Five reasons you should plant a Vitex

Douglas Hunt
by Douglas Hunt
If you garden in zone 6 or warmer and your garden doesn't include Vitex agnus-castus—commonly known as chaste tree, or Texas lilac, or just vitex—I'm here to make the case for adding one to your shopping list this season.
Reason No. 1: Hello, look at those spectacular purple blooms (here on the cultivar "Shoal Creek"). They practically cover this large shrub/small tree. (I have seen vitex close to 20 feet high at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, but they are easy to keep smaller.) And, if you deadhead after blooming, you can probably get three flushes of bloom a season. For me, in Florida, that means blooms from May to almost November.
Reason No. 2: The blooms aren't just pretty, they are magnets for all manner of winged pollinators. Bees and butterflies (like the Pieris rapae in this photo) flock to this plant.
Reason No. 3: It can serve as a beautiful specimen plant, but also plays well with others in a mixed perennial-shrub border. I prune mine to a large multi-stemmed form, as shown here.
Reason No. 4: It will cause your friends to wonder what you're up to, because the leaves bear more than a passing resemblance to cannabis. (If salt-tolerance is an issue for you, the foliage is moderately so. If we have a big coastal storm, it takes something of a beating and I try to give the foliage a good rinse afterward.)
Reason No. 5: You really did want another look at those flowers, didn't you? Vitex produces them while being amazingly heat- and drought-tolerant. Those qualities, and its generally resistance to pests, caused Texas A&M to name it a "Texas Superstar." Here's one caveat: In zone 6, you may want to plant this in a protected spot, say against a wall, where it can get some reflective heat in the coldest parts of winter. It may die back to the ground during the winter in the northern parts of its range, but should come back from the roots and can easily grow 5 feet in a season.
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  • 169756 169756 on Aug 09, 2015
    Douglas, any advice on Smokebush? Our two are very healthy and love the vibrant color, however they are very leggy. I can't get them to thicken and not shoot straight up with limbs no matter how drastic I prune them back. I'll never get the 'smoke' since I have to keep repeating the pruning and long stems just keep shooting straight up. They grow incredibly fast. Here is a pic I took a couple of weeks ago and they've probably gained another foot since then! Advice on what I'm doing wrong in trimming? Thanks!

  • Mssmatch Mssmatch on Aug 09, 2015
    Looks just like my pink butterfly bushes, must be related.