Wisteria Pruning 101

The South's most seductive vine, wisteria makes us swoon one week and swear the next. The key to success is curbing its enthusiasm. Here's how:

One day, this plant just might gobble up the South. Though it's extremely vigorous and some types are invasive, people keep planting it in their gardens. They can't resist its lovely white or purple blooms. Each spring, long clusters of pea-shaped flowers hang from trees, arbors, or anything else the vine can reach. If you must plant wisteria, you may want to purchase American wisteria ( W. frutescens). This native is not as aggressive as Chinese wisteria ( W. sinensis) or Japanese wisteria ( W. floribunda). Fragrant American wisteria is native to the South from Virginia to Florida and Texas. Photo: Ralph Lee Anderson

Wisteria chains are both romantic and fragrant. But unless the homeowner is very careful, the vine's grasp will subject the house to more than an innocent crush. Luckily, there are many different kinds of wisteria, and there are safe ways to enjoy its beauty around the garden and home, while still keeping it in check.

Know What Your are Planting. Hailing from Asia, the two most popular species of wisteria, Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) and Chinese wisteria (W. sinensis), both feature opulent, fragrant, pendulous streamers of blue, purple, pink, or white pea-shaped flowers in early spring. They grow fast and if not controlled by regular pruning, quickly consume arbors, pergolas, houses, trees, and terrified mow-and-blow lawn-care workers. Fortunately, 'Amethyst Falls,' a superior form of our native American wisteria (W. frutescens), is much better behaved. Though its later-blooming flowers are smaller and not as fragrant as those of its cousins, it stays in bounds and won't destroy things.

Know Where to Plant Few sights are as beautiful as wisteria trained along the roofline and railings of an antebellum house. But this requires a maintenance service to prune the vine about every two weeks in summer or your gutters and railings will be ruined. Fortunately, there's a way to safely train wisteria along the top of a ground-floor porch. Run a metal pole from one porch post to another about 18 inches below the crossbeam. Let the vine's branches and runners twine only around the pole. Once flowering finishes, you'll need to prune the vine regularly if you still want to see off the porch.

The Best to Use? On an Arbor! Let the vine climb a corner post to the top. Then tie it to the arbor. Train it so most of its branches and runners lie atop the arbor and wrap around themselves rather than the posts and rafters. Finally, prune in winter as shown at left.

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