How to prune vitex?

Chaste Tree Pruning Info: When And How To Prune A Chaste Tree

Chaste trees (Vitex agnus-castus) get their name from properties of the seed within the edible berries that are said to reduce libido. This property also explains another common name—Monk’s pepper. Chaste tree trimming is an important part of caring for the tree. Once you know when and how to prune chaste trees, you can keep them looking neat and blooming all summer.

Chaste Tree Pruning Info

There are several reasons to prune a chaste tree. Left to their own devices, they grow 15 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide, but you can control the size through pruning chaste trees. You can also control the shape by chaste tree trimming.

Carefully placed cuts can encourage the shrub to put on new growth. Another type of pruning, called deadheading, is important to keep chaste trees blooming all summer.

When to Prune Chaste Trees

The best time to prune a chaste tree is in late winter. Even if you’ve never pruned a tree or shrub before, you can prune a chaste tree. These trees are very forgiving and quickly grow back to cover mistakes. In fact, you can cut off the entire tree at ground level and it will regrow at an astonishing pace.

How to Prune a Chaste Tree

In spring and summer, clip off the spent flowers before they have a chance to go to seed. This allows the plant to put its resources into making flowers rather than nurturing seeds. If you remove the flower spikes throughout the first half of the season, the tree may continue blooming into early fall.

In winter, remove weak, twiggy growth from the center of the plant to keep it looking tidy. This is also the time to prune to encourage branching. Make cuts all the way back to a side branch whenever possible. If you must shorten rather than remove a branch, cut just above a twig or bud. New growth will take off in the direction of the bud.

Pruning chaste trees to remove the lower limbs that droop and hang close to the ground is optional, but it you remove these branches it will make lawn and garden maintenance much easier, and you’ll be able to grow ornamentals under the tree.

As a nurseryman, I am occasionally asked: “What’s an attractive small tree that grows quickly and has lovely flowers?”

That’s a short list, but one very fine candidate is the Mediterranean tree Vitex agnus-castus. Now, I’ve applied a very broad definition to the word “tree,” because this lovely specimen is actually a large bush that can be pruned to be more tree-like. In fact, it is better known in the gardening world as a chaste tree (more on that common name in a moment). Most trees are, of course, slow growing, but this multi-branching tree establishes quickly and will get to a good size even in its first year. Mature trees top out in the 10- to 20-foot range, depending on how they’re pruned.

The first thing people notice about it is its lovely purple flowers. Plants form long cones of lilac flowers that resemble those found on buddleja (butterfly bush). When mature plants are in full bloom the show is spectacular. Each cone, roughly 10 to 12 inches long, comprises dozens of ¼-inch open-faced flowers, much beloved by hummers, butterflies and bees. Dark green elliptical leaves provide a verdant backdrop for the summer-blooming show and look good the rest of the year. The leaves also exude a pleasing woodsy fragrance when crushed.

Chaste trees are versatile plants. They are showy enough to feature as a focal point in a sunny spot; when not in bloom, they blend in with Mediterranean planting schemes. They are an excellent addition to a pollinator garden, especially given that they grow, mature and bloom fairly quickly. Bees are especially drawn to the flowers. Given how cold-hardy and durable the trees are, you can also use them as a privacy screen or to line a driveway. You can also force a second bloom in late summer by removing the first flush of blooms as soon as they fade.

l. Vitex at Quarry.Good to Grow Vitex 0619. Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). Credit: Forrest W. Appleton, courtesy. 6/9/04.Photo: COURTESY FORREST W. APPLETON

In reference to my opening comment, the compact nature of these trees means you can tuck single specimens into a relatively small space. Pruned hard, the trees become a dense, multibranching large shrub. They thus make great patio trees and, given a large enough container, can live happily within it for many years.

As to its name: Vitex is derived from the Latin vieo, meaning to weave or to tie up, a reference to the use of Vitex agnus-castus in basketry. The idea (probably erroneous) that this plant promotes chastity led to the castus part of its species name and its main common name (Chaste tree). As to its other common name — Monk’s pepper — that remains a bit of a mystery.

