How to Grow Japanese, Chinese, & American Wisteria Plants

Guide to Growing Japanese wisteria, American wisteria, and Chinese Wisteria and Kidney Bean

Wisteria is a genus of hardy perennial climbing plants able to reach heights of over 9 metres (30 feet).

They have compound leaves, and bloom from the end of spring through to the first months of summer, carrying fragrant flowers in racemes reminiscent of those seen in peas; these may be pink, purplish-blue, or white.

Although usually known by their genus name, Chinese Kidney Bean is another common name for Wisteria plants.


Wisteria by byrdiegyrl.

How to Grow Wisteria

It is best to grow Wisteria plants from cuttings, divided or purchased plants; it can take up to 20 years for seed grown plants to flower!

If you have a lot of patience and want to try growing Wisteria Wisteria plants from seed then it is best to first chip the seeds and soak in water for about a day.

Sow the beans at the end of autumn or before the last frost of spring a depth of about 3 cm (1/10th inch). It should take about a month for the Wisteria to germinate.

Whether growing from seed, cuttings, or divided plants the Wisteria should be grown singly and located in either a sunny or partially shaded part of the garden that has a rich and moist soil with good drainage.

Caring for Wisteria

Wisteria vines such as the Chinese kidney bean are climbers and require something to grow on such a trellis or a wall.

They like a moist soil so keep well watered and supply with a mulch in the spring. Feed with a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen.

Though fairly easy to grow, getting newly established plants to flower is another matter. If you can get access to the plant hormone giberellin then an exogenous application should help to promote flowering. Failing this expect a long wait.

It is a good idea to prune back to about 6 or 7 buds in the summer time until the first year of flowering. Once flowering has occurred, then the growing Wisteria can be cut back to three buds in the winter. If you require more Wisteria plants then propagate by taking root cuttings in the summer, or by division in the spring.

How to Prune Wisteria

Once flowering has finished in the summer cut back new green growth to about five or six leaves to help prevent crowding. When plants are dormant, in the middle of winter, cut back the growths pruned in the summer to about three buds.

If your Wisteria plants are growing in areas where they shouldn't be, then it is fine to give them a hard prune: remove old stems to a level that is just higher than the new shoots or branch, or even cut back to a main stem or the ground if more drastic measures are required.

Be aware that this will stimulate new growth so do not feed plants in the spring following the prune.

If your plant has lost its shape, then train new growths so that they create branches where you want them. Be aware that it typically takes at least two growing seasons for new Wisteria branches to flower.

How to Grow Wisteria Video

The following video gives an overview on growing Wisteria plants in the garden

Quick Growing Wisteria and Care Guide

  • Common Names: Japanese wisteria, American wisteria, Kentucky wisteria, Chinese Kidney Bean.
  • Main Species: Commonly grown garden wisteria include: Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria); Wisteria frutescens (American Wisteria); Wisteria macrostachya (Kentucky Wisteria); Wisteria sinensis (Chinese Wisteria); and Wisteria venusta (Silky Wisteria).

  • Life Cycle: Hardy perennial.
  • Height: 30 to 65 feet (9—20 m). Climbing vine.
  • Native: Northern America, Eastern Asia.

  • Growing Region: Zones 4 to 9.
  • Flowers: Species dependent: Late spring (Most of the Asian species) or middle of summer (American and Japanese species).
  • Flower Details: Pink, purple, violet, white. Racemes. Pea-like. Grape-like fragrance.
  • Foliage: Woody. Alternate. Pinnate.

  • Sow Outside: Usually grown from cuttings as seed grown plants may take over twenty years to bloom. Seeds: 1 inch (2.5 mm). Start of spring - before the last light frost, or towards the end of autumn.
  • Sow Inside: : Chip seeds and soak in warm water for one day. Germination time: one month. Temperature: ~60°F (15°C).

  • Requirements and care: Full sunlight or partial shade. Good drainage. Rich soil. Spring mulch. Regular watering during periods of growth. Light prune after flowering. Do not use fertilizers high in nitrogen. Prune more heavily, back to two or three buds on shoots, in the winter. Can be induced to flower by autumn pruning of the roots. Once established do not disturb. Propagate: by dividing in the spring, or from hardwood or root cuttings in late spring/summer.
  • When to Prune Wisteria: Twice a year: Mid to late winter, and mid- to late summer (after flowering). Pruning improves flowering, helps to control plant size, and prevents plants getting out of control.

  • Family: Fabaceae.
  • Closely Related Species: Beans, peas, and other legumes.
  • Miscellaneous: Also spelt as wisteria. The largest recorded Wisteria vine covers an area of over an acre (0.40 ha), and is thought to weigh about 250 tons (226,796 Kg). Considered an invasive species in some parts of the USA. Food source for the brown-tail moth (Euproctis chrysorrhoea). Not to be confused with Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis).

Specific Wisteria Growing Guides

Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria)

Japanese Wisteria are deciduous woody climbers bearing pinnate leaves that can reach 4 to 8 meters (13–26 feet) in height.

They bloom with racemes of pea-like flowers in the spring and at the start of summer. The flowers have a fragrance similar to grapes, and are usually pink, violet or white. Can be grown as a tree or trained against a wall, or even in a container. Can be subject to leaf spot, powdery mildew, and scale insects.

Wisteria floribunda

Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria) by TANAKA Juuyoh

Wisteria frutescens (American Wisteria)

American wisteria vines typically reach heights of 4.5 to 9 meters (15–30 feet). They are native to the East of the USA and perform well in zones 5 to 9.

Plants have a clock-wise growing nature. Flowers are lilac and carried in drooping racemes of about 15 cm (6 inches). These appear in late spring, typically before new leaves have fully developed.

Leaves are deep green and pinnate. It is often favored over Chinese wisteria, as it does not grow as aggressively.

Bonsai American Wisteria Growing in a Container

American wisteria bonsai by SuperFantastic

Wisteria frutescens be subject to fungal diseases and leaf eating insects. These are not major problems however, and failed blooming is usually down to over-fertilization, being grown in the shade, or flower buds dying in the cold of winter.

Wisteria sinensis (Chinese Wisteria / Chinese Kidney Bean)

These are vigorous woody vines native to China, and are considered an invasive species in many areas.

Climbing twinning stems carry dark green pinnate shaped leaves, and bloom with 30 cm (6 inch) fragrant racemes of lilac or mauve flowers in the spring and summer.

Wisteria sinensis can reach heights of 12 meters (40 feet) and a breadth of 8 metres (26 feet).

They do well in full sun and partial shade and like a moist but well-drained soil.

Chinese Wisteria

Wisteria sinensis (Chinese Wisteria) by Joe Thomissen

Wisteria macrostachya (Kentucky Wisteria)

The Wisteria macrostachya vine ranges from 4.5 to 7.5 metres (15¬–25 feet). It first blooms at the start of summer, carrying racemes of up to 30 cm (12 inches).

Blooms are often repeated in flushes throughout the summer. The ‘Blue moon’ cultivar is popular because it is very hardy through the winter and does not grow as aggressively as other wisteria species.

Plants produce seedpods of about 12 cm (5 inches) in length that ripen in the autumn and winter.

Wisteria macrostachya

Kentucky Wisteria Plants by gerrybuckel

Other than the usually minor effects associated with leaf eating pests and fungal diseases, there are no major problems affecting readily growing Wisteria macrostachya plants.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Wisteria plants in your garden. You may also enjoy the following species specific guides: How to grow Wisteria floribunda, Wisteria floribunda Alba, and Wisteria sinensis.