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Top tips for maintaining magnificent wisteria

Wisteria sinensis at Fittleworth House, West Sussex

Head gardener, Mark Saunders, shares his top tips for keeping the magnificent, 100 year old wisteria at Fittleworth House gardens looking its best.

We have an ordinary wisteria sinensis on the main house which was probably planted between 1908 and 1914. There are two plants, one either side of the front entrance and they cover the front of the three storey building up to about 40ft high. It would grow over the roof if left to its own devices. 

Pruning

We prune three times a year starting in January with the major prune of the year. All the leaves are off at this point so you can see everything that needs doing. All new growth from last year is pruned to about four buds, dead wood removed and anything going where it shouldn’t be cut. Ladder safety is paramount and if a hard prune is required then we hire in a cherry picker. 

 The next pruning is after it finishes flowering so say at the beginning of June. At this point it is in full leaf so we just prune the new whippy growth, again back to four buds making sure it is cut back away from the windows, gutters and soffit boards. 

There is a need for a third prune in late Summer but this just needs to be growth around the windows, gutters and soffit boards again and not the whole thing. 

In 2015 we did cut 5ft of growth protruding outwards from the plants, leaving just the bare skeleton of a framework. Within two years you would have barely noticed we had cut anything. This is to say that almost the harder you cut back the harder it grows back. We do feed once a year with grow more but I suspect the roots are substantial enough that it gets what it needs easily enough. 

The challenges

The main problem with the wisteria is its sheer size and the need to work safely when pruning it. Anyone planting a new one should really think in the long term about how the wisteria will be supported whether its vertically or horizontally.  Wooded pergolas can create a good frame. Pruning is the key to flowering.

Mark’s top tips 

  1. Buy a plant in flower if possible, you will know it can flower. Cut the flowers off at planting to encourage root growth 
  2. Make sure the new plants home is big enough to allow it to grow, not in a pot, and make sure any supporting structure is strong enough 
  3. Pruning three times a year will encourage flowers but only lightly prune young plants 
  4. Frost may be a problem for flowers so don’t site in a frost pocket 
  5. Watch out for growth going under tiles, into gutters, along phone/electric wires and stop accordingly


Fittleworth House opens for the National Garden Scheme on two Wednesdays each month throughout April – August. The wisteria will be at its best c.mid-late May into June – find out more here
Visit a garden in your area – National Garden Scheme (ngs.org.uk)

 

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