Earl Nickel is an Oakland nurseryman and freelance writer. Email: [email protected]

How to grow a chaste tree

Cultivation: Plant in full sun or light shade inland in fertile well-drained soil. Amend soil with compost and provide good drainage. Water weekly to establish. After a month, cut back to twice a month, and after six months to a good soak once a month. Hardy to −9 degrees F.

Pruning: Chaste trees benefit from regular pruning. In winter, clean out the entire center of the tree, removing all side branches from the main four or five trunks. Remove twiggy growth that tends to crowd the ends of the branches. Specimens can also be cut to the ground in winter. They will sprout in spring and bloom in summer, although later than specimens only pruned as above.

Pests & diseases: Leaf spot and root rot can be problems. These can be limited with full sun, very well-drained soil and avoiding too much water.

Availability: The good news is that chaste trees have become more commonly available at nurseries in recent years. Find them, too, at www.anniesannuals.com.

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What Should I Prune Now? Grumpy Cuts to the Chase

Pruning is one garden task that scares the All-Bran out of people. They’re afraid that if they prune something at the wrong time, they’ll ruin it, kill it, or look like a dolt. Relax, my children. The Grump is here to help.

If you remember this one rule, you’ll cut your pruning mistakes in half. (I’m so clever. It’s a gift.) The best time to prune a flowering tree, shrub, or vine is after it finishes blooming. So prune spring-flowering woody plants in late spring and early summer. Prune summer-flowering woody plants in late fall or winter. Ignore this rule and your plant probably won’t bloom the next year and you’ll get all pouty and irritated.

Because it’s spring, lots of people want to know how to tell whether a plant is dead and should be pruned back. Here’s a simple test. Use Your fingernail to scratch the outer bark of the questionable tree or shrub. If you see green underneath, the plant’s still alive and may leaf out. If you don’t, the branch or trunk above the scratch is dead, so you might as well cut that part off. Prune back to the highest point where you can still find green.

OK, Grumpy could write a whole book covering every aspect of pruning, but I don’t have the space or time. Instead, let me give easy guidelines for when to prune some of our most popular woody plants.

Azalea (evergreen). Best time to prune: Immediately after flowering stops in spring; definitely by mid-June. Comments: Use hand pruners, not hedge trimmers. Cut back to a leaf or another branch.

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Beautyberry. Best time to prune: Winter or early spring. Comment: Cut back hard. Blooms on new growth.

Butterfly bush: Best time to prune: Winter or early spring. Comment: Same care as for beautyberry.

Blackberry. Best time to prune: Spring. Comments: Cut off at the ground all canes that fruited last year. They’re dead. New fruiting canes will replace them.

Blueberry. Best times to prune: Winter or late spring after flowering. Comments: Remove dead branches. If fruit set is heavy, use hand pruners to remove some fruiting branches now and leave remainder well-spaced. Remaining berries will be larger and sweeter.

Boxwood. Best time to prune: Spring and summer. Comments: Can shear them into formal hedges if you want. Otherwise, use hand pruners to open up the plants and remove some inner branches, so the plants aren’t solid blobs. Improved air circulation reduces disease.

Chaste tree (Vitex). Best time to prune: Late winter and again in summer after first bloom. Comments: Chaste tree produces lots of twigs and needs regular pruning to keep from looking like a mess. Grumpy always cleans out the interior growth in winter, leaving the main trunks looking like a well-trained crepe myrtle. If you prune off the faded flowers in summer, you’ll usually get a second bloom.

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Common camellia. Best time to prune: Late spring and early summer. Comment: To reduce size, use hand pruners to cut back branches to a leaf or bud.

Crepe myrtle. Best time to prune: Late winter and early spring. Comments: DO NOT CHOP IT DOWN INTO THICK, UGLY STUMPS! For step-by-step instruction on the correct way to prune, .

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Dogwood. Best time to prune: Late spring after flowering. Comment: Hardly ever needs pruning.

Elaeagnus. Best time to prune: Any time you have a chainsaw. Comment: Grumpy hates elaeagnus.

