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How to Grow: Wisteria
Learn about wisteria, including how to plant and grow this vine.
Listen to Podcast:
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Spring in colors of pink, purple, white and lilac
Mature Height x Spread
20 to 35 feet x 2 to 5 feet
attracts hummingbirds, attracts beneficials, deer resistant
There is nothing more spectacular than a wisteria vine in full flower in spring. The long, pendulous clusters of pea-like flowers in soft pastel colors cascade down hanging vines. The flowers form in large masses and are very fragrant. Unfortunately, the flower show only lasts a few weeks and then is finished for the season, except for a few reblooming flowers in late summer. However, wisteria has other uses. The fast growing vine grows counter-clockwise and quickly can make a great screen and cover for a pergola as long as it’s grown on a sturdy structure. You’ll just need to keep it pruned or it will take over the world. The Japanese wisteria is more winter hardy than the Chinese species.
When, Where and How to Plant
Wisteria is hardy in warmer parts of zone 4, so will grow in many areas of our region. It may grow and survive the colder parts of New England, but may not reliably bloom each spring. Purchase plants from a local garden center and plant in spring after all danger of frost has passed or summer in well-drained, compost-amended soil. Wisteria needs full sun to reliably flower and doesn’t grow well on dry soils. Space plants 5 feet apart close to the posts or trellis where it will climb.
Water well and mulch with bark mulch to keep the soil evenly moist and reduce competition from weeds. Fertilize wisteria in spring with an organic plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Wisteria’s biggest problems are lack of flowers and growing too large. Prune wisteria in late winter to reduce the size and promote better flowering. Check with your local garden center or Master Gardener group for details on pruning wisteria vines. Grow named varieties that are hardy in your area to insure you get spring blooms. Seedlings may take many years to grow to the flowering stage. Grow the vine on a strong supporting structure or pole since the vine can get very heavy when older. Although various insects and diseases may attack the leaves, none are a significant problem. Wisteria can become invasive in our region. Deadhead to prevent the seeds from sowing and spreading.
Companion Planting and Design
Grow wisteria vine up a pillar, arbor, pergola or strong fence. It makes a great cover for shade structure. Plant it in the back of a perennial border behind shrubs and perennial flowers, such as roses, hydrangea and bee balm. Wisteria can also be trained up an old tree to give the appearance of new life.
‘Alba’ is a white flowering variety. ‘Rosea’ is a pinkish-white variety with a strong fragrance. ‘Lavender Falls’ is a fragrant blue variety that readily reblooms. ‘Blue Moon’ is a Kentucky wisteria (W. macrostachya) that is less aggressive than the Japanese wisteria and has better hardiness than other varieties.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
This climbing, pea family vine hails from Asia, but there are species native to the US as well. It grows rampantly engulfing pergolas, arbors, fences, walls and cars. It’s the wisteria vine.
Wisteria vines are impressive. I remember seeing a Chinese wisteria vine engulfing a telephone pole loaded with fragrant, purple flowers in Philadelphia one April. The smell was intoxicating!
While we mostly know of the Japanese and Chinese varieties of wisteria like the one I saw in Philly, the best species to grow in the North is the Kentucky wisteria or Wisteria macrostachya. It’s the hardiest wisteria, able to withstand our tough winters and still bloom in spring. Plus, it’s not as aggressive so easier to keep in bounds. Wendy and I are growing ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘Aunt Dee’. They produce fragrant, purple flowers, but the vine stays a “tame” 15 to 20 vine tall.
Wisteria love the sun and well-drained, fertile soil. The key with growing this vine is having a strong structure for support. Our vines shade a large pergola over our deck. A sturdy arbor, fence or wall works well too. Just trellis the vines at least 6 inches away from siding or a wall.
The second key is pruning. If not pruned twice a year wisteria can get out of control and not flower well. Train first year vines up a pole or supports until it reaches the desired height then top it and let it spread into framework branches. Each summer allow one leader to grow from each framework branch and cut back any side shoots. In winter cut back these leaders by one-half. Cut back any side shoots from the previous summer back to 2 inches long. The framework branches will slowly spread over an area and the side shoots will turn into short flowering spurs.