Thursday, April 02, 2009

My Wisteria~The Oldest Plant In My Garden


Here is the story of my wisteria...in response to many of the comments I received on my previous post I am offering my suggestions and warnings for those contemplating wisteria ownership.
We moved to our house 28 and a half years ago. One of the first things we did (after ripping out a hideous bottlebrush) was to plant a one gallon wisteria near the fence. Actually we planted it after digging out a section of concrete so the wisteria could be seen from inside the house right from the start. We had a wisteria at our previous home and I loved the totally exuberant kick-off to spring it provided. It was happy from the beginning and grew quite a bit the first year. I loved the way it crawled over the fence providing a green backdrop to the garden and keeping neighbor children from climbing over at the same time. I may have grown up in Ohio where backyards flow one into the next but I had lived in California long enough to treasure the privacy of my first real backyard. I have no memory of how many years it may have taken to begin blooming but I know it wasn't very many. Wisteria is a vigorous grower and it stretched along the fence quickly, eventually growing up into 25 foot tall privets that grew 30 feet down the fence line and then hanging down from the tops in long strands. This fence borders the side yard path from my front garden to the back and needs to be accessible... at least for someone who might be pushing a wheelbarrow. So one of the first things I learned was that you can't really hurt a healthy wisteria. I prune any branch at any time of year that might be in my way. And I make the cut close to the main branches so it doesn't just send out a new shoot two weeks later that will need attention. And it will do that. I also thin branches out all summer if the plant gets too bulky, with a good thinning done in the late fall. Cutting back all the branches to a short length is to be avoided as many of the flowering stems will be lost. After the neighbors took down their overgrown privets I began keeping the wisteria limited to the fence at about a 35 foot length, with just a bit allowed to drape over the entry arch. For about two hours of pruning a year I am rewarded with copious blooms each spring. And I enjoy continued bloom all summer thanks to a bit of a fluke. I had read that the seeds of the wisteria plant are toxic. They are produced in a pod not unlike a bean and having young children I decided I should pick the pods off as they grew. My wisteria would continue to bloom most of the summer, although not nearly as abundantly as it did in the first spring bloom. Many years later I read that this is a technique for encouraging continued bloom...which I just happened to luck into! I have since also read conflicting opinions concerning the toxicity but don't feel the need to personally test that out. A second advantage is that, left to ripen, the pods will eventually burst and shoot seeds quite a few feet away from the plant...sometimes with a fair amount of force. With the vine in such a central location it just seems prudent to eliminate as many of the pods as possible.
Although some growing recommendations will say acid soil is needed for bloom my soil is quite alkaline. My wisteria is planted on the east side of a north-south running fence between houses so the branches receive morning sun on into the afternoon but the roots are, for the most part, not in the hot afternoon sun. It is quite drought tolerant here...it receives some water when nearby pots get watered but I actually only soak the ground there once or twice a summer. A strong support system is needed, such as a sturdy fence or pergola. I planted my wisteria on a fence that was 15 years old. We replaced that fence about 3 years ago...I often joked that the wisteria was in reality holding up the fence. At that time I pruned my baby back to about 20 feet, did a rather brutal thinning and draped the vine over the cement. I told the fence guy I would understand if something got broken but that this plant was rather special to me. He did a wonderful job building around it and a day later we were back in business! Another advantage to growing the wisteria on the fence is the chance to enjoy the structure of the vine all winter when its leaves have fallen.Right now my wisteria is doing it's part to provide a gathering place for dozens of bees at a time all day long. And it smells wonderful on top of everything else! In my opinion an empty fence is a terrible thing to waste... and a wisteria might be just what you need to help fill that 30 foot long blank space.

26 comments:

Cindy, My Corner of Katy said...

Leslie, that wisteria is just magnificent! You've really nurtured it well over the years. I'd never thought of it as having winter interest but that picture shows just how lovely it can be.

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

It is more than a plant in your yard. It is a beautiful presence. Great tips on growing this beauty and cautions too. Wisteria isn't for the type of homeowner who wants to do nothing to his yard all year. It is for people like you who will give it loving care.~~Dee

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I had no idea it was that massive! But it is absolutely gorgeous. Wow.

Doreen said...

Thank you so much for posting about how you care for your wisteria. I have a perfect fence for one. I was worried about keeping it contained on my side of the fence. I can see by your last photo that it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Reading your post has convinced me to go get one NOW!

Hocking Hills Gardener said...

Your wisteria is just gorgeous. Thank you for the information on the seed pods. Mine has never bloomed yet but is a nice bit of information to know.

Leslie said...

