It’s hard to imagine a prettier, or more purple sight, that a cascade of Wisteria flowers dancing towards the trunk of a bonsai plant. To gaze upon a Wisteria in full bloom is to observe a thing of beauty, and so here we give you some tips towards training and maintaining your own.
All about Wisteria
These lovely plants come in a number of varieties, two types of which are actually native to North America. The Kentucky Wisteria and American Wisteria are grown in gardens around the country and produce a shiny seed pod. Perhaps either Chinese (Wisteria sinensis) or Japanese (Wisteria floribunda) Wisteria are the best choices for use as a bonsai plant because they are faster growing and a bit better equipped for life in a pot. Although they are widely available, these two species could be considered invasive in America which makes for just another reason they are great as a potted plant.
Appearance of Wisteria bonsai
Wisterias are climbing plants, and produce long, scented bunches of flowers in tones of blue, purple, pink and white. The clusters of flowers are known as racemes. The strong fragrance is easily identifiable and is one of the best parts about keeping one at home. The scent of the white varieties is the strongest and most distinctive; however the purple shades are seen as the trademark of the Wisteria. Despite not being the first plant you might associate as a good choice for bonsai, they are actually used very frequently for this purpose in Japan.
Wisteria as a Bonsai
You can raise new plants from hard wood cuttings in late autumn or early winter. Wisterias are vigorous growers, deciduous with slender branches and drooping clusters with mid to dark green leaves. Leaflet amounts vary by species but will be around 10 for the Chinese Wisteria and up to 19 or 20 for the Japanese Wisteria. Wisterias are suitable for many styles of bonsai such as informal upright, slanting, root over rock and cascade. Some incredible and impressive examples of Wisteria as a driftwood bonsai can be found online, and with proper training the racemes can take on a truly weeping appearance.
Wisteria bonsai likes and dislikes
You will find Wisteria plants easy to grow. They are hardy, and can tolerate both warm and cool conditions. They do not require special protection, even in winter, but do monitor them in the event of extreme cold spells. In colder states, they probably will be happier in a greenhouse. Feed them when the flowers are fading right through to mid-summer and into early autumn.
Watering Wisteria Bonsai
Wisterias are quite thirsty plants, and your bonsai will have quite high water needs during warmer weather and the growing season. Watering can be done by watering can or hose, although this will need to be done a couple of times a day during the hottest weather. Perhaps a better method is to soak the plant in a tub of water for around three hours a day. Don’t forget your plant because longer soaking times are not recommended and may lead to root degradation or rot.
Repotting Wisteria bonsai
Be ready to repot your Wisteria bonsai every other year for the duration of its life. The best time for transplantation to occur is just after the flowering has ceased for the year. Make sure your soil selection include Akadama, which will encourage good growth and drainage. Loam is also a useful addition to the soil mix. Younger plants can tolerate a good deal of root cutback at repotting, but go a little easier on this task as the plant matures.
It requires some effort to help a Wisteria take on the characteristics and appearance of a bonsai. Giving your plant regular care and attention will help you transform it into a successful bonsai. In terms of pot selection, try to find one that is:
- Deep, to allow for root development
- Glazed, which tends to enhance the showy colors of the flowers
- Rounded , to provide some symmetry
- Color matched, consider blues or whites
Bugs and Pests
Scale insects find Wisteria plants just as attractive as we do. If you find them in your plant, treat it immediately with an insecticide. Less common to find are Wisteria borderers which tunnel into the plant and move around inside the tissue. If you only keep one or two plants, it is unlikely you will encounter this problem. Apart from these occasional visitors, you will actually find very few problems with either the Japanese or Chinese Wisteria.
- Spring – flowers will emerge
- Summer – prune by late summer once flowers are subsiding and cut back shoots to around two leaves
- Autumn – raise new plants from cuttings
- Winter – monitor and shield from extreme temperatures and snow
Tips to help your Wisteria Bonsai
Proper pruning is the key to good flower growth. Fertilizing your Wisteria bonsai will give it a boost towards the production of annual flowers. Use a fertilizer high in nitrogen as flowers emerge and then again as you notice them dying back and after pruning. The use of Japanese rapeseed fertilizer is mentioned in many traditional sources and will really help flower show.
Advice for growing a Wisteria bonsai
Be aware as you grow these beauties that they contain substances called lectic and wisterin which cause problems if ingested by animals or humans. The seedpods contain the most of these toxins so you may wish to carefully remove them if you have little ones or pets around. In fact, taking them before they develop will benefit growth. You may also wish to keep the area in which your plant grows clean and tidy as seeds, flowers and pods will drop.
The bottom line: Delicate and dainty, Wisteria are truly an exceptional plant to look at and enjoy. They are surprisingly hardy, and so the challenge for using them as a bonsai plant is not keeping them alive but rather trying to ensure regular flowering and also that they take on an attractive bonsai form.