How To Prune Wisteria
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Wisteria pruning expertise
"Charles is an incredible landscape designer. He is thoughtful, creative and respectful of your budget and timeline.
Leila L. - Irvington, NY
Wisteria is a beautiful climbing plant with large blooms and a perfumed scent. A key part of wisteria's beauty is it growing on the proper structure to display its pale purple-blue flowers. King Garden Designs' ISA Certified Arborists know when and how to train and prune your wisteria so that its bountiful in color and health - a wonder to behold! Wisteria adds charm to entry gates, patios, porches and pergolas!
Pruning Consultation and Assessment: Beginning at $250
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When To Prune Wisteria
Wisteria is pruned twice a year, in July or August, then again in January or February.
How to prune wisteria
Wisterias can be left to ramble unchecked where space allows but will usually flower more freely and regularly if pruned twice a year. The removal of growth in summer allows better air circulation and more sunlight to reach the base of the young growths, encouraging better ripening of the wood and improving the chances of flower bud formation. Restricting the amount of vegetative growth and encouraging short, flowering spurs will result in more flowers.
Summer pruning (July or August)
Cut back the whippy green shoots of the current year’s growth to five or six leaves after flowering in July or August.
This controls the size of the wisteria, preventing it getting into guttering and windows, and encourages it to form flower buds rather than green growth.
Winter pruning (January or February)
Then, cut back the same growths to two or three buds in January or February (when the plant is dormant and leafless) to tidy it up before the growing season starts and ensure the flowers will not be obscured by leaves.
Renovation or hard pruning
With older plants severe pruning may be needed to remove old, worn-out growths, or branches growing over windows or protruding outwards from the face of the building. Likewise, hard pruning maybe required where maintenance needs to be carried out on the structure supporting the plant.
Drastically shortening back long branches, removing sections of older stems to just above a strong young branch or growth shoot lower down, or cutting completely back to a main branch, or even to ground level may be necessary. A careful, unhurried approach is needed if larger, thicker branches are to be removed and where a branch is twining it may be necessary to trace back and mark it at intervals with string before removing it. The end result should be a skeleton frame work of reasonably well-spaced branches.
Other points to consider when hard pruning;
Hard pruning will stimulate strong, new growth so it is better to avoid feeding in the first spring after hard pruning
If there are gaps in the framework suitably positioned new growths can be trained in to form replacement branches, with flowering usually resuming in two or three years’ time. Often there is strong basal shoot growth
If unwanted for replacement branches they can be removed. Any such pruning can be done during the period from leaf fall to early February
Other new growths can be pruned back summer and winter as for normal routine pruning
Winter pruning: In January or February shorten summer-pruned shoots further. Cut them back to within 2.5–5cm (1–2in) of older wood, or 2 to 3 buds. Winter pruning: Long, whippy shoots that grew after the summer pruning should also be pruned. Cut these back to five or six buds from the main branch, making the cut just above a bud. Summer pruning: New shoots that are not needed or have grown in already crowded areas should be pruned. Cut them back to five or six leaves from the main branch, making the cut just above that leaf.
Other ways to train wisteria
The ideal way to grow wisteria against a wall is to train it as an espalier, with horizontal support wires (3mm galvanised steel) set 30cm (1ft) apart. Over time, and with pruning twice a year, plants will build up a strong spur system. Use new growths that develop near the base of plants as replacement shoots, if necessary, or cut out at their point of origin.
On pergolas and arches
Wisterias with long flower racemes are best admired on structures where they can hang free, unimpeded by branches or foliage. For the best flowers, reduce the number of racemes by thinning out to give those that remain plenty of space to develop.
Growing into trees
Wisteria can be trained to grow up into the canopy of a small tree, but to the possible detriment of the tree. Growing into large trees can make pruning of the wisteria difficult, and flowering may be affected if the leaf canopy is dense. If you choose to grow into a tree, plant the wisteria on the south side of the tree, 1m (3ft) away from the trunk.
Training as standards
Standard wisterias can be grown either as specimens in a border, or in a large pot.
