How to Grow and Care for Chinese Wisteria

Chinese wisteria tree

The Spruce / Loren Probish 

Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) is a deciduous perennial vine with a twining growth habit. Like all members of the wisteria group, Chinese wisteria is a stunning bloomer. It bears large, drooping clusters of fragrant flowers from May to June, typically a bluish-purple. It's best to plant it in the spring or fall. The vine is a vigorous climber that can grow to 25 feet. Trellises and other supports must be sturdy to hold the plant's weight.

Chinese wisteria is a rapid grower but can take up to 20 years to mature enough to produce flowers. It also tends to be very long-lasting. Wisteria of all types is toxic to people and animals. Chinese wisteria is an aggressive grower and is an invasive plant in the U.S.

Common Name Chinese wisteria
Botanical Name Wisteria sinensis
Family Fabaceae
Plant Type Deciduous perennial vine
Mature Size 10–25 ft. long, 4–8 ft. in spread
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Medium moist, well-draining
Soil pH 6.0–7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral)
Bloom Time May to June
Flower Color Bluish-purple, mauve, white
Hardiness Zones 4–9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to people, toxic to pets

Chinese Wisteria Care

When planting this vine, pick a spot where you can fit a solid support structure, such as an arbor or a pergola, that will carry the plant's weight once it's mature. To train wisteria vines, choose a single upright stem to attach to your support. Then, religiously remove any side shoots as they appear, forcing the plant into upward growth. Once the plant reaches the height you want, continuously prune the tips of the plant to stunt further growth. Pruned correctly, the wisteria will form a beautiful overhead shade canopy.

If you have trouble getting the vines to flower, there are several methods you can use. For instance, you can apply a high-phosphorus fertilizer, promoting blooming. You also can try heavily pruning the plant right after it blooms and again in the winter to encourage more buds.

Wisteria can be subject to leaf-chewing insects, but the damage is rarely severe. But these are high-maintenance plants due to the need for diligent pruning. Be prepared to keep it tamed if you plant this species in your garden.

Warning

Chinese wisteria is an invasive species in at least 19 Eastern states from Massachusetts to Illinois south to Texas. "The hard woody vines twine tightly around host tree trunks and branches and cut through bark, causing death by girdling," according to the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.

Chinese wisteria growing over a wall
The Spruce / Loren Probish  
closeup of chinese wisteria
The Spruce / Loren Probish  
Chinese wisteria tree
The Spruce / Loren Probish  

Light

Many wisteria species prefer lots of sun, but Chinese wisteria can tolerate some shade. It does its best flowering when it gets partial to full sun.

Soil

Chinese wisteria likes humusy, moderately fertile, and slightly acidic soil. Good drainage is critical for this plant. This plant does best when it's not being transplanted frequently, so ensure the soil in your growing site is correct for the plant.

Water

Water a young plant deeply and frequently to help develop its root system, though never allow it to sit in soggy soil. Once established, the vine prefers even moisture via rainfall and regular watering. It can tolerate a little drought. Water the plant at least once a week, giving it about 1 inch of water.

Temperature and Humidity

Chinese wisteria can withstand temperatures as cold as -20 F. But its buds might die in prolonged cold, causing the plant to flower less. This plant likes high humidity but can grow in drier climates as long as its soil remains moist. 

Fertilizer

Fertilizer is unnecessary for Chinese wisteria unless you have poor soil. To amend poor soil, add a layer of compost, promoting growth and blooming. Fertilize seedlings once each year until the plants mature, with a phosphate-rich fertilizer like 0-20-0, using 3 to 5 pounds for every 100 square feet.

Types of Wisteria

There are two main categories of wisteria—Asian and American.

  • Wisteria sinensis ‘Jako’: An award-winning deciduous climbing plant with clusters of pea-like white blooms favored for its fragrant flowers.
  • Wisteria sinensis ‘Prolific’: Features a sweet fragrance and produces an abundance of blue-violet drooping clusters, reaching up to 1 foot long throughout the summer months.
  • Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda): This Asian species is invasive in North America like Chinese wisteria. Its flowers are showier, and it requires more sun.
  • American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens): American wisteria is a smaller species than the Chinese and Japanese species; it matures sooner than its Asian counterparts, flowering at a younger age. It is also much less invasive.

