The pendulous flower clusters of Chinese Wisteria grace garden walls and arbors with romance and fragrance each spring. Wisteria sinensis is a long-lived, vigorous vine which can also be grown as a tree.
Growing Wisteria is a rewarding exercise as its care is simple. It is, arguably, the easiest climbing vine to cultivate.
Planted on the right soil, a Wisteria plant can put on 20 feet of top growth very quickly. This rapid growth makes it perfect for hiding unsightly walls or (sturdy) fences.
Wisteria repels unwanted garden visitors like deer, while attracting desirable wildlife such as hummingbirds and butterflies.
These deciduous vines will grow on just about any soil, but perform better if the planting area has been enriched with plenty of organic matter. Plants that get eight hours or more of sun during the growing season will flower much more heavily than those growing in part sun.
Although plants grow easily from seed, seedlings may take 15 years to bloom. Also, some of the prettier hybrids cannot be reproduced from seed. If you want fast flowers or a specific type, buy plants from a nursery.
Top dress newly planted vines with composted manure and water them enough to keep the soil from ever drying out. Chinese Wisteria is hardy in zones 6-9.
Foot long clusters of pea blossoms smother the vines in May, just after the leaves appear. The inch wide blooms open all at once and possess a subtle, but attractive scent. They are most often violet, but there are white cultivars and also double-flowered types available.
Nursery plants typically take several years to begin blooming.
To encourage early flowering: Trim new shoots back by 50% in late summer. Do not feed the plants, and use restraint when watering them.
The image above shows how thick the trunks of a mature Wisteria vine can become. It is precisely this quality that makes Wisteria standards (trees) so popular.
This is also what makes the vines so cumbersome.
A small garden arbor or rose trellis is no match for this heavyweight. Train it on a wall, an old chain link fence you do not care about and only want to cover, or a pergola like the ones on this page.
With regular pruning, you could successfully train it on an arbor like one of these:
To use Wisteria in a small landscape, either prune it yearly, or grow the tree form.
Wisteria trees can be grown in a space 10 feet square.
The stems of Chinese Wisteria climb by twining clockwise around their support. This is how you can tell it from Japanese Wisteria which twines counterclockwise.
Set plants into the ground a foot from their supports. Select the three strongest stems to train onto the support and remove any others. Mature vines should be pruned each year in late summer, after the blooms have faded.