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closeup of lavender Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinesis) blooms hanging from a pergola
When I was a kid, my dad would routinely get out his pruning tools and ruthlessly cut back our lovely wisteria. This would always upset me greatly because the vine was so very beautiful when it bloomed in Spring. Would it ever come back and flower again? Yes, it always did. Always.

What I understand now is that wisteria is one tough and relentless vine once established. The form of wisteria I'm talking about is Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinesis), which actually belongs to the pea family. This big, sprawling deciduous vine has fast-growing branches that twine up and around anything it can get a hold on.

Wisteria was introduced to the US from China by gardening enthusiasts back in the early 1800s. If those folks were around today to see what they had wrought they'd probably say, "oops." That's because W. sinesis has become an invasive pest, wrapping it's vine-y arms around roadsides and woods up and down the east coast. As it spreads, wisteria chokes out native shrubs and trees with ease, and is known to climb as high as 65-feet. That's one powerful vine!

Wisteria control(click thumbnails to view gallery)

Beautiful wisteria bloomsWisteria in all its gloryWisteria foliageWisteria leavesLawn invasion


Although wisteria is a huge pain in the neck, people keep buying and growing it. Why? Well, for one thing, it's easy to grow. It's also easy to obtain. Wisteria is long-lived, as well, and extremely drought-tolerant -- it never, ever needs watering once established. Most importantly, its drooping clusters of violet/lavender blooms are absolutely gorgeous and give off an incredibly lovely fragrance.

Beware the hanging seed pods though -- they are highly poisonous, so don't let your kids play with fallen pods.

All-in-all, this is one plant that gives you tons of bang for your buck. The trick with wisteria is to grow it and enjoy it without letting it take over your yard or -- worse -- escape into neighboring yards and beyond. Here are the four P's of wisteria control: Pulling, Pruning, Poisoning, and Prevention.

PULLING
Hand pull baby plants, roots and all, whenever you see them sprouting near the parent plant. The sooner you get them the easier it will be to get all the roots out cleanly. Slightly larger young plants can be dug out with a shovel or hauled out with a grubbing tool.

PRUNING
Prune your wisteria at least once a year. Because it will continue to re-sprout vigorously after pruning, you should plan on regularly trimming it back as needed throughout the year. If you are trying to kill an unwanted wisteria in your yard, repeatedly pruning it to the ground should do the trick. Once the plant's root stores are exhausted, it will eventually stop re-sprouting. So be patient and keep clipping it back every few weeks throughout the growing season.

POISONING
If you have a large unwanted wisteria in your yard and you want instant results, get some herbicide. You'll need to use something like Roundup®, which will kill the undesirable plant without harming surrounding ones. Saw off the wisteria as close to the ground as possible and paint herbicide directly onto the cut stump. Re-treat any sprouts that emerge in later weeks.

Large infestations of wisteria may be removed by spraying the foliage with herbicide, however this should really be considered a last-resort as the herbicide will kill everything it touches, good or bad.

PREVENTION
Finally, let's look at a few ways to prevent wisteria from becoming a problem in the first place.
  • Carefully consider location before planting wisteria. Don't plant wisteria against your mailbox because your mailbox will end up buried underneath a mound of vines. Even more critically, don't plant it near power lines or telephone lines because wisteria will quickly scale such structures and take off.
  • A good location for wisteria is a spot that is surrounded by regularly mowed lawn and/or stone surfaces. Basically, you want to eliminate any possible escape routes.
  • Remember: once it is established, prune your wisteria back hard every year.
  • Dispose of pruned wisteria branches and pods with care. It's recommended you always bag the pieces and toss them in the trash. This ensures that any part of the plant that manages to sprout again cannot take root anywhere.
  • Give your wisteria a very sturdy surface on which to climb. A large pergola or solidly-built fence are good choices. Don't ever let your wisteria latch onto any part of your house.
  • Consider planting your wisteria in the middle of an expanse of lawn and train it into a shrub. Regular mowing around the roots will contain the plant.
  • If you're not sure you can control wisteria, consider a less invasive alternative, such as another variety of wisteria (like the native American wisteria) or another type of vine entirely (such as trumpet vine or cross vine).
Finally, although wisteria's image is somewhat tarnished these days, (with its reputation as an invasive thug and all), it still has lots of fans around the US. In fact, each year there is a festival held in honor of the world's largest wisteria, located in Sierra Madre, California. Planted in 1894, this Chinese wisteria plant now covers -- believe it or not - -one whole acre. It weighs an estimated 250 tons, with branches up to 500 feet in length. Amazing!

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  • Bill Volk

    Diane -- a great article; very informative and helpful for those of us here in the South.
    Bill

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