Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wisteria: The Hungry Chinese Vine

One of my good friends and faithful reader of this blog from the beginning (and commenter) purchased a home a little over one year ago. The home is absolutely beautiful and apparently the people who sold my friend the home, were gardeners. What a bonus for my friend. One of the plants the previous homeowners planted was Wisteria sinensis, aka Chinese Wisteria.

This vine is not a vine for the faint of heart. Do not plant it unless you are very fierce and ready to do battle not in the rink, but in the garden with an equally ferocious set of pruners. The pruners need to be very heavy and well made because you will use them weekly all throughout the growing season. So get ready because contrary to public opinion, kudzu is not the only vine that is eating the south. Just travel down to Florida and look at all of the beautiful flowers of wisteria twining through the trees everywhere there is a spot of dirt. Yes, it certainly is beautiful-in someone else's garden or along a roadside, but not in my garden.

My friend learned from her neighbor this particular vine was only two years old. Two years old and about 20 feet tall and maybe as wide. Obviously it liked the area it was planted in as it literally took over. The vine damaged the lovely arbor and trellis it was trained to grow upon. Boards were literally ripped off the trellis and who knows what else would have been ripped off had the vine been left to grow. But alas, its fate was sealed when my friend and her husband cut the neck of the beast AND used a chain and truck to pull the roots out, at least partially.

I agree, wisteria is stunning when it is bloom. It grows fast and quickly provides much needed shade when grown on an arbor such as in this situation, but I do not recommend planting this vine close to a house or on an arbor such as this. A better wisteria for this arbor would've been Wisteria frutescens, aka American Wisteria. This particular wisteria is native and is not as invasive as the Chinese wisteria. It will be more manageable for the homeowner. A good variety which was widely available last year, not sure about this year, is 'Amethyst Falls'.

If you simply must have a wisteria and the Chinese variety is the only one available here are some simple tips I use in my garden. Yes, I not only have a Chinese wisteria, I have TWO of them. Had I known better, I may have chosen the American variety over the Chinese variety (the only one available at the time). I say may because one of my tips helps me to control my wisteria and I am not sure American wisteria would've stood up to the tip. It probably would but we'll never know now since I have already planted the Chinese variety.

It is not a tip I would generally recommend because the old adage, "The right plant in the right place" is still the best advice you can adhere to as a gardener. But what if you are a plant collector and just have to have a wisteria-regardless of the type or consequences? Well, what I have done is plant my wisteria in a less than ideal location. My wisteria does not get full sun, thus it does not grow rampantly. This is not the right way to garden, but it is how I garden sometimes. Do not say Tina recommended buying a plant and planting it in a less than ideal situation because I will deny it forever. That is not what I am saying. But, if you must have a plant no matter what, think of innovative ways to control it and maximize its beauty and strengths in your garden. Not only are my Chinese wisteria growing in part shade, but they are growing on a very sturdy arbor away from anything the wisteria may try to climb and tear apart. And they actually haven't done much of anything so far, so how smart am I? Not very.

You see, if you really want wisteria, then pick an ideal location for it and plant it. The previous homeowners of my friend's house did not pick the right spot or the right plant for the spot even though the growing conditions were favorable. In this case they should have either:

a. planted the American variety on the their house, or

b. planted the Chinese variety far away from the house and trees, on a sturdy, sturdy arbor made from 6x6's and 2x4s, not 2x4s and 1x2s. That will never work.

I am not sure what my friend will plant to replace the wisteria, but perhaps the American variety 'Amethyst Falls' might be good? Or maybe a grape vine? One she can contol with judicial pruning. I think my pick for the arbor if I had such an arbor overhead, would be either a grape vine or a climbing rose, such as 'Zephirine Drouhin'. The Zephirine Drouhin is an extremely fragrant climbing rose which repeat blooms, and is nearly thornless. The pinkish red flowers would contrast nicely with the white of the arbor. Another excellent vine which would grow great on the arbor, is the clematis. Clematis would do well and not absolutely take over the arbor and definitely won't damage the arbor. There are many colors to choose from including: reds, purples, whites, pinks and a mixture of all of the colors.

So, the next time you want to plant a wisteria, or any vine, make sure you have the right situation for the plant and know what you are planting. There are alternatives to almost every single plant you could possibly want to grow.

in the garden....


