How to Live in Peace with a Wisteria

A wisteria is one of those plants that you either love or dread. One of nature’s most resilient survivors they are able to withstand and recover quickly from difficult conditions. To some they are a little too tough for their own good with a growth rate rivaling bamboo during the summer. If you dream of a wisteria-covered pergola shading your patio here are some maintenance tips that are sure to keep both gardener and vine happy.

Wisteria at Filoli Gardens in Woodside

Wisteria are so vigorous they can be pruned at any time, keeping them in bounds and to clear out unwanted or dead growth. Prune out any stems you see extending into eaves, windows or shingles. If yours has gotten away from you, you can even prune it down to the ground and start over with training although you’ll have to wait a few years for your vine to bloom again.

To their control size major pruning is done during the dormant season. Start by trimming the long tendrils that grew over the summer back to about 6 inches from the main trunk. Cutting the tendrils back in this way will initiate flower bud development, neaten the plant up, and show off the attractive trusty, gnarly character of the vines.

Pruning during the dormant season will also give you a fighting chance of keep your wisteria from getting into mischief. As you know if you have a wisteria, those long tendrils are capable of growing another 25 feet during the summer.

Wisteria shading a patio

Whatever time you do renovation pruning remember the response of the wisteria to aggressive pruning is to literally explode with new runners. They put energy into new vegetative growth at the expense of flowering. Make sure you keep up on ongoing maintenance pruning by removing all unwanted runners right to their point of origin. Then prune back the others to 3 buds or sets of leaves. Repeated pruning of these runners is what will eventually give you spurs of wood, short laterals that in turn will provide you with flower clusters. You need to prune these runners all season long which ends up being every 3-4 weeks.

Do not fertilize your wisteria. They do not flower well is there is an over abundance or luxuriant growth. Over feeding also ends up giving them the means to become un unmanageable monster. If you find the wisteria vine has invaded a nearby bed, cut roots with a shovel below the soil line to control any that have wandered.

Maintaining a wisteria requires some diligence but the reward is worth the effort. Remember this especially during winter pruning season to make summer maintenance easier.

Cooke’s Purple wisteria

Which variety of wisteria should you get to cover your arbor, pergola, tree or other structure?

Chinese varieties such at ‘Cooke’s Special’ has clusters of fragrant blue-purple flowers 20 inches long. This variety can re-bloom which makes it a favorite.

Japanese wisteria ‘Caroline’ blooms early with mauve flowers. ‘Royal Purple’ (also known as ‘Black Dragon’) has sweetly scented dark purple flowers. Japanese wisteria are most effective when grown on pergolas so the long flower cluster can hang freely.

Silky varieties produce a profusion of short, 6 inch, fat clusters of strongly scented flowers that open all at once. They have velvety seed pods and bloom best in full sun.

 

How to Plant a Spectacular Container Garden

There’s something about a beautiful container overflowing with interesting flowers, foliage or succulents that always gets my attention and although I already have 241 containers I’m always on the lookout for ideas to create one more.

Wall planter with ivy geraniums

You can grow anything in a container. Think of them as furnishings. Grow herbs and other edibles near the kitchen door, fragrant flowers to attract beneficial insects, hummingbirds and butterflies, California natives or even plants that glow in the moonlight.

Some of the most dramatic containers utilize the concept of combining a thriller, some fillers and spiller or two. Not all my containers will use this formula but I seem to be drawn to those that do. Plants in nature can be quite random in the way they grow together and still be lovely. Containers need a bit more order to dazzle and direct the eye.

Thrillers act as the centerpiece of a container. They are usually big, bold and beautiful. Next come the fillers. Fillers can be foliage or flowering plants but they should complement and not overwhelm your largest plant. Usually they have a mounding shape and I’ll plant several around the thriller. The last plants are the spillers which are small and will soften the edge of the container.

When planting mixed containers never use more than three plant

Mixed container planting

colors, two is sometimes enough. That doesn’t count green unless it’s lime. Skimpy pots are a miss, pack the plants so the pots are full when you’re done. You want the pots to look good right away. Big pots, at least 16″ across are dramatic and make a nice contrast to matching smaller ones.