Fig. Best time to prune: Spring. Comment: Often damaged by cold winters. Wait until new growth starts in spring, then prune off all dead branches above it.

Flowering quince. Best time to prune: Late spring after flowering. Comment: Watch out for thorns.

Forsythia. Best time to prune: Late spring after flowering. Comments: If you have an old, overgrown plant, renew it by cutting to the ground 1/3 of the oldest, woodiest trunks. Do this for 3 straight years. New, vigorous growth will grow rapidly.

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Fruit trees. Best time to prune: Winter or late spring after flowering. Comments: Remove dead, rubbing, or crossing branches; also branches growing inward towards center of trees. Open up center of trees for better air and light penetration. Thinning fruiting branches results in bigger, juicier fruits on the remaining branches.

Gardenia. Best time to prune: Summer after flowers turn yellow and drop. Comment: I don’t like liver and I never will.

Holly (evergreen). Best time to prune: Any time except late summer. Comment: Grumpy likes to prune in December for the berries. He’s so festive and sentimental!

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle.’ Best time to prune: Winter. Comments: Blooms on new growth. Severe pruning results in larger, but fewer blooms.

Hydrangea French types (blue or pink flowers). Best time to prune: For once-blooming types like ‘Nikko Blue,’ prune in summer after blooms fade. Finish by mid-July. For rebloomers like ‘Endless Summer,’ prune in winter, spring, or summer. Comment: Prune as little as possible, primarily removing dead and spindly growth.

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Hydrangea, oakleaf. Best time to prune: Summer after flowers turn rose. Comments: Seldom needs pruning.

Indian hawthorn. Best time to prune: Late spring or summer after flowering. Comment: Doesn’t need much pruning. Prune or pinch new growth to control it.

Juniper. Best time to prune: Any time. Comment: Cut back to a wispy little shoot of foliage that parallels the original branch.

‘Knockout’ rose. Best time to prune: Winter, spring, summer. Comments: That old adage about pruning reblooming roses back to the first five-leaflet leaf is pure manure (yum!). ‘Knockout’ gets 4 feet tall and wide over time, so cut it back as far as you want in winter or early spring, but don’t cut below the graft union (notch on the trunk where the top meets the rootstock). Trim off old flowers throughout the summer to keep the shrub neat and bring on more blooms.

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Leyland cypress. Best time to prune: Winter, spring, summer. Comments: Will get gigantic if you let it go. To control height, use pole pruners to prune out tops, cutting back to the next branch lower down.

Lilac. Best time to prune: Late spring or early summer after flowering. Comment: Renew old bushes using same technique as for forsythia.

Loropetalum. Best time to prune: Late spring after flowering. Comment: You can shear this shrub into formal hedge; let if form its natural, mounding shape; or remove lower branches to make a single-trunked small tree.

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Magnolia, saucer. Best time to prune: Late spring after flowering. Comment: Needs very little pruning.

Magnolia, Southern. Best time to prune: Summer or winter. Comments: Shorten branches by using hand pruners or loppers to cut them back to another branch. Cut foliage for Christmas decorations.

Mockorange. Best time to prune: Late spring after flowering. Comment: Renew old bushes using same technique as for forsythia.

Nandina. Best time to prune: Spring or summer. Comment: Renew old bushes using same technique as for forsythia.

Oleander. Best time to prune: Summer after flowering. Comments: Cut back last year’s branches by half. Renew old bushes using same technique as for forsythia.

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Photinia (redtip). Best time to prune: See recommendations for elaeagnus.

Pittosporum: Best time to prune: Just about any time. Comment: Needs little pruning.

Pomegranate. Best time to prune: Summer after flowering. Comment: Prune to produce well-spaced branches that don’t cross or rub.

Privet. Best time to prune: See recommendations for elaeagnus.

Pyracantha: Best time to prune: Summer. Comments: Keep this baby pruned or it’ll eat your house. Prune back to a crotch or another branch. Don’t leave stubs — they die. Wear leather gloves unless you enjoy anemia.

Rhododendron. Best time to prune: Late spring or early summer after flowering. Comment: Shorten branches by cutting back to another branch.

