The Good and Bad of Wisteria

Close up of a wisteria panicle

Close-up of a wisteria panicle

white wisteria

White wisteria panicles

Great use of wisteria trained on a trellis

Great use of wisteria trained on a trellis

wisteria covered tree

Wisteria covered tree in Hueytown

Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) is one beautiful fragrant vine that loves our climate. Controlled and properly cared for, it is a great vine. Left alone, it can eat trees and even whole areas of a forest. From the photos, you can see two examples– one good, the other bad. I have grown this plant for years and was able to contain the top growth, and its runners, with severe pruning after it flowers. But the roots are just as vigorous as the top growth, and I did not succeed in keeping them out of my garden. Several years ago, I removed it from the garden, poisoned the base of the plant I cut down, and I am still getting root sprouts every spring. That is the bad side of wisteria. The good side is the lovely panicles of flowers and their sweet fragrance. There is also a white selection that is not as vigorous. While I have not grown the native American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), friends that have, rave about it because it is not as vigorous as the Chinese type. But the drawback is the flowers; the panicles of flowers are not as long, and it does not produce as many flower clusters as the common one you see.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

9 thoughts on “The Good and Bad of Wisteria

  1. We (Kitsap Peninsula, WA State) are lucky – wisteria grows well here, and we don’t have a ‘formal’ yard so it can “do its thing.” Husband created sturdy frames as I knew it grows big & heavy. Have four, all mature (20-30 years old); three Chinese (more fragrant, shorter panicles), one Japanese (longer panicles but very faint scent) – which grows on framework outside sunroom; SO lovely w/long drooping bloom clusters. One Chinese at corner of house, on pergola 50′ to gate and along under eaves on ‘fences’ husband created of down-hanging ‘posts’ w/2×2 ‘rails’ between; it’s outside front door so heavenly scent can waft right in. A second on gazebo in lower yard (have 45-degree-slope lot), third on wall we built to level gazebo area; third had nowhere to go, was breaking fence lattice panels, so I finally (10 years ago?) flung longest tendrils into nearby quaking aspen – it’s now at top of 40′ tree … blooms cover tree in Spring – it looks amazing! Did same with one by gate – now grows up into nearby firs. … Love wisteria!, prune the three of them 2-3 times a year (can’t do one in aspen 🙂 ), often get second Summer/Fall blooming. … Wish I could attach photos!

  2. I just got a wisteria this year and I am growing it on a trellis. The trellis is not supported by a wall like on that picture up there but standing on its own. The wisteria I have was a small one, and then a vine appeared and I carefully wrapped it around the trellis. Then it stopped and 3 more vines appeared I trained them in different ways so I can get them to cover everywhere of the trellis as they are going up and around the trellis. I’ve read that wisteria vines can become wood and get really big and thick. The trellis I have is hardy and sturdy, but I am worried about the vines as they become wood and thick. Should I be concerned on when the vines get bigger on the trellis

    • Really oftentimes as wisteria get bigger it will support the trellis, too. It is a vigorous vine and if at some time in the future you feel the trellis is inadequate, just cut back the wisteria and it will regrow rapidly.

  3. Wisteria is (beautifully) invading my back yard. The scent is intoxicating! But I fear it will kill the foliage in its path. We thought we had removed all of the roots, no vines, but it is very prolific and has returned with a vengeance…moving now into our front yard and our neighbors yards.

    • As you can see in my post, the root system is in some ways equal to the vines’ runners. Be prepared to take years to kill it. Here’s one of the most effective ways to really knock it back: At every cut, quickly paint the cut with concentrated Roundup (straight from the non-mixed bottle). Most folks say it has to be done in less than a minute for maximum effectiveness. I use one of those sponge-type paint brushes to apply it. It took me several seasons doing this, but eventually I have it almost eradicated. I have been vigilant doing this every time I made a cut.

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