  1. Wisteria is a really pretty flower but I did'nt know it was so hard to deal with. I just can't get over how much I have learned on here.:<)

  2. Hi Tina, all I can say is WOW!!! Just seeing the post on wisteria makes me cringe. It really did a number and I have lots of repair work from it. Thank you for the advice on what would plant well in that spot. I never would've imagined that something so pretty would do so much harm - but it did. On a lighter note --it sure is windy today but nice and warm:)

  3. good morning,
    yes mom, wisteria is very hard to control. driving down to florida in april a few years ago i swear kudzu (the vine eating the south) has nothing on wisteria. everywhere you looked there were purple flowers to the tops of trees all along the road. it was a lot-and really quite beautiful. didn't you always like wisteria? i love it too but in the right place. long way from houses and trees on a solid solid structure with a good pruner taking care of it.

    hi anonymous, it is windy! so windy it blew a beer can way up into one of my gardens far from the road. now i wonder where that could've come from in our scenic county with such GREAT people living in it?! deputy leutert (the litter control officer) has lots of work to do in conjunction with sheriff lewis! i will be sure to give him some tips for the woodlawn community. sure hope he catches those "litter bugs"! what are they thinking to toss trash out of their cars into our beautiful country and COMMUNITY?

    too wet to work outside, sigh, guess i'll have to clean the house today. boo hoo.

  4. I'm the last zone that can grow Wisteria, I think it is beautiful with the lacelike flowers...even its name make me think globe wise. Wisteria-misteria. This vine evades us!
    Is it just the sun that makes it so hardy or can it be planted in the shade, allowed to vine on the ground? And would that manage the growth? My zone recommends a sheltered spot. I'm thinking something around the pond that will remain undisturbed, the soil won't allow pussywillows which was my first choice.

  5. We had a wisteria climbing up the telephone pole in our backyard when growing up. It was so beautiful when it bloomed but you had to stay clear of the thing as the bees swarmed all over it! I recall it being cut down by the Dept of Electricity. Dont remember the reasoning but I am sure we lost power to the house or something due to the vine because my grandmother would have given those folks heck for cutting it without a reason!

  6. Yes Tina, I love Wistera but now am glad I never had any. Sorry you had to deal with Anonymous. I
    agree with Dawn that I even like the name. Does'nt it sound pretty?

  7. hi dawn with peaches, skeeter and mom,
    dawn, planting wisteria in the shade and letting it vine on the ground would not be a good thing. it needs and must grow up. makes a better presentation for the flowers which hang down like bunches of grapes and wisteria likes a lot of sun. up there lots of sun and excellent drainage such as in a raised bed area would help it thrive. i think you should try it-a long way from the house or trees. maybe build an arbor by your pond and put it on there.

    skeeter, i am sure your grandmother loved the vine and it must have wreaked havoc with the power. that was why they cut it down surely. i never knew the bees swarmed all over it. mine hasn't bloomed and probably never will, but that is ok.

    mom, the name does sound nice. and when you hear wisteria people envision romance. at least i do. a friend of mine loves it. they love it so much that they want more! i can't wait to see hers bloom because i am told it blooms beautifully.

  8. nina, lola and anonymous-hi guys.

  9. I have one of these at the base of a tree, planted it about 10 yrs ago. I found the dog running into the woods, (its on the outskirts), was breaking it. SSooo I put a tomato cage around it, My wisteria got to be a bout 10 ft then shot runners to the cage,ferns,whatever. Tartarus smacked into the cage, it broke. Once it breaks, it off shoots. Maybe I'll move it to a raised bed around another tree that is located out front by the road. Is it very deep rooted? If it is, I'll have to make a quite high bed, the tree I'm thinking of has shallow roots. I'll be beautiful there and I'm making that my first project. (after my trees come) No place around the pond for a arbor, only fencing. This tree is spruce and it is bare trunked all the way up til aprox. 20 ft. Plenty of sun, back drops my perenial garden

  10. Hi Y'all --the name does have a feminine beautiful sound to it but PLEASE don't let it fool you. It can cut thru the porch when it starts to grow --it literally strangled the wood and was working its way into the house --we pulled it out and of course it would keep coming back. On a lighter note --the flowers were gorgeous light purple and smelled delicious --only downside was the wasps just loved them! I didn't have bees on the porch I had tons of wasps --dive bombing the kids when they wanted to swim outback, lol. I think it would be pretty out far, far down in your yard like by a pond or about a mile from the house where you could take a hike to see its beauty:) I still can't believe a plant could actually cut thru wood and break it! It was a strangler --
    And, yes Tina it is still super windy --we were outside but didn't do any work --just played and went walking. The usual checking out the flowers --little man was too excited racing me to the top of the farmers hill to check on the flowers --a bunch more have opened --he was counting like crazy --and sometimes he can count a little different 1 2 3 10 12 hahahah okay, so there were quite a few more opened up today.

