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Wisteria pruning and care..
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Wisteria is one of those plants that when grown well is a classical show stopper, but in the wrong hands can stubbornly refuse to flower.
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Tools of the Trade.
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Caring for wisteria can be divided into two main categories, pruning and mechanical support. Wisteria is normally grown as a wall climber, and under these conditions, if given suitable support will reach heights in excess of 15 mtrs and spread up to 40 mtrs. These plants can get extremely heavy and a large part of the care of this plant is dedicated to the infrastructure holding the plant up.
On brick walls, the favorite fixing method is heavy gauge steel wire threaded through vine eyes, and tensioned with strainer bolts. Whilst I do not recommend that you hang from the wire, it should be strong enough to take your weight easily. The vine when in full flower is likely to be far heavier. If in any doubt, run a second line.
This task is best done during the Winter months when visibility is not impaired by the foliage. Remember that over the years, the steel will rust and fixings may come loose from crumbling mortar. Check thoroughly at least once a year and install new lines where required. Hiring a small army to pull it all back up after a storm has ripped it away from the wall costs many times the price of running a few extra lines.
Wisteria needs dedicated pruning twice a year to keep the vine and display in tip top condition. The first of these sessions should be carried out in early Spring before the flower buds grow too much, when they are easily damaged.
The main purpose of this pruning is to regain control of the plant which has probably grown a bit untidy during the previous Summer. If the vine is well established, it should have large numbers of flowering spurs like the picture on the right. The fat flower buds are clearly visible and care is needed not to knock these while at work.
At the top left of the picture there are two "water" shoots that have to be snipped off. All we want on a flower spur is flower buds, nothing else.
During the previous Summer, the vine will have produced a number of long thin shoots. If you wish to extend the coverage or replace an old branch, these young shoots should be carefully tied into the required position. Mostly though, they are just a nuisance and should be carefully cut out and untangled to leave a nice uncluttered framework of branches not a big ball of knitting. When cutting these young shoots, leave an inch or so of stem remaining as this will encourage the formation of flower buds in coming years.
Once the main flush of flowers is over, the vines go into overdrive with new shoots growing in all directions at a rapid rate. Some of these new shoots may be required to extend the overall coverage of the plant, but most just become a nuisance.
Extending the coverage is simply a matter of tieing the strongest and best placed shoots to the support lines. Normally, these can be curled around the wire using the natural twist of the vine, but do not risk snapping a good shoot for the sake of some string or wire.
Once an area of wall has sufficient coverage, the vine has to be encouraged to stop making rampant growth, and change to the production of flower spurs. These are short stubby branches that will produce the spring flowers for many years to come.
Converting a green shoot that wants to grow a metre each week, into a short woody flower spur requires regular attention during the July-August period. If ignored for too long, the plant will produce huge tangled balls of foliage that will become a nightmare to tidy up.
The first cut should be made approx six leaf joints away from where the young shoot emerged from the support branch, but this need not be exact. Almost immediately, fresh growths will appear from the shortened stub, and these will need cutting back to within one or two leaf joints on a regular basis.
Sometimes the plant will produce a second show of flowers, and although these are not as good as the main flush, they add to the enjoyment of the garden. Leave them until flowering is over, then continue the routine of cutting back the green shoots.
Young shoots trained for new coverage.
Caring for Wisteria often involves working from ladders or steps and these must be treated with respect.
Always ensure that the access equipment is stable before climbing up, and never try to overreach. It is so tempting to stretch out for that last shoot rather than move the ladder but it is not worth the risk of personal injury.