Wisteria: How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Wisteria Vines | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Grow Wisteria Vines

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Wisteria spp.
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Planting, Growing, and Pruning Wisteria

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Wisteria blooms vigorously in spring, producing clusters of lilac-color flowers on new growth. In late July, or after flowers have faded, it’s time to prune. Learn more about growing and caring for wisteria vines.

About Wisteria

Wisteria is a high-climbing, long-lived vining plant with cascades of blue to purple flowers that look spectacular hanging from a pergola or archway in spring and early summer. However, this vine is a fast and aggressive grower—often reaching 30+ feet long—and is known to grow quite heavy. Wisteria vines will work their way into any crook or cranny they can reach, so it’s advised not to plant them too near your home.

Wisteria flowers are beautifully fragrant, providing a feast for the senses. After flowering, a brown, bean-like pod stays on the plant until winter. Blooms only appear on new growth.

Note: Plant wisteria with caution! All parts of the wisteria plant contain substances called lectin and wisterin, which are toxic to pets, livestock, and humans. These toxins can cause anything from nausea and diarrhea to death if consumed in large amounts.

Is Wisteria an Invasive Plant?

Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) are not native to North America and are considered invasive species in some states. The native wisteria species, American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) and Kentucky wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya), are great alternatives to the Asian species, so if you’re planning on adding a new wisteria to your garden, we suggest that you go with one of the North American species.

Wondering how to tell the difference between the Asian and North American species? 
Asian wisteria plants are aggressive growers with fuzzy seed pods, while North American wisteria plants are not quite as aggressive in their growing habits and have smooth seed pods and fruits, as well as more-or-less cylindrical, bean-shaped seeds. Another difference is that American and Kentucky wisteria’s flowers appear after the plant has leafed out in the late spring, whereas the Chinese wisteria’s blooms appear before its foliage.

Wisteria Vines on the side of a house with a birdhouse


When to Plant Wisteria

  • Plant in the spring or fall while the plant is dormant.
  • Wisteria can be grown from seed, but those grown from seed often take quite a few years to reach maturity and produce flowers. It’s recommended to purchase established wisteria plants or start from a cutting. 

Where to Plant Wisteria

  • Plant in full sun. Though wisteria will grow in partial shade, it probably won’t flower. Sunlight is essential.
  • Plant wisteria in fertile, moist, but well-draining soil. 
  • Add compost if your soil is in poor condition; otherwise, wisteria will grow in most soils. Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.
  • Choose a site away from other plants, as wisteria grows quickly and can easily overtake its neighbors.
  • Wisteria is also known for growing onto (and into) nearby structures, such as houses, garages, sheds, and so on. We strongly recommend not planting wisteria too close to your home!
  • Wisteria vines require a very sturdy structure to climb on, such as a metal or wooden trellis or pergola. Mature plants have been known to get so heavy that they break their supports, so plan with care and build your structure with hefty materials.
Wisteria on brick house
Wisteria looks lovely climbing up the side of a home, but plant with caution; wisteria vines are very powerful and will find their way into any crack or crevice!

How to Plant Wisteria

  • Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and 2 to 3 times as wide.
  • Space plants 10 to 15 feet apart.

Caring for Wisteria

  • Each spring, apply a layer of compost under the plant and a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds.
  • Some gardeners swear by phosphorus to aid with flowering. Scratch a couple of cups of bone meal into the soil in the spring and then add some rock phosphate in the fall. Similar claims of increased flowering have been made about liquid tomato or rose fertilizer.  Read more about soil amendments.
  • Water your plants if you receive less than one inch of rain each week. (To know how much rain you are getting, you can place an empty food can outside and measure the depth of water with a measuring stick.)
  • For more blooms, try cutting back the rampant shoots every two weeks during the summer.

Pruning Wisteria

Pruning is the secret to good flowering, as wisteria only bloom on new wood.

Prune established wisteria in July or after flowers have faded. Cut side shoots to about 6 inches long, while retaining the climbing branches. This will create lots of short spurs all along the main vines. In late winter, prune the same side shoots, leaving two or three buds on each. 

Just don’t make the mistake of never pruning. Do the following at any time: 

  • When pruning an established but untamed plant, be ruthless. Cut the stem several feet below the desired height; there will be an upsurge of new vegetative (not flowering) shoots in the following spring. Give it space to grow and full sun. 
  • Remove suckers from the base of the plant to control spread. 
  • Remove seedpods at will or leave a few for winter interest. If you bring any indoors for display/decoration, be aware that the ambient warmth of the home may cause them to explode.
  • Do you have a new wisteria? Cut the vine back severely right after planting. Then, the next year, cut the main stem or stems back to 3 feet of the previous season’s growth. Once the framework is full size, shorten further extension growth in midsummer to where growth began for that season.
  • Get more tips for pruning wisteria.

Wisteria on pergola

When Your Wisteria Won’t Bloom

Wisteria are notorious for taking a long time to bloom. Don’t expect flowers for 2 to 3 years after planting. Some readers have sworn by this method of “shocking” the plant to spur on blooming:

  • Take a shovel and drive it 8 to 10 inches into the ground about a foot and a half away from the wisteria’s main trunk to slice into some of the roots.
  • Damage about half of the roots and the bush will be shocked into reproduction (flowering).
  • Don’t worry—it’s difficult to hurt this rampantly-growing, unrestrained, often-invasive plant!

Failure to flower may also be due to frigid winter temperatures that have injured the flower buds, excessive nitrogen fertilizer that has promoted foliage over flowers, and/or insufficient sunlight.


Droopy wisteria blooms are spectacular in a bouquet. 

  • Gently cut a branch with just-opened flowers. 
  • Recut the branch at an angle or cut straight up the bottom of the stem to allow more water intake.
  • Remove most of the leaves and place them in a sturdy vase. 
  • Vase life is about 7 days.
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Are Wisteria Toxic to Pets and Humans?

Yes, all parts of the wisteria plant contain substances called lectin and wisterin, which are toxic to pets, livestock, and humans. These toxins can cause anything from nausea and diarrhea to death if consumed in large amounts.

The substance is especially concentrated in the plant’s seeds and seedpods, so removing the seedpods after the plant has flowered is a good idea if pets or children are often nearby. The seedpods do not have a foul flavor or an immediate effect, so an unknowing child or pet won’t hesitate to eat as much as possible! Call your local poison control center in case of ingestion.

Fun Fact!

Wisteria Lane, the fictional setting of the popular drama Desperate Housewives, was named after this gorgeous vining flower.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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