Wistful For Wisteria

It’s that time of year…the wonderful blooms of Wisteria whisk you away to dream about possibilities…Possibilities of many things I suppose, but if you’re a gardener and don’t have Wisteria, it’s likely you are dreaming of possibilities of adding an arbor, utilizing a fence or deciding if the patio or porch needs an attractive adornment and whether it would be destructive to the exterior of your home.  Yes, that’s where I am…

I want to grow Wisteria but have never been brave enough.  I love its audacious blooms and the strength of presence it provides any setting but at the same time, I’m a little afraid of all that Braun!  I mean take a look at those canes and tell me they are easy to support!  And I won’t even think about what it would be like if there was ever a need to move or remove this seriously strong plant.

Wouldn’t it just be the battle of a century, for a gardener anyway…

After doing some research it seems there are two species popular with home gardeners – Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda).

The Chinese wisteria is popular because of its flowering habit  – clusters of fragrant 6 inch to 12 inch pendulous blooms on the wood of the plant, before the foliage has opened significantly.  Individual flowers in the clusters open all at once creating a gorgeous display and smell.  There are several cultivars available offering blooms in white, lilac and deep purple.

The downside to Chinese wisteria is it seems more than vigorous.  In fact, I would be remiss if I didn’t share that much of the literature called it down right invasive.  A very sturdy structure must be used to support it along with a commitment to keep it in-bounds.  The other negative I came across is that it can be an unreliable bloomer and that plants grown from seed may not bloom for 10-15 years!  Grafted plants or plants taken from cuttings will bloom sooner but it still may be 3-4 years after planting.

This said, I have a friend that grows this form up the front porch of their home and it is gorgeous!

I don’t recall her having any problems with it being invasive over the years so is it quite dependent on your individual climate?

Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) offers fragrant flowers that open gradually from the base of the cluster to the tip and can be 12-to 18 inches in length.  It blooms when the foliage is expanding in the spring.  Come Fall the foliage turns yellow before falling to the ground.  There are more cultivars available than Chinese wisteria and colors range from white, flesh pink, light purple, dark purple, blue-purple and reddish violet.  Japanese wisteria is also very vigorous (not called invasive as often but still sometimes) and needs strong support but is said to do better in colder regions.

Japanese Wisteria 'Texas Purple' growing at Idaho Botanical Garden
Japanese wisteria growing over pergola at Idaho Botanical Garden

Speaking of hardiness, both are suited for zones 5-9. Both prefer at least 6 hours of sun and moist soil that does not dry extensively.  As far as soil needs go, they like slightly acidic to neutral but will easily adapt to slightly alkaline soil.

Wisteria requires “hands on” maintenance meaning careful pruning 3 times yearly. Once after blooming, in late summer and again in winter or early spring.  Both species develop large pods following the bloom period (they are part of the pea family) and the seeds are toxic if ingested.

And then I came across American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)   

The growth requirements are said to be the same as Chinese and Japanese wisteria in terms of hardiness, sun, soil, moisture and pods.  However, American wisteria is better behaved (much less invasive tendencies) and blooms at a younger age.  The blooms are smaller but fragrant AND they reappear sporadically throughout the summer and fall.  It is even said to be suitable to grow in a pot!

Interestingly, this spring while browsing at local nurseries I saw both Chinese and Japanese cultivars of Wisteria for sale but I never came across the American form…

Whew! A lot to think about when considering Wisteria for the garden.  Maybe I’m not so wistful for Wisteria that I want to wrestle with it?

What are your experiences with this exotic vine?  Have you grown the Chinese or Japanese forms before?  And what about the American form?  Can you share some Wisteria wisdom…


11 thoughts on “Wistful For Wisteria

  1. You have just stated everything I have thought about during the years. I want a wisteria – I long for it – but see it growing crazily here, taking over entire groves of trees, that I have been very afraid. I, too, have decided that the American wisteria is the one I want, but have never seen it in a store for sale. However, I have a new gazebo to cover 🙂 and I have decide this is the plant for it. So, I will search high and low for an American wisteria. I’m certain they’re sold somewhere! Good post.

