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Wisteria: pruning

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last updated Aug 9, 2012
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Wisteria pruning in winter

Wisteria needs regular pruning to keep the growth and size under control, but it will also improve the flowering display. Although it seems complicated, wisteria pruning is quite simple if you follow our simple guide.

When to prune wisteria Back to top

Wisteria is pruned twice a year, in July or August, then again in January or February.

How to prune wisteria Back to top

Wisteria needs pruning twice a year to keep it floriferous and to prevent it from growing out of its allotted space.

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.

Want to see how it's done? Watch our video.

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.

Want to see how it's done? Watch our video.

Step by step

Wisteria winter: pruning main

Summer pruning: about two months after flowering, tie in the new, long shoots on to trellis or stout wires.

Other ways to train wisteria Back to top

On walls

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 into 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

Problems Back to top

The most common problem gardeners have with wisteria is poor flowering. This can be caused by a number of reasons, including:

  • Young plants grown from seedlings can take 20 years to flower, so avoid disappointment by either buying a plant while it is in flower or choosing a named cultivar
  • Check your pruning technique and timing
  • Look for shredded flowers or teeth marks as tell-tale signs of bird, mice or pigeon damage
  • Take care to water in dry spells between July and September, when flower buds are forming for next year, as drought at this time can result in failure to bloom
  • Be aware that sharp spring frosts can damage developing flowers, causing them to drop before they open, or to develop in a distorted fashion

Sometimes a mature and apparently healthy plant will suddenly die and be replaced by a new shoot growing from the ground. This is often caused by wisteria graft failure

Less common is attack by root fungi like honey fungus or Phytophthora root rot, but wisteria is susceptible to both of these.

Wisterias are also prone to scale insect infestation, including the more unusual wisteria scale.

Quick facts

Suitable for Wisteria
Timing Twice a year, in Jan-Feb and Jul-Aug
Difficulty Moderate