It may look blooming gorgeous at the moment, but you need to learn how to prune wisteria – and fast – if you want it to do the same next year.
That's right: while there are plenty of important garden ideas you need to action this month (the best vegetables to sow in August are still waiting), pruning your beloved wisteria needs to go to the top of the list.
How to prune wisteria
It doesn't matter whether your wisteria is growing wild and free, or whether you've sussed out how well wisteria grows in pots and containers: this iconic plant needs pruning twice a year – always in January/February and July/August.
This doesn't just keep its growth and size under control; it ensures beautiful blooms year after year, too.
'Wisteria are strong growing plants and can make many new shoots and leaves at the expense of flowers,' explains Morris Hankinson, director of Hopes Grove Nurseries.
Morris Hankinson is the founder and managing director of Hopes Grove Nurseries Ltd, the UK’s only specialist grower-retailer of hedging plants, which he established after graduating with a Commercial Horticulture Degree from Writtle College, Essex in 1992.
Chomping at the bit, then, to learn how to prune wisteria like a pro? Don't worry: we've got you covered.
What you will need
You don't need much in the way of equipment when it comes to pruning wisteria.
However, it's a good idea to grab:
- A pair of heavy-duty secateurs
- A pair of gardening gloves
- A sturdy ladder
- A bag for your discards (all of which would make for ideal composting material)
Thankfully, learning how to prune wisteria is actually pretty easy once you get started.
'It's actually quite an intuitive process,' says Christopher O'Donoghue of Gardens Revived. 'After you've done it the once, you'll find it incredibly easy – especially when you remember that you're just aiming to tidy it up more than anything.'
With these optimistic words ringing in our ears then, let's get to it.
Summer pruning (July/August)
When it comes to sussing out how to prune wisteria, it's important to remember that you will be doing slightly different things depending on the time of year.
In the summer, Morris advises that you 'wait until they have finished growing' before tracing each of the whippy green shoots (that's the wispy new growths) back to the base of the plant.
From there, trace along the length of the new shoot until you have 6 buds/leaves, and 'cut after the sixth at an angle to leave a spur.'
'These spurs will produce next year’s flowers,' he says, 'and the process will tidy up your wisteria enormously.'
'Any wayward stems can be tied in at the same time,' adds Morris, noting that you should cut away any long stems with old seed pods on them, before chucking everything in your compost bin.
Winter pruning (January/February)
There is a slightly different method to adhere to when figuring out how to prune wisteria in the winter months, as you need to cut these same shoots back to just two or three buds.
'You need to do this when the wisteria is dormant and leafless,' says Christopher, 'so work on your plant's own growing schedule. It will usually be sometime after Christmas, though.'
Pruning wisteria in pots
If your wisteria is growing merrily in a pot or container, you will need to adjust your pruning techniques slightly.
'The growth is more restricted, making for a simple pruning job,' says Morris. 'For the first year or two, it's best to concentrate on getting a nice framework.'
Noting that 'potted wisteria are almost always grown as standards (on a stem)', Morris advises that you shift your focus to 'concentrate on this and getting a bushy group of branches at the top of it'.
'From then on, prune back the young growths to six leaves in the summer,' he adds. 'In January or February prune back the remaining shoots to within 2 or 3 buds of where the shoot emerges from on the framework.'
If you need to remove any old or cumbersome branches, it is best to do this over the winter when the wisteria is dormant – and be sure to take things slowly as you do so,.
'Always make sure that you are cutting back to either just above a strong young branch or growth shoot lower down, completely back to a main branch, or even all the way down to ground level,' says Christopher.
'Remember that hard pruning almost always leads to strong new growth, so you may want to be stingier with your fertiliser in the spring, too.'
Anyone else suddenly feeling the urge to get chomping with their secateurs?
When should wisteria be cut back?
Once you've learned how to prune wisteria, you will know that it's important to adhere to the plant's growing schedule: this means that wisteria should be cut back twice a year – once in the winter when the plant is dormant (January/February) and once in the summer after flowering (July/August).
How do I prune a wisteria?
When pruning wisteria, remember that the aim isn't just to control growth and shape: it is also to allow sunlight to the base of younger growths, as well as improve air circulation around the plant. With this in mind, you will need to cut back wispy green shoots to 5/6 leaves after flowing in the summer, and to 2/3 buds in the winter when the wisteria is leafless.
Should I hard prune wisteria?
Older and more established wisteria may need more severe pruning to control wayward plants or remove any worn branches. In these cases, it's best to tackle the job after your wisteria has shed its leaves for winter – and always take your time, too. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says that the finished result should be a 'skeleton frame work of reasonably well-spaced branches'.
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Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.
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