Should I winter prune my wisteria?

Tamsin Westhorpe explains how winter pruning wisteria now will encourage more May flowers

At Stocktonbury gardens the buildings are clothed in fabulous wisteria Image: Tamsin Westhorpe

You might be wondering why I am wittering on about wisteria in deepest winter? It’s a plant that so many gardeners hope to have success with and at Stockton Bury it seems to like us. The wisteria on the main house is over 40 years old and the twisted trunk is thicker than the average Christmas waistline! It’s for this reason that I look on in shock when I see a new wisteria being trained up a thin trellis – in time it will twist and break the trellis with its mighty arms.
This summer we unexpectedly lost a pink form, and this encouraged my uncle and I to count the number of wisterias growing in our Herefordshire garden. To our surprise we ran out of fingers – eleven was the impressive grand total. With so many specimens to prune this month you can understand why this climbing plant is on my mind.

Winter pruning

Even if you pruned in July, you’ll have work to do now and pruning in summer and winter is the best way to encourage flowers in 2019. Last summer’s late growth was impressive and as I pass the wisteria with my wheelbarrow the long whippy stems tap me on the shoulder. This growth needs to be controlled or you’ll end up with a giant plant with little or no flowers and so much foliage that you’ll never need to shut your curtains for privacy! Left unchecked the growth will encase gutters and creep under your roof tiles.

Prune now in January to two or three buds to encourage the development of flowers buds. So, put on that woolly hat, get the ladder out and set to work (please be careful when working at height – make sure you have a companion to hold the ladder steady).
You’d be wise to cut back any stems that are very low to the ground right back to the main stem. These will only act as a trip hazard if left. I cut these stems off just before Christmas and used them to make festive decorations. It twists and turns as well as willow.
If you’ve moved and inherited a neglected wisteria, then now is the time to take back control and create a framework.

Top wisteria

It’s not just the pruning of these woody climbers that keeps me busy at this time of year. The ground below the wisterias is covered in little sticks that were at the centre of the racemes of flowers. These little twigs are harder to sweep up than leaves. As I collect them up with the dustpan and brush, I reminisce about the incredible flowers that we enjoyed last May. Of all the wisteria in the garden here it is Wisteria floridunda ‘Burford’ that is the most impressive. This wisteria was introduced by my late, great uncle John Treasure of Burford House in Worcestershire. It has incredibly long racemes of flowers and often has a second flush later in the summer. Another favourite is Wisteria ‘Black Dragon’. We have a very young specimen that has yet to put on a show but in a few years’ time I can’t wait to see the bees dancing around the long racemes of dark purple scented flowers.

In winter the seed pods of wisteria are a striking addition to the garden
Image: Tamsin Westhorpe

For now, I am enjoying the decorative seed heads that are hanging like icicles from the wisteria in our Secret Garden. Not all the wisterias have produced seed heads this year but when they do, they are a very attractive addition to the chilly winter garden.

 

 

 

Tamsin Westhorpe

About Tamsin Westhorpe

Tamsin Westhorpe is well known as an editor, garden writer and lecturer. However, she prefers to be known as a gardener. She was previously Editor of The English Garden magazine and lecturer at Kingston Maurwood College in Dorset. Tamsin started her gardening career at the age of 16 working for her great uncle John Treasure of Burford House Gardens in Worcestershire. Alongside her freelance work and being a mother Tamsin runs Stockton Bury Gardens in Herefordshire with her uncles and is currently training to be an RHS judge.
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