Question from Robin:
Was reading in your So. Cal. Organic Gardening about Wisteria. You mentioned cutting unwanted young shoots down to two buds from May onward. Is it to late to trim them now? I know Wisteria is a light feeder but yours look so glorious! Is it the soil and feeding regime or happy neglect. Hoping for number three.
Answer from Pat:
The main secret with growing a great wisteria is pruning and training. I am sorry to say it is not happy neglect! It is for this reason that I’ve covered the subject more fully than ever in the latest issue of my book “Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening Month by Month.” (2010) I figure if folks don’t comprehend the first time maybe they will catch on the second time.
When first planting wisteria the most important thing is to make the decision between a Chinese wisteria or a Japanese variety and additionally choose a good variety. (There is a wide choice.) Secondly, make sure it’s grafted, not from a seed. Thirdly, Feed water and train it for the first three years. (Very important during training not subject it to benign neglect! Keep training the way you want it to grow and tying gently into place. This will become the main structure.)
Once a wisteria has become a neglected rats-nest of growth it’s too late to straighten it out. After three years a well-trained and arranged wisteria should cover the structure you have built for it. After that, the most important thing is pruning. After an established wisteria blooms it will put out a twiner from every branch or spur that has bloomed. As soon as the first crop of twiners has sprouted and grown to be a few feet long (about two weeks after bloom is finished) cut each of those twiners back, leaving only one or two buds still attached to the main vine. This is what makes it continue to sport bloom all summer long. This is also why my wisteria is so spectacular because every time you make a cut that will produce a spur that will produce buds in fall that bloom in spring.
If you do this now while the wood is bare, it’s too late to create the spurs. Also, if you don’t know what you are doing you may cut off all the spur wood that will bloom in spring.
On the other hand if you have a mature wisteria that is all covered with a bunch of twiners and if you understand what a twiner is, you could cut them back to two buds now, but it would be a difficult job. (A twiner is a long, straight, thin branch, about as thick as a pencil at the thickest and it will grab hold of what ever it finds and then twine around it. These need to come off in summer as soon as they grow. A wisteria produces hundreds of them. But don’t cut them off clean or you will remove all next year’s bloom. Always leave one or at the most two buds on the plant, a stub of the twiner in other words is left on the parent plant.
This shows my wisteria when it was about ten years old. First notice how I trained the original twiners counterclockwise around the post all together and all in the same direction. A neglected wisteria will just become a rats nest of growth instead of having this neat, tidy look. (Chinese wisterias twine counter clockwise. Japanese wisterias twine clockwise, but do not do it in an organized manner.) These have grafted themselves together and made a single trunk. This is what is called the framework of your vine. On top of the pergola I arranged the growth in a straight line, not letting it twine. This part becomes like branches of a tree. Now fifteen or twenty years later, this trunk is as thick as a tree and is bending the post but also supporting it. (We are currently replacing some of the posts that have rotted and also much of the upper structure of the pergola, but that is to be expected after twenty-five years.)
The twisted growths in this photo are the spurs. Never cut these off because they produce most of the bloom and usually live for eight to ten years before rotting and falling off to be replaced by others. When in summer you cut off a twiner leave some buds connected to the vine, a has been done here. This is how you stimulate creation of more spurs that will be covered in bloom in spring as shown in my other photos. All the fat buds in this photo will produce blooms in February and March.
Notice the one straight piece of wisteria wood of golden,brownish color that sprouts from the spur on the right side of the post at the bottom of the photo and angles to the left, (crossing the post towards the left.) This is a twiner that was clipped off the prior summer leaving about two feet of growth on the plant. It could be shortened now without doing any harm. At the bottom of it a spur is just beginning to thicken and form with one bud on it. It will eventually take on a twisted shape like the others in this photo. I would clip that off now in winter just above the visible bud that is on top of the knothole on the post.
This photo shows my wisteria (Wisteria sinensis ‘Cooke’s Special’) blooming to the ground when it was approximately four years old. Notice on the post that I have carefully arranged all the original twiners when they first grew so they all go in the same direction neatly up the post. Next, in summer after the first year of bloom, every week or two I cut off all the twiners that sprouted from the basic structure back to one or two buds. Each of these cuts will produce a spur covered with bloom. On the lower right in this photo you see a blooming spur, now about a foot long. It has been growing there for about 3 years and getting longer each time one cuts off the twiners from it in summer. In this photo it bears seven or more blooms. I would be shortening it a little the following year so it doesn’t get too long.
The photo with bare wood in winter shows one of the posts with many spurs growing from the woody wisteria vine. All those spurs will produce even more abundant bloom that you see here. I probably took this photo when the vine was very young.
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