In choosing a container, remember a porous clay pot will dry out fast in the summer sun as will a small pot. If you want pots on a sunny deck, you’ll have better results if your container is made or ceramic or colored plastic and is big enough to allow 2 inches of potting soil around the root ball. I don’t use water absorbing polymer granules in my containers as they are all in shade in winter and would stay too wet depriving plant roots of oxygen.

Water when the top 1 inch of soil in the container is dry. On a very hot day, watering mid day will cool the soil although I like to get my watering done early. Get to know your plants. Plants that are still growing into their containers need less frequent watering than those that are getting root bound. How much water? Water until it runs out the bottom and empty the saucer the next day if any water remains. Use a gentle nozzle that doesn’t dislodge the soil or compact it. Also make sure the water in the hose isn’t hot from lying in the sun.

Plants in containers are watered frequently and the water draining out of the bottom carries away nutrients. Actively growing plants need regular feeding from spring to early fall. Water soluble fertilizers are fast acting. Dry granules and time release capsules last longer. Organic fertilizers tend to work more slowly and are especially ideal for trees, shrubs and long lived perennials or for large planters in which you keep the same soil from year to year. Be sure plants are moist before feeding. The best fertilizer is the one that you get out of the package and onto your plants.

Tales from The Mountain Gardener

In celebration of my 600th column for The Press Banner here are some amusing highlights from the past 12 years including some featuring my sidekick Sherman. My springer spaniel has been part of many of my adventures or should I say misadventures and I suspect his collaboration will continue.

The author in her own garden

Time flies when you’re having a good time and that’s exactly how I feel writing my 600th column for the Press Banner. It all started back in Oct. 2005 when I wrote my first column about the benefits of fall planting and this unique area we call home. Since then I’ve covered everything from attracting birds to zucchini pollination and barely touched on all the gardening tips and advice that you might find useful.

Gardeners love to swap stories and I’m no exception. I remember helping someone with a planting plan.They were quite pleased with their new garden but the next time I saw them they told me the husband had pulled out a whole section of plants that turned red and then died. They wanted help to uncover the possible cause. I laughed when he showed me the plant tag from one the victims. They were Japanese barberries that turn red before losing their leaves in the fall. Guess that’s a lesson for us all. A gardener needs patience and a sense of humor.

Years ago I took a trip to Guatemala, Honduras and Utila, an island off the coast of Honduras. It was on Utila that I saw plants growing in washing machine baskets. I thought it was a clever way to re-use old appliances but wondered why there were so many old washing machines on a tiny island. A local laughed and told me the baskets protect their plants from the big blue crabs that come out at night. Seems the crabs will sever the stem right at ground level and drag the whole plant into their hole. Also the baskets protect the plants from the iguanas who will eat anything within two feet of the ground. And you thought deer, gophers and rabbits were a problem?

Sherman, moss eater.

I moved up to Bonny Doon a couple years ago. The existing garden has some beautiful old rock walls created from many varieties of fieldstone and covered with moss. Another section has a new concrete block retaining wall lacking any character. So when fall weather arrived I scraped off some moss from the old wall and mixed it with buttermilk hoping to spruce up the plain wall when the moss took hold.

With bucket and 4 inch paintbrush in hand I tackled the new wall slapping on the moss slurry with abandon just before the winter rains started. I had almost completed my project and looked back to admire my work imagining how beautiful the wall would look covered with dark green moss.

What I didn’t count on was Sherman, my Welsh springer spaniel. He had been following me licking off most of the buttermilk. I added hot sauce to the remainder of the slurry but that barely slowed him down. The rain washed off most of the mixture so there is only a smattering of moss here and there on the new wall but it’s a start. Hope springs eternal for a gardener.

I always make the most of any excursion. You don’t have to go to an island off Honduras to find interesting solutions to gardening challenges.

Perennial garden in Poland

The gardens in eastern Poland were spectacular. The soil here, deposited by glaciers, is rich with sediment and nutrients. Sunflowers border neat plots of cabbage, beets, potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and leeks. Black-eyed Susan cover the hillsides with swaths of gold blooms. Berries such as currants, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry are grown in large plots and fenced with wire. Every 10 feet or so plastic bags are attached and wave in the breeze. I was told this keeps the wild boar, roe and red deer at bay.

I love to receive emails from readers with questions and ideas for columns. Inquiring minds want to know. Email me at janis001@aol.com.