Catastrophe! Or, how you really can over-prune a wisteria



The vine in question had been overstepping its bounds for the past couple years and I hadn’t done much more than hack at it around the edges. For a really severe trim, we needed a higher ladder and maybe a professional who would be more comfortable in the heights. We thought.

Or maybe not. Who knows how it happened—a miscalculation, a mishap, or just over-zealous clipping—but the whole vine left its moorings on our garage and came crashing forward. The debris was easily as much as you'd see from a smallish tree coming down. Now I have about 6 feet of trunk and a big gap where its leafy frame used to enclose the pond area. The trellis it used to rest on is completely bare and the part of the garage that had been invisible before had to be quickly painted to match the rest. Oh, and a hydrangea got crushed. (I think it will recover.)

It’s a wisteria, so I’m thinking it will grow back and maybe I can keep it within the bounds of ruliness this time.  Meanwhile, the trellis is temporarily hidden behind a truly gigantic palm, there’s a new hydrangea, and some other tropicals are helping to enclose the pond. It’s just not the same though; I miss the big green cap (which did bloom).

Aggressive vines have always been my friends in this narrow patio space surrounded as it is by tall, narrow structures. Verticality works here, and I’m willing to maintain the more rampant of the many climbers I have. In fact, it looks now that a climbing hydrangea is well on its way to replacing part of the coverage formerly afforded by the wisteria (though not with the same height).

There are way worse things that can happen in gardening, and in life—but it was still traumatic. Maybe some tales of your worse setback will provide comfort!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. You enter our screen porch as you exit the rear of our house. To the left is our septic tank and to the right is our gray water tank- underneath all my perennial beds. Last August our gray water starting failing and my husband says, “I’m going to get the septic guys out here soon to look at that.” Me, “O.k., let me know when so I can move some plants.” I come home THAT DAY and the septic side of the house (not the gray water) is destroyed. “WHAT HAPPENED?!!” Husband, “Oh, I called the septic guys and they could come right out. We couldn’t find the gray water system, so I told them to go ahead and clean out the septic while they were here. They’ll be back once we find the gray water tank.” Aauurrgh! It’s a year later and the huge bare spots in the landscape are starting to fill in.

  2. In Japan there are many Wisteria display gardens. After flowering the vines ate trimmed severly. New growth with great flowers are ready the following year. They also make standard trees from Wisteria. Nancy

  3. My dog is great about following the backyard path through the garden and onto the back parking pad (gravel) to do her business late at night. A few years ago I let her out and she immediately dove into my woodland section – totally flattening and breaking Bloodroot, Jack in the Pulpit, ferns,Snakeroot ect in her attempts to ‘get’ the humungous racoon that had been sitting there.

  4. Over the past 30 years I’ve had to twice cut my wisteria way back for fence repairs. It really does grow back! Next summer you will be back in business.

  5. So I was wandering around the front yard, fertilizing the Celandine poppies, and there was this splintery creaky noise.

    And I looked up.

    What amazes me most is that I didn’t try to move. I was completely rooted to the spot. Alas, the tree was not so well rooted, and a thirty foot snag that had been lurking behind rather more robust trees and sort of escaped attention fell down, missed me by about eighteen inches, tore down a trellis, missed my hardy pomegranate by less than two inches, and lay across my beds in a”look-how-you-nearly-died” kinda way.

    I finished fertilizing, in a nonchalant trees-fall-on-me-every-day kinda way, then had mild hysterics. My boyfriend came home, dragged it out of the way, and now that particular bed has a large downed tree as the backing up against the wood lot.

    Astoundingly, it didn’t kill a single plant. The trellis was toast, though.

  6. Seven years ago, In late winter, I was looking out at the clothesline in the backyard (there when we bought the house). I had created a bed beneath it, and trained a sweet autumn clematis along the ropes. I found myself tilting my head to one side as I looked. My husband walked up and I said, “Does that thing look sort of – I don’t know – lopsided to you?” He looked and replied, “It’s not lopsided. It’s collapsing!” And sure enough, he was right. The winter had done it in. Unfortunately, the people who were going to build me a pergola to replace the clothesline weren’t available until summer. I had to enlist the help of a friend to get everything dug up and potted, and I held my breath until fall – one of the plants I had to dig up was my cherished ‘Waterbabies’ oriental poppy, It comes in gorgeous shades from plum to peach to watermelon pink. I got it from White Flower Farm, but by then they no longer offered it. I would have been brokenhearted if it hadn’t survived the transplant (they often don’t), but come late August, a new flush of leaves appeared in the pot, and life was good. Not so good the day they were digging the holes for the pergola supports and cut the telephone line……..

  7. I enjoyed reading about your love for the

    ‘Waterbabies’ oriental poppy flowers. I live in Michigan and have trouble with them blooming past one year. Is this because of the cold climate? Is there anyway I can grow them in Michigan? Thanks. slk

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