Start with a young, single-stemmed plant, and insert a 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) stout support next to it when you plant into the ground or container. This will be used to create the main stem of the ‘lollipop’
If planting in a pot, John Innes No 3 potting compost is a good choice of compost. Make sure the wisteria is planted to the same depth as it was in its pot from the nursery, spreading out the roots and loosening the root ball before planting. Choose a cheap container that is only slightly larger than the plant needs, potting it on gradually as it grows to fill its final display container
Train the stem vertically up the support (this is usually stronger than twining)
Allow the plant’s leader to grow unchecked until it reaches the top of the support and then remove the tip in the following February to encourage the formation of sideshoots
Prune the sideshoots the following winter, shortening them to 15-30cm (6in-1ft) and repeat this process each winter to gradually build up a head
Weak or misplaced growth can be cut out entirely, as can older branches if the head becomes too dense in later years
As the head develops, prune in August as well. Cut off above the seventh leaf any shoots that are not needed to extend the head
The following February cut back these shoots to 2.5cm (1in) of their bases, just as you would routinely prune a wall-trained plant
A Weekend Project For . . . Late Winter
Verticality is the name of the game with wisteria. When the flower spikes emerge they should be free to unfurl, unimpeded, so that they point directly down like early summer icicles. It is one of several reasons why pruning is paramount with wisteria: if those flower spikes have to wiggle their way through last year’s stems the drama is lost.
Famously, wisteria wants pruning twice a year, once in summer and once about now, and without this it will turn into a tangled beast, all leaf and little flower. Take the trouble and you set the stage for a fleeting moment of breathtaking beauty, quite one of the most spectacular spells in the gardening year.
The summer prune is almost a hacking back: the stems are roughly shortened to allow air and light into the wood that will do the flowering; lights ripens and hardens up this wood, which in turn helps to convince it that flower production, not leaf production, is the way to go. But if you missed the summer prune, no matter, the one in winter is far more important and now is the time to do it.
Trace your way back through last year’s growth until you come to the framework of older, thicker, permanent stems. Take a piece of the thin, new growth and count two or three buds out from the old growth. Cut just beyond this second or third bud. Repeat, all over, until the whole plant is stripped neatly back to old wood and these little spurs of buds, and you are left with a satisfying mound of clippings to sweep away.
The energy that is about to surge through the plant as spring hits will now concentrate in these flowering buds, and there will be nothing in their way as they drop to their full theatrical length.
In Some Climates Wisteria Is An Aggressive Invasive Species, Below Are Suggestions For: Controlling, Eliminating and Managing Wisteria from University of Florida
Wisteria can grow from seed or rooted stolons, so care must be taken to avoid cuttings and/or seeds being deposited in natural areas. Most infestations occur near home sites, where the plant has spread from an ornamental planting into the surrounding wooded areas.
Weeds such as wisteria generally invade open or disturbed areas following a burn, clearing mowing, etc., so these areas are particularly vulnerable to invasion. Therefore, a healthy ecosystem with good species diversity will help to deter infestation.
Mechanical methods are commonly used for wisteria management. For small wisteria infestations, cut climbing or trailing vines as close to the root as possible. Although this may be labor intensive it is a feasible pre-treatment for larger infestations or in areas where herbicides cannot be used. Because wisteria will continue to sprout after it has been cut, it should be cut back early in the season, cutting sprouts every few weeks until the fall. This will stop growth of existing vines and prevent seed production. Wisteria vines should be removed from bases of trees and shrubs to prevent girdling as the trees and shrubs grow.
Another control tactic for small infestations is the removal of entire plants. Any type of digging tool can be used to remove the entire plant (roots and runners). It is important to know that any root pieces remaining in the soil may re-sprout to produce new plants. Fruit, roots, and other plant parts should be disposed of properly to prevent re-infestation.
There is limited research and data on biological control of wisteria.
In areas with established wisteria, a cut stump treatment is effective. Cut stems as close to the ground as possible and immediately apply a 25% solution of glyphosate or triclopyr to the stem. A foliar application of glyphosate may be necessary for sprouts. For larger infestations of wisteria foliar herbicide applications may be necessary. To avoid damaging nontarget species, stump treatments should be administered before foliar treatments. A solution of water and a 2% concentration of glyphosate or triclopyr with a 0.5% nonionic surfactant should be applied. If wisteria vines are growing up into trees or other desirable species, vines should be cut or pulled down to minimize damage to the desirable vegetation. Pulling the vines down without severing them from the underground rootstocks will allow the herbicide to move into the root and provide better control. The best time to apply an herbicide is in the spring and summer when wisteria is actively growing. Be sure to allow adequate time for the plant to regrow from the winter to ensure movement of the herbicide back into the underground portion. (As plants grow and mature, they begin to move sugars back into the roots).
Source: University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Circular 1529, Invasive Species Management Plans for Florida, 2008 by
Greg MacDonald, Associate Professor Jay Ferrell, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Brent Sellers, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Ken Langeland, Professor and Extension Weed Specialist Agronomy Department, Gainesville and Range Cattle REC, Ona
Tina Duperron-Bond, DPM – Osceola County
Eileen Ketterer-Guest, former Graduate Research Assistant