      1. Great post and what beautiful pics, don’t you just love this time of year when the wisteria blooms first appear! Carolyn, Hope I haven’t created some uncertainties in regards to the invasive qualities of wisteria. My experience is that both the Japanese and Chinese have both been invasive in my garden.
        Cheers Julia

  2. Karen

    Hi! Now you’ve got me wondering if I do have the Japanese variety after all! Ours is definitely fragrant. We haven’t had a problem with it being invasive, though we do occasionally get sprouts popping up near the main vine. It’s twined its way under our siding, but only a couple times and only when I was completely negligent about trimming it. And, on the subject, I only trim it once a year. I snip here and there when new growth heads in a direction I’m not keen on, but it’s main “clean up” is after the leaves have fallen and I can view the “naked” wood. As for wisteria dreams, I say go for it! Get the American variety just to be safe, but there’s NOTHING like wisteria blooming in the spring…it makes you smile just to see it. Now don’t you want that for your house?! 🙂

    1. Yes, there seems to be some varying experiences with Wisteria. Based on some discussion maybe it depends a lot on where you live. The literature I found focused on the southeast and some of the northeast as areas where the Chinese and Japanese types can be invasive. Since you are in the dryer western U.S., maybe it is better behaved. Yes, I would like to try the American type. Love those blooms!

  3. Hi, there!

    We have both Chinese wisteria (two different, unidentified varieties) and an American wisteria, “Amethyst Falls”.

    The Chinese wisteria have overtaken a 5 foot high wooden picket fence. Yes, it twines itself quite strongly around the fence pickets and posts, but I doubt that section of fence will ever fall!

    The Chinese wisterias do send out runners more enthusiastically than the American but as long as you stay on top of them and clip their wings occasionally (I usually trim mine once a year in spring) you can keep it in check quite nicely.

    If allowed to grow unfettered against a structure, they can cause problems but if they are trained and pruned, they can be well-behaved and stunning.

    The American wisteria is a much less aggressive, much slower growing, and very laid back plant. The stems twine just as strongly and just as vigorously about whatever you are letting it grow onto, but they take longer to do it.

    It also blooms a couple of weeks later than the Chinese and the blooms are a different form, shorter, stubbier, and less dangly.

    I will have close-up pix of both posted on my blog in a week or two. I have a blog post ready to go but I am waiting for the American wisteria to bloom so I can have pictures of the blossoms to compare and contrast with the Chinese wisteria on the post.

    One other note, the Chinese Wisteria were 3 year old plants when we got them in 2006 and bloomed for the first time in 2008, just a couple of flower spikes, but they bloomed.

    The American wisteria was a one year old plant when I got it in 2008 and it arrived with buds and has bloomed every year since we got it.

    Our neighbor has a Chinese Wisteria that looks exactly like ours but blooms a week sooner and smells terrible. Ours have a light fragrance that is not unpleasant, but also not something I would wear as cologne.

    HTH, Cathy in MA

  4. I planted four 25+year old Wisteria trees – two in my office garden and two in my home garden in March last year. It was a tremendous job digging out and transplanting them and I could do it with the help of a friend and my son. Lucky for me my dream of owning wisteria came true and this year, flowers bloomed in all of them. They grow with vengeance spreading out their tentacles every way so if you don’t cut them off quick enough, the neighbors will soon give you stony looks! All the best with your wisteria.

  5. We’ve had our wisteria for so long I have no idea what type it is other than NOT American. (too bad). But we do love it. Yes, it’s a bit finicky, and it does require pruning to keep it from eating our house, but when it graces us with blooms; just gorgeous. As for water requirements, we mostly ignore it and it seems to do just fine.

  6. Pingback: How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Wisteria - Most Beautiful Gardens

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