  11. yes dawn, you should dig it and move it. i have had no problem moving wisteria. it is not a plant easily divided though. i have done it. we'll see if it is successful. you really can't kill it. once it gets big even tartarus won't hurt it.

    anonymous, it is so windy. the little man reminds me of my subbing days. only one time did i have the kindergardeners when woodlawn was rotating its sub during a workday. kindergardeners were not my first choice, trust me. one little boy so wanted to impress me. he pulled on my hand and said, "mrs. ramsey, mrs. ramsey, i can count to 99!" i said, "ok, let's see." he proudly said, "1, 2, skip a few....99!" that was a big joke in that class and it was cute. teach the little one this!

  12. Dawn, Is'nt the fence around the pond made outta thick poles. I know it is not real tall but maybe sone extensions on the farther side from the house. It would be
    really gorgeous to look across the
    wanna be pond and far enough from the house not to bother anything but close enough to enjoy. It probably could even go up some trees over there. It is a miracle that Tartarus did not get hurt.

    Kids can be so cute but then they become teens.

  13. Wisteria is pretty, but in the woods where you can admire it from afar. Kudzu is something else. Not only is it eating Fl., N.C. & Ga. have a lot of it too. Did you know you could eat the young leaves of the Kudzu? Another plant I wouldn't want next to my house is the Ivey that people plant. It will ruin a house, even brick.

    Anonymous, strong winds I don't like but now a gentle breeze you can't beat. But it does help dry the soil to some extent.

    Dawn with Peaches, make sure it's a strong tree with good root system or you won't have a tree {standing, that is}. lol I've seen the vine of this plant & it can get pretty big around.

    Has anyone tried a trick, that a friend told me, was when you cut something down or off put a can over it & it will die. Unless it comes out from the root system. Don't know about that. Anyway no sun so life. I tried it in N.C & it worked. I had cut a sapling off that I didn't want growing & behold it died. I didn't want to dig it up as it was on a bank beside the deck. Start digging & start loosing soil.

    Jean, I learn something every time I read this blog. I think some times my brain took a vacation & forgot to tell me it was going. lol

    Tina, I received my Echinacea yesterday. Got it in the barrel today. It was wrapped in long wood shavings so I just laid that on top to help protect as by Tues. night we are supposed to be at 34º. It's in a dormant stage, but does have a few sprouts coming out.

    Dawn with Peaches, I can envision an arbor with blooming flowers all over it with a seat or swing underneath on the far side of your pond. Sitting there on warm afternoons with tea or lemonade, Boy what a pic. But, of course you need to see all this from your home. Maybe kitchen window?

  14. no, the fence is 1x2 and mayyybe, 2 ft tall, I planted clemetis (sp) between each section and it has done well. I really think the spruce is the way to go. God knows we have enough rock, (and high rock), to make a nice feature around it. Really wanting spring to come so I can get back to growing things. We'll sure be settled.
    Tartarus doesn't care, esp. up until a couple years back, he is showing his age and still quakes when someone arrives home (after being alone all day). Sticks to me like glue this year. Ran like crazy to get those squirrels or whatever he thinks he saw, fooling only himself.
    Thank-you for the seeds Tina, forgot to check the mail yesterday, but got them today. Nikki is just bitting at the bit to dig and plant things,she will enjoy.
    Time for bed, sorting and arranging your home can exhaust you---so can teenaged company!!! Still.

  15. PS. Where is Lola? I know Nina is on vacation. Lola and anonymous post on my computer in bold black letter.(title names) I don't think anonymous has google mail, but does Lola? If not, we both may not have the trashcan or the other benefits. Just wondering, got enough mails now, can't hardly keep them straight.

  16. Dawn with Peaches,
    Didn't you get my comment about your pond?

  17. I have google mail, Dawn with Peaches.

  18. good morning mom,
    pups are up early this morning so here i am, i really wanted to sleep in.

    lola, i think dawn with peaches just missed your comment, maybe it posted after she posted. sometimes it does that.

    i have a friend who needs a walnut tree gone. she has cut it down but small sapling keep sprouting. i am going to tell her to cut it down, paint some brush killer on the wound then cover it with a coffee can or something big like that. it should work. good tip!!

    dawn with peaches, enjoy the rock. i am one of the few here in this area who doesn't have rock-and i want it. ironic isn't it.

  19. Thanks for the tip on the can --I will try that too! It can't hurt --we have used so many things on that darn wisteria but it really is hard to get rid of. Hi Dawn with peaches --I don't have google --heheh I just type on here --typically don't sign up for anything online. Doesn't mean I don't like to shop online though:0) hhahaa Just ask hubby:) Later --

  20. Yes Lola the can tip sounds great for anything you wanna get rid of. Makes sense.

  21. Tina, What kind of walnut tree & why is she wanting to cut it down? I transplanted a black walnut in N.C. & it lived. They told me I couldn't do it as black walnuts are hard to get to live. I like black walnuts but they are expensive. I did get a few while in N.C. Hard to crack. Squirrels won't touch them if they are bad.
    Rocks are good in garden. Wish I had a few big ones. Brought some smaller ones home from N.C. You can make them a focal point--also grow some small plants that don't need water.

