Growing Wisteria

How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Wisteria

Wisteria
Pixabay

A high-climbing vine, wisteria blooms vigorously in spring with large, drooping clusters of lilac or bluish-purple flowers. Here’s how to plant, grow, and care for wisteria in your garden!

About Wisteria

Wisteria is a vining plant with cascades of colorful flowers that look spectacular hanging from a pergola or archway in spring. However, the vine is a fast and aggressive grower—often reaching 25 to 30 feet long—and is known to grow quite heavy. Wisteria will work their way into any crook or cranny their vines can reach, so it’s not advised to plant them too near to 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 wood.

Is Wisteria Invasive?

Two species of wisteria that are occasionally grown in home gardens are considered invasive species in North America: Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria) and Wisteria floribunda (Japanese wisteria). The wisteria native to North America is Wisteria frutescens, or American wisteria. If you’re planning on adding a new wisteria to your garden, we strongly suggest you avoid the Asian invasive wisteria species and plant the native one instead.

How do you tell the difference? The Asian species are aggressive growers with fuzzy seed pods, while the American wisteria is not an aggressive grower and has smooth seed pods and fruits, as well as more-or-less cylindrical, bean-shaped seeds. The native wisteria’s flowers appear after the plant has leafed out in the spring, whereas the Asian species’ blooms appear before their foliage. 

Planting

Planting Wisteria

  • Grow in fertile, moist, but well-drained soil. 
  • Plant in full sun. Though wisteria will grow in partial shade, it probably won’t flower. Sun is essential.
  • If your soil is in poor condition, add compost; otherwise, wisteria will grow in most soils. Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.
  • Plant in the spring or fall.
  • Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and 2 to 3 times as wide. Space plants 10 to 15 feet apart.

Where to Plant Wisteria

  • Choose a site that will not overwhelm nearby plants, as wisteria grows quickly and can easily overtake its neighbors.
  • Wisteria is also known for growing onto and into nearby structures (houses, garages, sheds, etc.), so do not plant wisteria near your home!
  • Wisteria vines require a very sturdy structure to climb on, such as a 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!

Care

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.
  • 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 tuna can outside and measure the depth of water with a measuring stick.)

Pruning Wisteria

  • Pruning is the secret to good flowering, as wisteria only blooms on new wood.
  • Prune wisteria in late winter. Remove at least half of the prior year’s growth, leaving just a few buds per stem.
  • If you want a more formal appearance, prune again during summer, after traditional flowering.
  • For more blooms, try cutting back the rampant shoots every two weeks during the summer.
  • 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.
  • Informally grown, mature plants need little or no subsequent pruning.
  • For a formally trained plant, cut side shoots back to 6 inches in summer, then shorten them again in winter to 3 buds.
  • Wisteria will resprout with vigor if cut back severely, but this pruning should be avoided, if possible, because new shoots may take some years before they flower.
  • Get more tips for pruning wisteria.

Pests/Diseases

Recommended Varieties

Wit & Wisdom

Wisteria still not blooming?

Some readers have sworn by this method: Take a shovel and drive it eight to ten inches into the ground about a foot and a half out from the trunk to slice into some of the roots. Damage about ½ of the roots and the bush will be shocked into reproduction. It is very difficult to hurt this rampantly-growing, unrestrained, often-invasive plant.

Planting Times

Growing Wisteria

Botanical Name

Wisteria

Plant Type Shrub
Sun Exposure Full Sun, Part Sun
Soil Type Any
Soil pH Varies
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Blue, Purple, White
Hardiness Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Special Features