Friday, June 10, 2011

Wonderful Wandering Wisteria

No question about it, I love wisteria. While I have yet to smell one that has a fragrance even close to the shower gel I use that bears its name (a Crabtree and Evelyn fragrance), and in fact, am not overly fond of the fragrance of the wisteria in my garden, there is nothing quite like the vision created by those dangling clusters of blooms in early spring.

We have both Chinese wisteria (two different, unidentified varieties) and an American wisteria, "Amethyst Falls". When we bought the Chinese wisteria, (naively, without doing due diligence in the research department), everyone who knew I'd gotten them told me I was nuts to even consider planting them. And even more than that, what was I THINKING, buying $3 bargain wisteria plants at Wal-Mart??!!??

We purchased and planted planted two of them in 2006, positioned side by side, assuming they were the same variety (they were labeled simply as Chinese Wisteria). We hoped that at least one would grow.  Since they were packaged and labeled exactly alike, we never expected that they might be two different varieties.

They bloomed the second year we had them, one a true lavender and pale purple and the other a rosy shade of lavender and deep mauve. While their fragrance isn't unpleasant, it's certainly not something I would care to wear as a perfume. On the other hand, our neighbors have a purple wisteria that looks identical to ours and blooms a week earlier with a fragrance they find so off-putting, they keep the windows closed.

The Chinese wisterias are early bloomers, blooming a full 3-4 weeks ahead of the their American cousin. Like kids, they need boundaries, firm guidance, and frequent supervision. They do send out runners quite enthusiastically, and likewise curling tendrils that look for new places to gain a foot hold along a fence or wall, but as long as you stay on top of them and clip their wings occasionally (I usually trim mine once in spring, right after they finish blooming), you can keep it in check quite nicely.

I know people who have let them grow without any guidance and they have grown up into porch rafters, under shingles, and caused some structural damage. That doesn't happen overnight and they could have been reined in a bit if someone had kept an eye on them. One does need to be vigilant and control it to a certain extent, but that is true for all plants.

I also know one gardener who trained it over his porch and a covered passage to an outbuilding and it was well-behaved and stunning.

As climbing vines go, American wisteria is much less aggressive, much slower growing, a very laid back plant. It does twine just as strongly and just as vigorously about whatever you are letting it grow onto, but it does not spread as assertively as the Chinese wisteria. And while it does send out occasional runners, like the main plant, they are slow to take hold in the garden.

Both of my Chinese wisteria have the long (at least a foot) dangling wands of blossoms, with the lavender variety quite a bit shorter than the mauve variety. The fragrance of the mauve variety is also more attractive than that of its lavender fence mate.

The American wisteria produces tight buds that are short, fat and upright, and when in bloom, the flower clusters are shorter, stubbier, although the basic flower form is the same. 

From the get go, the American wisteria has been a much more prolific bloomer, although the Chinese wisteria definitely overtook it this year by a landslide. When we got them in 2006, the Chinese wisteria were 3 year old plants (at least according to the package) and they bloomed for the first time in 2008. It was scarcely a handful of blooms, but they bloomed.

On the other hand, the American wisteria was a one year old plant when we got it in 2008. It arrived with buds and has bloomed every year since we got it.

Regardless of which type of wisteria you decide to grow, it will need to be able to anchor itself to something sturdy. We grew the Chinese wisteria on a wooden picket fence, and if I had to do it over again, I would have put it in a slightly different area of the garden where we have sturdy chain link.

The main trunks have literally fused with the pickets and rails of the fence and while I don't think this fence is coming down any time soon, if left to it's own devices, it would have taken over the gates and posts as well. While it does grow rapidly, it's not nearly the headache that kudzu is, so it's not a major job to stay ahead of it.

The American wisteria came twined on a stake and we left the stake in place, planted the vine, and let it climb across the top of the fence. Although it is far less prone to sending out runners than the Chinese wisteria, we prune all of them in the spring, trimming back roots that send out shoots into the lawn or adjacent flower beds, and also trimming back the vines as well. This is also a good time to root any cuttings, which should be rooted from new (green) wood using a rooting powder and potting soil.

The mauve blossoms of one of our Chinese wisterias are a full 18 inches long and have a milder fragrance that is more pleasant than that of the lavender blooms of the other variety.
The lavender blossoms of the other variety are a 6 inches shorter, with slightly larger individual blossoms and a more prominent fragrance. Neither plant was identified as to a specific cultivar when we purchased them.
We planted them together, hoping at least one would grow. The mauve bloomer is the one on the right and has sent a main stem to each side of the fence.
The blooms of the American wisteria are more compact.
The Chinese wisteria finished blooming a week ago and have now put their energy into leaf growth and sending out runners and vining branches. This is when I usually prune them back. We ignored them last year for a few weeks and they literally tied the gates closed, just as they are trying to do now!
A week after they finished blooming, the vines are fully leafed out and beginning to send twining tendrils in search of new places to set anchor.
The American wisteria at peak bloom in this photograph taken yesterday, anchors our "yellow" garden.
 This year we are adding a white wisteria to our all white partial shade garden, hoping it will twine happily and beautifully over a trellis we have there.


  1. Oh, that American wisteria is stunning!
    I bought a Chinese Wisteria tree thinking it would make a lovely focal point in my garden, but boy is it vigorous.
    I prune back after flowering also.
    Great post, your photos are beautiful,

  2. I love Wisteria and never thought about Evelyn & Crabtee - I will be taking a visit soon! I have some great plants in my garden which I bought from cheapy shops. We have a store called Poundland and nothing costs more than one pound. I bought two little sticks, labelled raspberries, and they are growing well.

  3. A great post on wisteria. Very good information. I see it (obviously the Chinese kind) in the woods, taking over acres of trees. Scary!

  4. Great post. I have just bought American wisteria. Just reading many different posts on it as I'm looking for somewhere suitable to plant it.

  5. I would suggest a metal structure if at all possible. We planted it along a wooden fence and the wisteria does grow into the fence.


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