wisteria

On a warm May evening as I sit under the pergola, enveloped in the heady perfume from the clouds of white wisteria overhead, it is easy to just be in love and forget the downside of my relationship with this strong-willed vine.

Wisteria floribunda Macrobotrys

In the back yard the wisteria variety 'Macrobotrys' is also blooming – nearly scentless with pale mauve flower clusters (racemes) up to 5' long. A gauzy curtain, it drapes languidly across three arbors.

On my front stoop in a six inch pot, another cultivar has bloomed. I am building yet another structure on which to display its shower of flowers. Love or mania, all of this is occurring on a less than 50’ x 100’ urban lot. It’s getting out of hand! I am eyeing the north fence and thinking that it too might use a nice Wisteria to cap it…

Plan before you plant!

Passion is fine, but in the case of Wisteria we recommend an arranged marriage. Step one in your love affair with this plant has got to be housing. Sorry, this baby demands commitment from the start with no courtship period. Know where you want the vine to go and just how far you will let it grow. Don't think you will just let it grow for a few years and then prune it to shape. Discipline from day one is the way to go here.

Wooden support structures should be sturdy and well built of at least 2" x 4" material or even pipe. Lattice panels are of no use as the vine will destroy them in nothing flat! Allowed to weave in and out as a lithe tendril, it will expand destructively as, like us, it thickens and hardens with age. Vinyl coated multi-strand steel cable is very useful in training as long as the hardware used to attach it is substantial. Whatever you use as support, bear in mind that this vine will eventually become tree-like, woody and heavy.

Be vigilant, lest it stray!

As the new plant grows, keep your eye on it. Sure, it is going to be beautiful, but mind the mischief. The worst thing I've encountered over the years was a tiny young shoot that had worked its way into the leading of a turn-of-the-century (the last one!) window and had grown in girth, and shattered the vintage glass. Watch carefully, realizing that you don't want it behind a downspout, shingle or shutter. Think of the word "pry"; and you've got the picture. Wisteria is destructive in the wrong place, heavenly where you want it.

Wisteria floribunda

Wisteria floribunda: Japanese Wisteria

Japanese Wisteria twines clockwise around its support. Typically racemes are longer and open later than Chinese Wisteria, often blooming at the same time that leaves are forming. Flowers open sequentially from top to bottom, so that it may begin to fade at the top as the bottom most flowers are still opening.

Wisteria frutescens flower cluster

Wisteria frutescens: American Wisteria

American Wisteria grows in eastern United States from Texas to Florida and north to New York. Lavender flowers occur in short chains (racemes) and are lightly scented.

Bloom time is in summer, later than other species.

Growth is less vigorous than Asian species, but still gets big given time.

Grows 8-10' in 3 years, 30' given time. Sun-part shade, Hardy Zone 5.

Wisteria macrostachya: Kentucky Wisteria

Lavender flowers in short chains have a light scent and bloom at least twice a year. Kentucky Wisteria is a bit more cold tolerant than other species.

Grows 25-25', Sun-part shade, Hardy Zone 4.

Wisteria sinensis

Wisteria sinensis: Chinese Wisteria

Chinese Wisteria typically has shorter racemes, up to 12" long, and usually opens its flowers all at once. The vine twines counterclockwise, and new foliage is often bronzy, turning green with age.

Wisteria venusta 'White Silk'

Wisteria venusta: Silky Wisteria

Leaves and stems are covered with a fine coat of downy hair that glistens in sunlight. White and lavender flowering types are in cultivation.

Vines for year-round interest.

Vines have an essential role in creating the look and feel you want in your yard and often have the added benefit of easy care.