Plants & Growing

Wisteria Care & Growing Tips In The UK

wisteria flowers hanging over garden wall
Written by Chris Lee

Effortlessly beautiful and timelessly charming, Wisteria is famously known for the pendulous clusters of lilac, white or bluish flowers it produces in late spring and early summer.

Often seen draping itself over arches and pergolas or climbing its way up the walls of a country cottage, wisteria is a serious showstopper. 

Long purple wisteria plants hanging over a path
Undeniably enchanting

If you’ve got your heart set on bringing this boastful beauty into your garden, then our complete guide will tell you everything you need to know about the wonderful wisteria.

What is wisteria? 

Wisteria is a vigorous climbing shrub, and is part of the pea family. As previously mentioned, wisteria adorns itself with cascading, beautifully fragrant lilac, blue or white flowers. The stems are stiff and woody, and the trunks can become as thick as a small tree.

There are ten species of wisteria, with the most popular and widespread being native to China, Japan and North America.

Choosing the right wisteria for your garden

With ten species to choose from, it could be hard to know where to start. We’ve picked out the most popular wisteria to help narrow down your search. Here they are:

Chinese wisteria (wisteria sinensis)

This wisteria twines itself anti-clockwise and can grow from about ten to twenty-five feet, sometimes even higher. It can also be trained horizontally over the same distance making it a popular choice for a wall or side of a house.

The chains of fragrant flowers, which are violet in colour grow to about a foot in length and bloom in late spring or early summer gradually over a few weeks.

This species has small oval-shaped leaves that usually will be bronze in colour when they are young.

Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria Floribunda)

The Japanese wisteria can grow up to 30 feet or higher and will also grow the same amount horizontally. This species twines clockwise and has oval leaves that turn a beautiful yellow colour in autumn.

The flowers are usually violet and heavily scented, and their blooms last much longer than its Chinese counterpart.

This is a reliable choice and is wonderfully decorative and perfect for arches.

Silky Wisteria (Wisteria Brachybotrys)

This Chinese wisteria variety twines anticlockwise, with fine, silky-soft leaves. Hence its name.

Rustic colours of chinese wisteria
A more rustic colour palette

The lilac or white flowers bloom from late spring to early summer, and the bloom will improve with age. The clusters of flowers grow to about six inches in length and are strongly scented.

The silky wisteria grows to twenty-five feet and often higher and is perfect for walls.

Kentucky Wisteria (Wisteria Macrostachya)

This American species is native to the midwest, Louisiana and Texas. It twines anticlockwise, and its pale violet flowers bloom in late spring or early summer. The clusters grow to the length of up to one foot. 

This wisteria can grow from fifteen to twenty-five feet and will often bloom again during the growing season.

American Wisteria (Wisteria Frutescens)

A native to the eastern parts of the United States, this wisteria twines anticlockwise and grows from ten to thirty feet.

It has lilac-blue flowers, blooming in clusters of four to six inches and are not generally heavily scented. This species will bloom primarily in late spring and then sporadically throughout summer.

Introducing Wisteria into your garden

While it is possible to plant and grow wisteria from seeds, you should expect to wait up to twenty years for its famous flowers to bloom.  

For this reason, we recommend that you buy a plant raised on grafting.  However, be aware that even with a grafted plant, you may have to wait up to five years for it to bloom.

The best time to plant wisteria is between October and April, although if you opt to grow it in a container, you can do this at any time of year.

Planting wisteria in the Garden

You will want to plant your wisteria in fertile, well-drained soil and preferably in a south or west-facing direction.

Being the vigorous climber that it is you will need to support them against a wall, or another garden structure, wires or even a tree.

Full sunshine is preferable, but they will tolerate a little shade. Although this may reduce their flowering.

Planting wisteria in a container

As mentioned, if you are planting in a container, this can be done any time of year. That said, wisterias are easier to care for in the autumn and winter months.

green wisteria leaves on an outdoor balcony
A balcony makes for a stunning setting!

The container should be at least eighteen inches in depth and should be filled with a loam-based potting compost.

Do be aware that a container-grown wisteria will not be as successful as those planted in a garden.

Caring for your wisteria

Now you’ve planted your gorgeous wisteria, the next step is learning how to care for it. Here’s what you need to know about wisteria care.

Watering

Wisterias can dry out quickly, especially in sandy or light soil. Make sure you water them frequently, especially during dry spells.

Feeding

In springtime, we recommend a high potash feed to encourage those gorgeous flowers. Rose or flowering shrub fertiliser will also work.

If you are growing your wisteria in a container, then liquid tomato fertiliser is ideal. You could also use slow-release fertiliser in compost.

Pruning

You only need to prune your wisteria twice a year, and keeping to that routine will repay you with an abundance of beautiful flowers.

With a young wisteria hold off from pruning until it has covered a wall or structure and then establish your routine and reap the benefits.

Training

It is possible to train your wisteria into a free-standing plant which you may choose to do if you are growing from a container.

You can also train your wisteria to grow up a tree but keep in mind that this may cause damage to smaller trees over time, and larger trees will make pruning more difficult.

If you are training your wisteria up a garden structure, then make sure it is very sturdy as wisterias grow strong and can break or damage weaker designs.

Propagating

As previously mentioned wisteria grown from seeds can take up to twenty years to flower, so if you want to share the wealth with friends and family or just stock up for yourself, then we recommend taking softwood or hardwood cuttings. 

Take softwood cuttings in spring to mid-summer, and hardwood cuttings in winter.

If you’d like to try growing from seed, collect the bean-like seed pods from an established plant, then place in a tray to allow them to ripen.

Next, gently open the pod and place in compost at a depth of about two centimetres.

If you find, upon opening the pod, that the seed is dry, then place in water and soak it for twenty-four hours before planting.

A word to the wise

As with any plant, there are a few things to keep in mind about understanding your wisteria.

Poor flowering

Poor flowering is undoubtedly the most common problem you will encounter with your wisteria, but fear not, there are plenty of ways to help secure a beautiful display of flowers.

  • As this article has explained, young plants can take a very long time to establish themselves and begin to flower. So avoid the wait and opt for a grafted wisteria or one that is already in flower.
  • Stick to your pruning routine. Over-pruning will not help your wisteria to flourish. In particular, do not prune in early and midsummer as this will harm your chances of full flowering the following year.
  • Wisteria requires water, so in the dryer months make sure they are quenching their thirst, and you will be rewarded the next year with fully flowering formation.
  • Let the sunshine. Although wisterias do tolerate some shade, they need sunlight to produce their beautiful blooms. 

She’s toxic

It is prudent to mention that wisteria is highly toxic to humans, livestock, and animals.  They contain lectin and wisterin, which can cause anything from nausea to death. Please be mindful of small children or pets that might consider consuming your plant.

Wisteria without the hysteria

We hope that this blog has armed you with all the knowledge you need to grow and maintain your wisteria without any hysteria.

This plant is truly magnificent when given the right conditions to grow, and though they may take their time to establish, they are certainly worth the wait.

Patience and love are key. Put those in place, and you will be rewarded.

About the author

Chris Lee

Chris is interested in nature and the good things that happen when people are in it. He is a freelance writer, with writing published about cycling, green living, and ways to make a difference without fundamentally restructuring your lifestyle.

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