Cindy, I put hooks into the fence posts to get it to curve...and to hold it up!
It does take time Dee and is not forgiving if it doesn't get it's fair share...but it's really not bad.
It's big enough MMD and wants to be bigger. But I think not!
I let the neighbors deal with their side Doreen...they know they can cut it back whenever they want to. I do pull some branches back and trim them if it gets too crazy.
I grew up in Ohio HHG! I can't remember ever seeing a wisteria there though. Good luck on blooming this year!

cindee said...

That is beautiful! I have one that I keep pruned to go around a window. It blooms well for me and stays compact.(-: I love it.

EAL said...

I am so with you on the fence covering concept. Congratulations on such a successful wisteria.

Annie in Austin said...

Your post is so specific and descriptive, Leslie, fun to read but also useful for anyone thinking of adding a Wisteria to their garden - including information on your vine's orientation to sun and reaction to soil and moisture and the need to monitor it closely.

The only thing missing is a blog gadget that would let us smell the flowers!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

sweet bay said...

Wow, your wisteria is magnificent!! I grow one in shrub form (sucker from my husband's grandmother's garden) and I have to keep on top of it.

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Rachel said...

Hi Leslie,

We're using your heavenly wisteria photos as guide to plant our new wisteria along our fence. I'm wondering if the type of wisteria (amethyst falls) will have the same dreamy blossoms as yours. Our blossoms (once grown) look like smaller clusters of purple flowers, where as your blossoms drape down like curtains, which is the kind of blossoms I want.

Did we get the wrong plant?? Any advise would be appreciated!

-Rachel from Massachusetts

Rachel said...

Hi Leslie,

We're using your heavenly wisteria photos as guide to plant our new wisteria along our fence. I'm wondering if the type of wisteria (amethyst falls) will have the same dreamy blossoms as yours. Our blossoms (once grown) look like smaller clusters of purple flowers, where as your blossoms drape down like curtains, which is the kind of blossoms I want.

Did we get the wrong plant?? Any advise would be appreciated!

-Rachel from Massachusetts

Nyla said...

Leslie, I just came across your Wisteria photos and comments. I moved to Davis one year ago and we have just built a pergola. What is the variety of your Wisteria? I am trying to locate the best to grow on our pergola. Thanks!

Leslie said...

Nyla and Rachel...I hope you have wonderful results with your wisterias! I wish I knew what variety I have but I don't...I planted it so long ago it was before I kept any kind of records. I'm quite sure it was not an expensive, rare plant though...just something I got at a little, long gone nursery in town.

Hem said...

Thanks For telling Me how >I planted one in Plosbo Which grew and grew and never flowered And Now at 81 i learn Why not.

Molly said...

I am so happy you talk about the Wisteria, I am going to plant 2 of them today. I didn't realize they grew so big. I want to cover up a chain link fence and this sounds like the right solution.

Mom Ena said...

My Cousin gave me seeds from her Wisteria Plant in the Mountains east of Tucson, AZ. Do you think I can get them to grow from seed in my yard in Denver, CO? I have a yard full of perennials, including Roses, Mums, Lilies, peonies, etc. and a side fence line that runs East to West along the South side of our yard. We have Lilacs, Bridal Bush, Eunonymous (Spelling?), and a couple of Spirea bushes on the outside south side of the fence, would it work on the North inside side of the fence? I have an arbor made of 4X4 posts and chain link in the yard too, that might work. Will it winter over?

Leslie said...

I am sure you could grow those seeds, Mom Ena, but whether or not it ever flowers is the question. Wisteria plants grown from seeds are a gamble but well worth taking if you like to experiment like I do! They can, however, take years to begin blooming. They do winter over in many places that have much colder winters than I do. As long as the plant gets some sun either of those spots sound good...so the arbor might be a better bet. Yous sound like you know what you are doing so I say, go for it!

Anonymous said...

I also planted a wisteria when i bought my house. the blooms this year where breath taking. now there are these green pods growing there flowers where, they look like very fat string beans. this is the first year that this has happened. plant is about 8 years old. any ideas what these pods are. i am just waiting to see what happens with them.

Leslie said...

I am so sorry that this comment got caught in spam and took me so long to find! Those are seed pods and will often form after the wisteria flowers. If you remove them the plant will often continue to bloom through the summer in some climates (here!). When the pods are totally dry they will shatter and send seeds flying...look out!

Tina said...

I planted a wisteria this year in the 24" width of soil around my cement patio in Oregon. Now, I'm starting to worry that it may eventually crack the cement - wonder if I should replant it into a pot instead - but I imagine that would limit growth potential of the plant.

Lily Starling said...

I came across your article while searching for vines that we can plant along our Western wall in Davis! I know there's a lot of trumpet vine around but it sounds like it gets problematic with siding. I'm definitely inspired to build a trellis against the wall and try Amethyst Falls. Do you think it's all right next to a foundation?

So nice to find a local garden blogger!