Pruning

The most high-maintenance part of caring for Chinese wisteria is pruning. It requires regular pruning to maintain its shape and keep its growth in check. Chinese wisteria sends out runners that can quickly overwhelm nearby plants and structures.

Prune your wisteria plant in the late winter, removing at least half of the previous year’s growth. Leave a few buds on each stem. Prune it again just after it flowers in the late spring or early summer to clean up the plant’s shape. Trim off any dead or diseased growth as you spot it. If you cut back a mature plant too far, it should sprout; however, those new sprouts might take several years to flower.

Japanese wisteria flower curtain
Japanese wisteria YS graphic / Getty Images
American Wisteria (W. frutescens)
American wisteria CharlesGibson / Getty Images

Propagating Chinese Wisteria

The best time to propagate Chinese wisteria is during its period of vigorous growth, namely spring or early summer. Propagation is best done via stem cutting versus sowing seeds since it can take longer for wisteria to mature. You may have to wait up to 20 years for wisteria to flower from planted seeds. Since wisteria needs regular pruning to keep healthy, plant a cutting taken from a pruned stem.

To propagate by stem cutting:

  1. You'll need a pot, potting soil, a clear plastic bag or plastic wrap, and pruning snips to get started.
  2. Sterilize the pruners and snip off a soft wisteria stem that has a few leaf sets on it.
  3. Optionally, dip the cut end in rooting hormone.
  4. Plant the cut end in moistened potting soil.
  5. Enclose the pot in clear plastic and place it in a warm, indirectly sunny location. It can take about 4 to 6 weeks for the wisteria to take root. When you see signs of new growth, it has rooted. Remove the plastic bag at the first sign of new growth.

How to Grow Chinese Wisteria From Seed

Seed-grown wisteria vines can take between seven and 20 years to produce flowers. Collect the brown, dried-out seed pods in late summer. Store them indoors until the following spring. To remove the seeds, snip the ends of the pods. Soak the seeds for 24 hours in warm water. Plant the seeds shallowly in a soilless mixture like peat and cover with a thin layer of perlite. The seeds need to remain moist during germination, sometimes taking up to six months. Transplant the seedlings once they have reached 4 to 6 inches tall in holes no deeper than their pots. Water them thoroughly.

You can also directly sow the seeds outside after the threat of frost is gone. The seeds should have full to partial sun and well-drained soil, whether planted inside or out. If your planting site is outdoors, use a peat moss mixture or compost, composing at least one-third of the soil. Prepare the area by tilling the soil 18 inches deep and 3 feet wide—plant individual plants or seeds at least 10 to 15 feet apart. Have a support structure like a fence, arbor, trellis, or wall for the vines to climb.

Potting and Repotting Chinese Wisteria

You can grow container-grown wisteria with regular pruning. You can also train wisteria as a bonsai plant. To grow wisteria in a pot, start with a pot that is only a little larger than the one the plant came in. It needs adequate drainage holes to keep the soil well-drained. Repot the container-grown wisteria at least every two years. Planting wisteria in a pot is easiest if you buy a single stem plant. Train the stem to grow up a stake in the pot by tying the stem to the support as it grows. When the stem reaches the top of the stake, remove the tip of the stem to promote branching. Trim the shoots to about a foot long each winter. In time, the container-grown wisteria resembles a small tree.

Overwintering

Wisteria grows in hardiness zones 4 through 9 and can easily survive harsh winters when mature. New wisteria plants will need protection against frost and cold winds, such as a mulching cover for the soil and a protective cover around the young plant.

Spread a 4-inch layer of shredded bark mulch or dead leaves. Leave a couple of inches free of mulch around the vine, and go outward, covering up to 2 feet in diameter. Suitable protective covers can include a plastic tube going around the young seedling or a frost cloth, scrap fabric, or burlap going around an 18-inch diameter of stakes surrounding the plant. Do not let air get in or escape from the bottom of the plant. Use bricks or heavy objects to hold down the bottom of the cover. Remove the cover once the temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Replace the cover if frost is expected.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Common bugs that like Chinese wisteria include Japanese beetles, aphids, leaf miners, scale insects, and mealybugs. You can control most of these insects with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Both methods are organic, environmentally conscious ways to control pests. 