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Rosemary. Best time to prune: Spring or summer. Comment: Shorten branches to control growth.

Rose-of-Sharon. Best time to prune: Winter or early spring. Comments: Remove dead, spindly, crossing, and rubbing branches.

Spirea, spring-blooming. Best time to prune: Late spring after blooming. Comment: Renew old shrubs using same technique as for forsythia.

Spirea, summer-blooming. Best time to prune: Winter and early spring. Comment: Shorten branches to 4-5 buds.

Viburnum. Best time to prune: Late spring or summer. Comments: Remove spindly, crossing, or rubbing branches. Renew old bushes using same technique as for forsythia.

Wisteria. Best time to prune: Late winter and summer. Comments: For best bloom, cut back spur-like side shoots that grow from main canes to 5-6 buds in late winter. Pinch out tips of runners throughout the summer to control growth. Remove basal suckers whenever they appear.

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Texas Lilac Vitex*
The Next Mega-Superstar Plant for Texas

click on any photo to download a large image suitable for media purposes.

The uniqueness of the Texas Superstar plant program is that Texas A&M
horticulturists discover and develop the unique characteristics of otherwise well-known plants and make them even more desirable and marketable to the gardening public.

This happened in 1989 with the introduction of Texas Bluebonnet transplants. In 1990, Firebush (Hamelia patens) was introduced, followed by the Surefire tomato in 1992, Satsumas (Mandarin oranges) and the ‘Texas Gold’ columbine in 1993, the ‘Merced’ tomato in 1997, ‘Blue Princess’ verbena in 1998, the ‘Gold Star Esperanza’ in 1999, the ‘VIP’ and ‘Laura Bush’ petunias in 1999 and 2001 respectively, the ‘Moy Grande’ and ‘Flare’ perennial hibiscus in 2000, ‘Belinda’s Dream’ rose in 2002 and ‘Tomato 444’ in 2004.

The Texas SuperStar* plant for the summer of 2005 will surely join this elite group of SuperStar “old-plants-revisited-and-revitalized” category to become a million-dollar seller. It is the Texas Lilac Vitex*, or Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus).

This tree is also known as Mexican lavender, monk’s pepper, lilac chaste tree, hemp tree, sage tree, or Indian spice. It is a native of China and India, although long ago it became naturalized throughout certain areas of the United Stated. Records indicate that Vitex has been cultivated in the U.S. since 1670.

For people living in the warmer parts of the South, the lilac chaste tree has been the shrub or small-flowering tree of choice to mimic the much beloved lilacs that are restricted to cooler regions. It grows best when planted in full sun and in a location that drains well. It will grow well in all areas of Texas, in both acid and alkaline soils. It prospers in hot and dry environments. The Texas Department of Transportation recognizes its toughness, and plants Vitex in highway medians. It is a spectacular butterfly-attracting plant and is deer resistant in that deer will not eat it, although they can damage it with their antlers if it is allowed to grow very large.

So, if all of this “good stuff” is known about Vitex, why isn’t it more popular than it is? This is where the work of the SuperStar horticulturists begins. The older selections of Vitex had small spikes of flowers which were pale lilac, mauve, off-white or light pink. The blooms were small and, for the most part, unattractive. Horticulturists now have identified and tested improved varieties such as ‘Montrose Purple’, ‘LeCompte’ and ‘Shoal Creek’ which have spikes as long as 8 to 12 inches. All of these will be marketed under the name of Texas Lilac Vitex*.

The bloom spikes on these improved varieties are not only large and beautiful, they also are fragrant and provide long-lasting cut flowers. However, after the bloom spikes have provided several weeks of spectacular beauty, many aromatic black or dark-brown seeds are produced. Not only do these seeds prevent a profusion of additional bloom spikes, they may, in some regions of the state, produce a seedling population that will not have the same characteristics as the original plant and become a nuisance.

The obvious answer to this problem of seed production and resulting reduction of blooms is to promptly cut off or deadhead the spent bloom spikes after the first flowering so that the shrub will bloom again. So, if the answer is so simple, why haven’t people been doing it for the last 100 years? The problem is how rapidly the Vitex grows.

