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Wollemi Pines, Wisteria & Compost

Where are the Wollemi pines in Ontario; more on pruning Wisteria, and how not to make a compost pile!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

April 26, 2009

Above, our lovely Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) on my Toronto (East York) home back in 2001, just a year before we sold; and below, Pierre Bourque, then director of the Jardin Botanique de Montréal, and since then a Mayor of Montréal, talks about the same plant growing in Montréal.
Author photos.

A couple of interesting questions this week. The first one came from Zofia Stefanowicz in Etobicoke Ontario: “I am desperately looking for a Wollemi pine. Do you know where I can get one?”

I originally thought this would be an easy one. If you check my past articles on you’ll find I have written about this plant at least three times, and Brian Minter has written about it twice. Availability here on Vancouver Island, as well as on the Lower Mainland is quite good with several nurseries and garden centres selling the plants. But, the same would not appear to be the case in Ontario. I checked with both Guy Peters of Humber Nurseries and Amin Datoo of Sheridan Nurseries 2827 Yonge Street location, and neither knew of the plant! Amin has promised to check with such wholesale people as Bruce Jensen next week and if I get a positive report at all, I shall report it here next week.

This second question from Sarah Allen came quite a distance, as you’ll read: “I have been trying to Google problems with wisteria, and your website came up. I am from Tucson Arizona so you may not be familiar enough with our soil and weather to help, but I thought I'd try. I bought two wisteria vines, both already in bloom, from a local reputable nursery. Wisteria has been successful in Tucson, but is almost never seen here because it needs "help" to keep healthy and blooming. I planted wisteria in sun with amended soil (lots of organic material and acid because we have very salty soil here). I got lots of blooms in the spring and again in the fall the first year. This spring however, I had fewer blooms and only on one vine. I cut all the runners back considerably in the fall of last year, but to be honest, I don't really get the correct pruning process. Is it okay to prune the branches completely off? I'm going for a single trunk. If so, what should I prune the top to? It probably grew 10 feet last year. Maybe that's why the plant isn't focusing on the flowers. Did I understand you correctly to prune right before the first large bud on the long runners?

“In the fall last year, all the leaves started getting holes in them.

“The nursery said it was from cutter bees, but none of my other plants seem to have this problem. And this spring, I have noticed some of the leaves having yellowish spots in them. I can't tell if it's a fungus, or some sort of deficiency. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.”

I do not usually get involved with such problems when the gardener is so far away (climate-wise at least) but decided to provide a little information, since getting wisterias to bloom can be quite a problem. My first advice is usually to do with buying the plant or plants originally--always to buy them in the spring when they are in bloom. And obviously Sarah Allen was on the right track here. Then comes the pruning. I think she has missed the point on that topic. Here is what I’ve said previously on that subject. “The pruning is very important. In mid-summer you should cut back all the new long thin growths to about 30-40 cm (12-16”). And you can repeat that in late summer as well. Then in March next year (and every year) go back and prune back those growths even further, perhaps to about 20 cm (8”), and if possible, to just in front of a larger bud, wherever on the stem you may find that. You should see some bloom following such treatment. Two callers on my radio programme of last Saturday specifically called to advise that they had followed this advice from earlier years, and that it was working well for them.”

It seems Sarah wishes to have a tall thin specimen and that is possible but she will have to leave some side growths (as per my instructions above) on which the bloom buds will occur. In Sarah’s area the time for pruning may be off a bit, but not likely too much.

Unfortunately, I cannot offer you much help on the insect/disease front. The holes are obviously caused by an insect, but just what is difficult to say. I would suggest you try Sevin (Carbaryl), Malathion or similar insecticide. As to the yellowish spots, those could be the result either of Tobacco mosaic virus (which would mean there would be twisting of the leaflets as well) or one of three leaf spot diseases which attack the vines. The only solution is to remove any blotched leaves as they occur.

* * *

Last Friday morning, I happened to watch MSNBC, and one of the hosts proclaimed that she had become a new gardener and had built a new compost pile. She also had a “consultant” come on with her as she showed some of the steps in building her compost pile. I couldn’t believe what I watched next!

Out of some shed she pulled a huge poly-type tarpaulin and said it was needed to cover the compost heap or pile in order to prevent all the good nutrients from being washed out. Now, I have to tell you that I have been composting either in my own garden, or in the one at The Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture since since 1958 and that is over a half century. In that time I have never ever heard of such an idea. In fact, compost piles need moisture if they are to work well.

Then she proceeded to build the “pile” out of some old wood shipping pallets--a suggestion I have made in various articles and on radio programmes for the last two or more decades. But she had a new twist here as well!

She lined the entire bin with corrugated cardboard--three sides and the base. The two of them pointed out that the cardboard would quickly rot and become part of the compost, but the entire point missed is that the reason the wood shipping pallets make a good enclosure for a compost bin is that there are the spaces between the wooden slats which allow air to penetrate, and that air penetration is one of the secrets to speeding up the break-down of the material in the bin.

A further example of poor information being given was that no mention was made of the need periodically to use some sort of tool to help mix up the material. While this is not absolutely necessary it certainly speeds the break-down.

The two not-so-knowledgeable presenter/guests did mention that a mix of green compostables such as kitchen vegetable waste (wet), and brown leaves (dry) items were best, but made no mention of mixing them.


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