Wisteria

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One of the most beautiful spectacles of springtime in Virginia is Wisteria  in full bloom.

These huge, showy vines climb through trees along the roadside, blanket pergolas, and ornament old gardens throughout the state.  The long, pendulous racemes of orchid like flowers taunt from the tops of pine trees, so delicately beautiful, and yet so tough!

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There are actually three different types of Wisteria found growing throughout the Southeastern United states.

The native North American Wisteria frutescens is the latest variety to bloom.  It is also the best behaved.

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This woody deciduous perennial climbing vine twists itself in a clockwise direction around any support it can find.  It grows to over 50′, getting longer and thicker with each passing year.

A member of the pea family, the flowers are delicate, and in form much like any other pea flowers.  Wisteria Frutescens’s flowers are soft shades of blue-purple. The vines of the North American native Wisteria are only two-thirds as long as Asian Wisteria varieties, and the flower racemes are only half as long.  The flowers aren’t fragrant.  The long bean-like pods which follow the flowers are poisonous.

Wisteria grows through through a stand of bamboo and pines near Jamestown on the Colonial Parkway.

Wisteria grows through through a stand of bamboo and pines near Jamestown on the Colonial Parkway.

The most common Wisteria varieties in the garden trade are Asian.  Chinese Wisteria, Wisteria Sinensis, produces fragrant  flowers in shades of white, lilac, and blue.  It twists around its supports in a counter-clockwise direction.

It can grow over a variety of supports, but can also be pruned and trained into a standard, or free-standing tree like shape.   It was introduced to Europe and the United States in 1816, and is much loved for its beautiful flowers.

Wisteria growing on a pergola near the library in Williamsburg.

Wisteria growing on a pergola at the municipal center, near the library, in Williamsburg.  This structure was dedicated in May of 1999 for the 300th anniversary of the City of Williamsburg.

Japanese Wisteria, Wisteria floribunda, has the longest racemes of beautiful and fragrant flowers.   The white, pink, violet, or blue racemes of delicate flowers may reach over 2 feet in length.

Introduced to the United States in the 1830s,  this exceptionally showy spring blooming vine became hugely popular growing on walls and pergolas in nineteenth century American and European gardens.  The woody, clockwise turning stems, wrap tightly around any support.

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All Wisteria varieties enjoy full sun to partial shade.  They like moderately fertile, moist soil, and require strong support.

Long lived, these vines will eventually grow into enormous plants.  They require regular pruning to keep them in bounds.

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All parts of the Wisteria plants are poisonous.  Even so, their flowers are popular with nectar loving insects.  Wisteria is an important host plant for many species of butterflies and moths.

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Wisteria, which grows in Zones 5-9, is considered an invasive species in some areas.  When grown in the wild, its long, heavy vines will choke out nearby trees and shrubs.

Wisteria vines are notorious for taking a long time to mature enough to produce blooms.  A gardener may wait ten years for a vine to bloom.  Although most bloom  in mid-spring to early summer, sometimes a late frost will destroy the flowers for that year.

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Vines grown from cuttings bloom much sooner than vines grown from seed.  With many named cultivars available, it is possible to select  a Wisteria with the color, form, and size required for a particular garden.

Wisteria vines require careful training and pruning, but are hardy and easy plants to grow once established.  As a member of the pea family, the roots fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.  Any fertilizer used should be higher in potassium and phosphorus than in nitrogen, since the plant provides for itself whatever nitrogen is needed for growth.

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I once planted a Chinese Wistera vine along the wooden railing of a deck.  I love the Wisteria’s flowers, and thought it would be pretty there.  When I planted it, I didn’t give much thought to the size of the mature vine.  Once established, this is a rampant grower and requires large and strong support.  It also requires unapologetic pruning when it begins to take over a house and deck with its long tendrils!

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That said, my advice to any gardener yearning for a Wisteria vine in their garden is to give careful thought to where it will grow before planting it.  Provide the sturdy support it needs, choose the cultivar carefully, and then patiently wait for your vine to mature into its magnificent spring beauty!

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

7 responses to “Wisteria

  1. Kim Jones

    I have two Chinese wisteria vines I want to train up ends of my 12′ x 20′ cedar pergola but there are no soil areas to plant What size pot/planter do you recommend I pot them in for future maturation of roots. Thank you for this great article.
    Nashville TN Zone 6-7

    • Dear Kim,

      Thank you for the kind words. I’m so happy to know you enjoyed the post. Wisteria has a large and spreading root system. Please use the largest container you can find. If practical, you might even have some planter boxes constructed at either end of your pergola to contain the plants. Your containers should be at minimum 24″ deep, and 30″ or more wide to contain these plants over the years. I’m assuming you want the Wisteria to grow over your pergola indefinitely into the future, so you need to provide plenty of room for the roots to support the vines. If at all possible, the best way to plant Wisteria is directly into the ground.

      Planted in too small a container, your vines will seem to be fine for the first few years. But watch out! When they kick into “high gear” after the first three years, you will either have them breaking out of the pot, or the vines will decline. Best wishes with your Wisteria. And thank you for visiting Forest Garden today. WG

  2. The flowers are gorgeous. I like all the different angles and habits of growth.

  3. Lovely. I’m trying my hand at a less-aggressive version “Amethyst Falls”. It seems to be doing well.

  4. Pingback: Vine Covered Trees | Forest Garden

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