot, pruned aggressively and kept well fed, but not too well fed if you want a good show of flowers. It can even be bonsaied. However you are growing your wisteria, prune it at the end of summer. You can let it grow wild, but a well-maintained shape is generally more attractive.

Most gardeners will buy an established wisteria plant from a nursery. However it can be grown from cuttings or seeds. Layering works well - drag a piece of the vine onto the ground and put some soil over it (ensuring that it stays in place until it roots). Wisteria not only rambles; it roots itself in the surrounding soil, and before you know it little vines will be sprouting around the original vine.

If you already own an established wisteria, have a close look at it. In which direction does it twine? Japanese wisteria twines from right to left. Chinese wisteria twines from left to right.

Some people are allergic to wisteria, usually developing hayfever-type symptoms. If this is the case, and you cannot keep the symptoms under control, then maybe wisteria is not the plant for you. However it is only the pollen from the blooms which causes this problem, and the blooms only last a few weeks. Plenty of people who get hayfever from wisteria will put up with a few weeks of sneezing for the privilege of enjoying the bounteous beauty of the trailing flowers.

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