Crown gall is a soil-borne bacteria that can kill wisteria. It looks like a small round overgrowth on the stems and roots. As it grows, it becomes woody with a rough and irregular surface, looking much like a tumor. Cutting off the gall will not save the plant. Once a plant is infected with crown gall, it's a systemic bacteria that will likely kill the plant. You may save the plant by cutting off the full branches that have the early signs of crown gall. If the plant is otherwise healthy and its growing conditions are right, it may be able to fight off the bacterial infection on its own.

Leaf spot is a fungal disease that can affect wisteria. Leaf spot appears like a fuzzy yellow spot on leaves. It should not kill your plant. It generally kills the leaf and does not spread. To prevent fungus from occurring, ensure that your plant has sufficient airflow. If the fungus is widespread, prune the plant, remove all troubled leaves and spray a horticultural oil like neem oil.

How to Get Chinese Wisteria to Bloom

Once Chinese wisteria has matured (it can take up to 20 years), it makes long, beautiful blue or lavender-colored floral sprays that are sweet-smelling. They bloom annually in early to mid-spring, lasting up to a month. It's a good idea to deadhead flowers since their fruits are toxic to humans and animals. Otherwise, deadheading is not necessary for the plant's health and will not encourage new blooms.

The most likely reason your wisteria won't bloom is too much nitrogen in the soil. To correct this, add a phosphorus-rich fertilizer. You can also reduce nitrogen by root pruning or reducing the number of roots a plant has. To break through the roots, go about a 3-foot diameter from the trunk with a shovel. Breaking roots too close to the plant can kill the plant. Also, make sure that your plant is getting plenty of sun and good water drainage. Also, do not overprune your plant. You can inadvertently remove flower buds by aggressively pruning your wisteria.

Common Problems With Chinese Wisteria

Chinese wisteria is a hardy plant once it matures. Like most plants, it prefers certain conditions like good sun exposure and well-draining soil to thrive.

Yellowing Leaves

Overly boggy, soggy soil can cause limp, yellowing leaves that will start falling off the plant. Check your drainage and stop watering until the soil drainage is fixed. Also, soil that is too alkaline can cause leaf yellowing. Check your soil's pH and add peat moss to boost the soil's acidity. The plant's leaves also naturally turn yellow as the temperature cools in the fall.

Leaf Mottling

Leaves that form a mottled discoloration can be infected with a rare disease called tobacco mosaic virus. There is no cure for the virus, and it spreads. Remove and destroy infected vines immediately.

Sudden Death or Dieback

If branches of Chinese wisteria suddenly appear to die, it can be caused by fungal issues or incorrect watering. Check water drainage and prevent waterlogging from affecting your plant. A waterlogged plant can develop root rot, which will kill the plant. Also, make sure that the plant is getting sufficient water. Sometimes plants that are growing along a wall do not get enough water. The wall absorbs moisture. Mulch the soil in the fall to ensure the plant has enough water to sustain itself during the fall and winter months.

FAQ
  • How long can Chinese wisteria live?

    Chinese wisteria can take up to 20 years to mature. It is a long-living plant, able to live up to 100 years.

  • What is the difference between Chinese wisteria and American wisteria?

    Chinese wisteria is a more invasive species than American wisteria. Asian species have long pendulous blossoms with loose dripping petals. American wisteria blooms are shorter, rounder, and more compact. American wisteria is less aromatic than Chinese wisteria.

  • Can Chinese wisteria grow indoors?

    Chinese wisteria is commonly grown indoors as a miniature tree or bonsai plant that can reach up to 2 feet tall. It requires pruning and repotting to grow the way you want. It can produce miniature blooms under the right conditions, although it can take 7 to 20 years before it reaches maturity and blossoms. It requires ample sun and frequent watering to keep it growing well. Keep this delicate plant away from drafts.

Article Sources
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  1. National Capital Poison Center. Virginia creeper and wisteria toxicity.

  2. ASPCA. Wisteria.