Vitex reaches heights of 25 feet in good soils, but most specimens in the San Antonio area are about 12 to 15 feet tall. It is a tree that is inclined to be about twice as wide as it is tall, so folks have the tendency to allow the plant to become overgrown and consequently, seed pods cannot be easily reached and removed. Peach growers prune their trees for the same reason that you will need to “prune” Vitex – so that they can reach the peaches during harvest, just as you will want to reach the seed pods when its time to remove them.

However, to some people, cutting is like killing. If you have that attitude, you will not enjoy the maximum floral display of the Texas Lilac Vitex* – only the spring bloom. The Texas Lilac Vitex* must be cut after EVERY bloom cycle, and cut back to the ground EVERY winter. If you live in an area with a large deer population, the deer rubbing their antlers on the Vitex will “prune” the plant to the ground for you, or at least remind you to cut the ravaged stems back.

Remember, shrubs that bloom after June usually do so from buds that are formed on shoots that grow the same year. These shrubs should be pruned in late winter to promote vigorous shoot-growth in spring. Examples of shrubs like Vitex that bloom on current season’s growth include: Buddleja davidii or B. globosa (buddleia or butterfly bush), Hibiscus syriacus (shrub althea), Hypericum spp. (St. Johnswort), Lagerstroemia indica (crape myrtle), and Rosa spp. (roses). Most of us know to prune roses twice yearly (early spring and fall), some of us realize that crape myrtle seed pods should be removed to simulate repeat blooming, and now we know that in order to make the Texas Lilac Vitex* produce an abundance of beautiful cut flowers that furnish a constant source of butterfly flower nectar, this plant MUST be cut often and severely.

Depending on weather and cultural conditions (fertilizer, water, region of the state, etc.), plants will bloom again within six weeks of seed pod/stalk removal. It is best to remove the seed pods before they harden-the sooner after the bloom petals drop, the better, and the faster the plant will come back into bloom.
To annually maintain the plant in a desirable size range of six feet, plants should be cut within a few inches of the ground every winter. It will sprout and bloom by June if cut to the ground in winter. If the plant has gotten large during the previous growing season, you can use a small chain saw to cut them back, then use hedge shears to deadhead them during the growing season. Cutting the plants back will make the spikes much longer but, of course, there will be fewer of them (at least with the initial cut-down)-very similar to the thinning of fruit crops to produce larger, high-quality fruit. To stimulate rapid re-blooming and larger flower spikes, three pounds of a slow-release formulation of lawn fertilizer per 100 square feet should be scattered around each plant after spent blooms have been removed. Make sure the lawn fertilizer does NOT contain an herbicide.

Because of the growing conditions in much of Texas, many perennials are best used as annuals, and many shrubs or small trees are best used as perennials. This has been the case with the three very successful Texas SuperStars* – firebush, esperanza and perennial hibiscus. In most areas of Texas, firebush and perennial hibiscus die to the ground every winter. Esperanza-and now Texas Lilac Vitex* – should be cut to the ground every winter to keep the plant manageable from season-to-season.

The butterfly craze has created a new interest in growing the ultimate nectar plant known as buddleia or butterfly bush. Unfortunately, the majority of buddleia do not perform well in most areas of Texas and are not reliable perennials. However, the Texas Lilac Vitex* can become the “buddleia” of Texas if handled properly.

For those of you who want a medicinal plant for a SuperStar, Vitex fills the bill. Vitex agnus-castus belonged to the official medicinal plants of antiquity and is mentioned in the works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Theophrast.

The first specific medicinal indications of Vitex can be found in the writings of Hippocrates, 4th Century B.C. He recommends the plant for injuries, inflammation and swelling of the spleen. He also suggests using the leaves in wine for hemorrhages and the “passing of afterbirth”. In his “Corpus Hippocratum”, Hippocrates writes, “If blood flows from the womb, let the woman drink dark red wine in which the leaves of the chaste tree have been steeped. A draft of chaste leaves in wine also serves to expel a chorion held fast in the womb”.

