Monday, August 16, 2010

Knock some scents into me ...

From my very first encounter with the dazzling spring blooms of wisteria, I have been in love. Truly mesmerized! With the alluring display of wisteria’s color and its intoxicating scent, I have often found myself competing with the bees for another round of sniffs – really a ‘fall off your barstool, in-your-face' fragrance.

The incomparable beauty and intense aroma of wisteria
is one of Spring's best gifts!
So many people never get to that stage of bloom. I have heard so many gardening enthusiasts say that they get an abundance of leaf growth, but no racemes (the draping scented flowers). Hopefully, what I have learned over the years may be helpful.

I grow Purple ‘Cooke’s Special’ Wisteria (a Chinese variety known as Wisteria sinensis ‘Cooke’s Purple). It has an impressive Spring show of large, beautiful dark lavender blossoms, and it produces numerous smaller displays of blooms during the Summer months. It blooms best in full sun, even here in Central Texas, and the good news is that it is drought tolerant.

A really sturdy support system is necessary for wisteria.
Our pergola is built to withstand the vines' strong climbing habits.
First and foremost in getting young plants to prosper is purchasing a wisteria that has been graphed on mature root stock. Otherwise, you could be waiting 10-15 years to see your first show of blossoms. So, purchase a healthy, graphed plant and follow the planting guidance on the growers' tag.  Water it well while young and begin training it to climb and twine around some type of strong support. My wisteria sinensis twines left to right, or counterclockwise, while other varieties such as Japanese and American often twine clockwise. (To learn more about different genus or species, check out ‘Wisterias, A Comprehensive Guide,’ by Peter Valder.)

Remember, a wisteria grows vigorously and can tear down just about anything, so keep that in mind when selecting a planting location. Mine were trained to climb a pergola, built with 6’ x 6’ treated cedar posts bolted into concrete footings.

Initially, you’ll be spending significant time trimming your wisteria to keep it focused on growth of the main axis. (I know you want flowers immediately, but be patient and focus on getting this plant strong and healthy enough to give you the best blooms in a year or two.)

In its first couple of years, discourage flower displays and seed pod development. Trim these, but do promote selective growth of new vines. Fertilizing your plants monthly (we prefer to use Medina Hasta Gro) with organic feedings during growing season will encourage strong, young vines, rather than flowers. As the plant matures and reaches the desired height, it’s time to let it blossom. However, keep cutting off those seed pods to so that the plant’s energy is focused on blooming, not reproduction. To get the flower show you’ve waited for, withhold the feedings from the time the plant begins to leaf out in Spring until blooming has completed, then resume fertilization.

Our wisteria presents flowers (racemes) first, then will leaf out along new vines.
Just like me, you’ll be spending some time every weekend during growing season (in Central Texas that’s March through November) trimming unruly wisteria vines. If you don’t prune regularly (and, I do mean weekly, folks), you’ll have an overgrown, unmanageable plant in no time. And, finally, cut off any suckers that sprout from the plant’s base in order to give top growth the energy it needs.

The only pests I have encountered on my wisteria are 'twig girdlers.' These little guys are the insect kingdom's answer to the beaver. They will chew their way around a branch until it looks like it has been through a pencil sharpener, then drill their menancing little bodies into the dying wood to deposit their eggs. The story will repeat itself the following Spring unless you pull off the damaged branches and throw them in the garbage. Do not compost these or you'll find girdlers making their way throughout your garden and into all of your trees.

Enjoy the blooms, drink up the scent and appreciate the shaded respite wisteria provides all summer and fall!

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