Lee Vanderpool of Ft. Walton Beach, Florida

The ability to consistently cause a wisteria bonsai to flower has long been a subject of much discussion. The variety of suggestions and hints may sometimes work and at other times not. Following is a set of facts, conjectures and best guesses as they pertain to this fickle flowering flora.

If you wish to begin your bonsai with a large trunk, you must look around for ground-grown plants. You will seldom find a mature, well shaped trunk on a nursery specimen. Rumours of branches up to 40mm in diameter rooting are common, although smaller branches will surely root easily and have a potential to become good bonsai in a few short years. If you wish to root cutting, take them in the autumn just after the leaves drop, place them in sand or perlite up to one-third of their length, and keep constantly moist. Rooting should take place over winter but may be delayed until the warm days of spring.

Another method of gaining a large trunk is to find a tall nursery plant, wire the trunk into a shape suitable for wisteria and plant the tree in the ground for a few years. If this means is taken, the tree must be dug up, root-pruned and the branches must be pruned hard in early spring of each year. In two growing seasons in north Florida, a wisteria treated in this manner will easily triple in trunk size. Although flowers must be sacrificed by this method, the result when the tree is finally ready to pot is worth the wait.

Styles for the wisteria must be chosen with the length of the flower racemes in mind. Since the flowers must be able to hang gracefully so that they can be admired, slanting, cascade or semi-cascade styles are appropriate. Lower branches on wisteria bonsai should be discouraged since flowers would touch the ground and spoil the image of freedom portrayed by these fast growing vines.

Trimming and pruning are the keys to causing a wisteria to flower. Flower buds are produced on spurs on year-old wood near old wood. Drastic pruning should take place immediately after blooms fade when the branches should be cut back to one or two buds. Another less drastic trimming should be done about two months after the first, leaving several new buds on new wood. The third and most important trimming should be done around July or early August (Jan./Feb.) leaving just a couple of inches of new growth. Do not cut into old wood with this trimming. After these three trimmings, the bonsai should be allowed to grow the remainder of the growing season, trimming only enough to keep some semblance of shape to the tree.

Repot in the spring just as buds are beginning to swell. Since wisteria roots are thick and ropy, you must be careful when root-pruning and not injure roots drastically. Fungicide applications are most important for this tree. If you wish, the wisteria bonsai may be replanted into the ground after flowering to re-establish its vigour and to enable it to flower profusely again next spring.

Soil can vary from heavy to very light, wisteria seems to have no preference as long as sufficient water is provided.

Fertilise just as you would any other bonsai.


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Random Bonsai Tip

Collecting moss - During winter, check your roof gutters for moss - usually a very fine bright green at that time of the year.