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…

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