Out of all the different types of vines that I have sold over the years, wisteria is by far the queen of them all.
When gardeners want a vine that will travel and cover some space, I always recommend wisteria. But it’s not a plant for the faint of heart.
If left unattended, it can rip the very shingles off your roof, tear down your gutters or topple over your fence. In just a few short years, it can climb to the top of an 80-foot tree. The vine can devour your yard before your very eyes. Worst of all, often it won’t even bloom.
However, when properly maintained, a wisteria vine can be simply glorious. The question then becomes, “How do I take care of my wisteria so it won’t eat my house and will bloom every year?”
Do these two things:
Buy a grafted plant. When you purchase a wisteria, always choose one that has been grafted. Seedling plants can take 10 to 15 years to come into bloom, but a plant that has been grafted will usually bloom the first year you plant it. (Be sure you know where the graft is located, because any growth from below the graft will need to be continually removed.)
Prune your vine twice a year. In addition to starting out with a grafted plant, the secret to getting wisteria to keep blooming is in the pruning. Once your vine is established, you will need to do a summer pruning followed by a winter pruning, or else all you will have is a huge tangle of vine and only some scattered blooms.
Here’s how to prune your wisteria:
Cut it back in summer. Around the Fourth of July, cut back all the twiggy growth to within 12 inches of the main stems. This will keep the vine within bounds and start the process of setting buds for spring. It is OK to do light pruning anytime, but this summer pruning must be done if you expect to have lots of flowers the following spring. (It may take two seasons before you start reaping the rewards of this regime.) For the rest of the summer, you can let your wisteria grow.
And again in the winter. Preferably in late February or early March, you should again go in and shorten all the twiggy growth — this time you need to cut it back to within 6 to 9 inches of the main stems. (Those 6- to 9-inch stubs that you have left are where the flowers will develop for spring.)
This much pruning may seem aggressive or extreme if you don’t understand the value of it. It has the potential for creating huge spousal conflicts — but trust me, it works. Your wisteria vine will be tidy and full of blooms instead of a rat’s nest of twigs and few-to-no blooms.
If you follow this regime you should have a very well-mannered vine with lots of fragrant blooms around this time of year, which will make all that pruning feel well worth the time and effort.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at email@example.com.