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, but unfortunately it is toxic and very invasive.

It bears large, drooping clusters of fragrant flowers from May to June, typically a bluish-purple. If you plant it, it's best to plant it in the spring or fall. This vine is a vigorous climber that can grow to 25 feet tall. Trellises and other supports must be sturdy enough to hold the plant's weight.

Chinese wisteria is a rapid grower that can take up to 20 years to mature enough to produce flowers. It also tends to be very long-lived.

Warning

Chinese wisteria is toxic. It is also an aggressive grower and is an invasive plant in the United States. American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), a North American native plant, is a less aggressive alternative. If you want a wisteria and do not already have one, it would be more responsible to choose the American wisteria or Kentucky wisteria.

Common Name Chinese wisteria
Botanical Name Wisteria sinensis
Family Fabaceae
Plant Type Deciduous perennial vine
Mature Size 10–25 ft. long, 4–8 ft. spread
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial sun
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 5–8 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to people and pets

Chinese Wisteria Care

When planting this vine, choose a location where you can install a solid support structure, such as an arbor or a pergola, that will carry the plant's weight as the vine matures. 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 things to try, For instance, you can apply a high-phosphorus fertilizer to promote 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.

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 full 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. It does not like to be transplanted, so ensure the soil at the planting site is suitable.

Water

Frequently and deeply water a young plant 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.

Temperature and Humidity

Chinese wisteria can withstand freezing temperatures, 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 if the soil remains moist. 

Fertilizer

Fertilizer is unnecessary for Chinese wisteria unless the soil is poor and infertile. To amend poor soil, add a layer of compost to promote growth and blooming.

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 one foot long throughout the summer months.
  • Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda): Similar to Chinese wisteria, this Asian species is invasive in North America. 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 not as aggressive as the non-native Chinese wisteria.

Pruning

The most high-maintenance aspect 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. 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 might have to wait up to 20 years for wisteria to flower from planted seeds. Because 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, moistened 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 the pot filled with moistened potting soil.
  5. Enclose the pot in clear plastic and place it in a warm, indirect sun location. It can take about four to six weeks for the wisteria to take root.
  6. 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 four to six inches tall no deeper than their pots. Water them thoroughly.

You can also directly sow the seeds outside after the threat of frost has passed. 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 to comprise one-third of the soil. Install a support structure like a fence, arbor, trellis, or wall for the vines to climb.

Potting and Repotting Chinese Wisteria

You can grow wisteria in a container if you regularly prune it. 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. The pot 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 USDA cold hardiness zones 5 through 98and can easily survive harsh winters when mature. However, young wisteria plants will need protection against frost and cold winds, such as a layer of organic mulch and a protective cover around the young plant.

To protect the plant with mulch, spread a four-inch deep layer of shredded bark mulch or dried leaves. Don't let the mulch touch the plant stem. Spread the mulch outward starting a few inches from the stem, covering up to two feet in diameter. Suitable protective covers can include a plastic tube going around the young seedling or a frost cloth, scrap fabric, or burlap.

Do not let air get in or escape from the bottom. 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.

How to Get Chinese Wisteria to Bloom

Once Chinese wisteria has matured (it can take up to 20 years), it produces long, beautiful, sweet-smelling blue or lavender-colored floral sprays. They bloom annually in early to mid-spring, lasting up to a month. It's a good idea to deadhead flowers because 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. Also, make sure that your plant is receiving plenty of sun and good water drainage.

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

Chinese wisteria leaves naturally turn yellow as the temperatures cool in the fall. However, in other parts of the growing season, overly boggy, soggy soil can cause limp, yellowing leaves that will start falling from the plant. Check soil drainage and stop watering until the soil drainage issue is fixed.

Soil that is too alkaline can cause leaf yellowing. Perform a soil test to determine the soil pH level, and if it is too high (too alkaline), add elemental sulfur, aluminum sulfate or sulfuric acid to increase acidity levels.

Leaf Mottling

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

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 (Wisteria sinensisa) is a more invasive species than American wisteria (W. frutescens). 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 and is much less aggressive.

  • Can Chinese wisteria grow indoors?

    Chinese wisteria is commonly grown indoors as a miniature tree or bonsai plant that can reach up to two 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 seven 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
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wisteria sinensis. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  2. Wisteria sinensis. North Carolina State Extension.

  3. Wisteria vein mosaic virus. University of California, Agriculture & Natural Resources.