  22. I LOVE black walnut also, it is so pretty with the smooth bark and fernlike leaves, not two many up here but once you see one you never forget it. Can't fathom someone wanting to rid one of these, maybe its out of hand.
    Lola, we have so many rocks it is not funny, dig 6'' and your bound to find one, it is easy (depending on size!) and cheap, once placed, up here it doesn't take long for moss to grow on part of it. It is so nice.

  23. I remember the lovely aroma of wisteria from when I was a kid in NC. I was actually in Lowes a few days ago and almost picked up a plant. I kept remembering how nice the fragrance was. I would pick huge baskets of the blooms and bring them into the house. This plant was growing in a vacant field no damamge I suppose. I guess its a good thing I was in a hurry and didn't decide to pick the wisteria up from lowes. I had no idea it was so aggressive.

  24. O'Malley, What part of N.C. did you live? I love that State expecially near the mtns-like Cherokee & surrounding areas.

  25. Hi Lola,

    I grew up in Wendell, a little city east of Raleigh and then moved to Fayetteville for a few years after my husband and I were married. I love the mts also. When I was younger we would go for the weekend and just drive around without a map, enjoying the scenery. The best part of the trip going home is the winding stretch of 40 thru the mtns. Did you live there also?

  26. my friend's black walnut was in the wrong spot right next to a tree she desires more. black walnuts emit juglone, a chemical which can prevent most plants from growing under it. this was also part of the problem. i have a black walnut in my yard and my neighbor also has one. i at first wanted to take it out, but then i thought the tall oak next to it might some day die, so i left it. guess what? yup, that is the one oak we lost last summer. it must come down soon. the walnut will like it very much. we had a good crop of walnuts one year. but jimmy and i had to beat the squirrels in gathering them. never could open them. i tried baking, soaking, running over them with the car and everything. once you do all this the meat is pretty crushed. not my idea of fun so now the squirrels can have them.

    o'malley, when i lived in fayetteville there was tons of wisteria. it always smelled a little like pepper to me. i loved it then and do now, but it is an aggressive vine. what type is lowe's selling? maybe it is the American variety and won't be as aggressive. a large freestanding arbor away from trees and the house would hold a Chinese variety, but the American is preferable since it is native.

  27. O'Malley,
    Yes, I lived in Whittier, a small town near Cherokee & Bryson City. Maybe in the middle as it took the same amount of time to go either way. I worked on the reservation for a couple yrs. Learned some things otherwise would not have known. We too would do a lot of "rambling" around the back roads. That is where you see so much beauty. I didn't care to go in town--too crowded. I really miss doing that--him too.

    You are too funny. I couldn't help but burst out laughing about you trying to crack the walnuts. But you know that is the way some get the outer stuff off the nut. Put them in driveway & run over them with car. The outer part is what they use to get dye. I learned a bitter lesson when I started to pick up Chestnuts. No one told me that they are very "barbed" on the outer shell. I soon learned to open that with my feet. Then you had the smooth nut. Have you ever had Branch Lettuce? It's good.
    There were about 3 or 4 walnut trees on out property in N.C. That's counting the one I transplanted.

  28. Oops. wrong button. l is me, Lola

  29. oh yes lola. chestnuts have spikes. good for throwing at kids! we kids did it all the time in maine.

    the walnuts do have a green tinge. quite a mess and smelly. i picked some huge ones up from a house of the jimster's friend last summer. couldn't figure out what it was as it was so large. come to find out it was walnuts (thanks to mr. fix-it for identifying them). seems like this particular tree was happy with the droughty conditions and late freeze last year. i am not sure if it was the type or an abberation as they were BIG. i will watch the tree next year.

    i have never had branch lettuce. what is it?

  30. Wow Tina, you could hurt someone with those things. Never thought about that. Hehehe. Yes, the walnut is big when it's still in all of it's covering. Like I said if they are not ok the squirrels will not touch them. Some how they know.
    Branch lettuce is almost like wild lettuce but it grows on the edge of branches. It doesn't make heads, just leaves. The cool running water keeps it crisp & growing like crazy. I use to go into the mtns near a branch {stream} & gather it. If you put it in crisper in fridge it will keep for quite a while. Of course with me it never was around that long. Polk salat, I had that too. Long time since being a kid & Mom fixing it. Can't find any of the good stuff around here. Tooooo hot.