Dioscorides attributed to the fruit a hot and astringent activity, and recommended it for wild animal bites, swelling of the spleen and for dropsy. Decoctions of the fruit and plant were used as sitz baths for diseases of the uterus. The English name for Vitex agnus-castus, “chaste tree”, is derived from the belief that the plant would suppress libido in women. In Greek cities, festivals in the honor of Demeter included a vow of chastity by the local women. In Europe, the Catholic Church developed a variation on this theme by placing the blossoms of the plant at the clothing of novice monks to supposedly suppress their libido. The common name “Monk’s Pepper” refers to the medieval belief that utilizing potions made from the berries helped monks maintain their vows of chastity. There is nothing in contemporary scientific literature to suggest that it actually does suppress the libido. Early American physicians used it to stimulate lactation and as an emmenagogic. It does, however, have an excellent track record in relieving complaints collectively referred to as premenstrual syndrome.

So, whether you want to stimulate the presence of butterflies in your backyard with a drought-tolerant, pest-resistant plant, or whether you want to try some ancient herbal remedies, the new Texas Lilac Vitex* is the plant for you.

Texas Lilac Vitex: A Hot Summer “Texas Superstar” Plant

San Antonio Express News
Gardening, ETC.
Sunday, June 4, 2006

By David Rodriguez

Texas Lilac (Photos: aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu)Texas Lilac (Photos: aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu)

Are you looking for a plant that does well here in the South and mimics the lilacs that grow up north? That plant would be the Texas Lilac Vitex. This is where the work of the SuperStar horticulturists begins. The uniqueness of the Texas Superstar plant program is that Texas A&M horticulturists discover and develop the unique characteristics of otherwise well-known plants and make them even more desirable and marketable to the gardening public.

Texas Lilac Vitex is also known as Mexican lavender, lilac chaste tree, hemp tree, sage tree, monk’s pepper, Indian spice or Vitex. It is a native of China and India, although long ago it became naturalized throughout certain areas of the United States. Records indicate that Vitex has been cultivated in the U.S. since 1670.

For those of you who want a medicinal plant for a SuperStar, Vitex fills the bill. Vitex agnus-castus belonged to the official medicinal plants of antiquity and is mentioned in the works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Theophrast. Also, the common name “Monk’s Pepper” refers to the medieval belief that utilizing potions made from the berries helped monks maintain their vows of chastity.

Vitex grows best when planted in full sun and in a location that drains well. It will grow well in all areas of Texas, in both acid and alkaline soils. It prospers in hot and dry environments. The Texas Department of Transportation recognizes its toughness, and plants Vitex in highway medians. It is a spectacular butterfly-attracting plant and is deer resistant in that deer will not eat it, although they can damage it with their antlers if it is allowed to grow very large.

The older selections of Vitex had small spikes of flowers which were pale lilac, mauve, off-white or light pink. The blooms were small and, for the most part, unattractive. Horticulturists now have identified and tested improved selections such as “Montrose Purple,” “LeCompte,” and “Shoal Creek” which have spikes as long as 8 to 12 inches. All of these selections will be marketed under the name of Texas Lilac Vitex.

The bloom spikes on these improved selections are not only large and beautiful; they also are fragrant and provide long-lasting cut flowers. However, after the bloom spikes have provided several weeks of spectacular beauty, many aromatic black or dark-brown seeds are produced. Not only do these seeds prevent a profusion of additional bloom spikes, they may, in some regions of the state, produce a seedling population that will not have the same characteristics as the original plant and become a nuisance.

The obvious answer to this problem of seed production and resulting reduction of blooms is to promptly cut off or deadhead the spent bloom spikes after the first flowering so that the shrub will bloom again. So, if the answer is so simple, why haven’t people been doing it for the last 100 years? The problem is how rapidly the Vitex grow.

Because of the growing conditions in much of Texas, many perennials are best used as annuals, and many shrubs or small trees are best used as perennials. This has been the case with the three very successful Texas SuperStars – firebush, esperanza and perennial hibiscus. In most areas of Texas, firebush and perennial hibiscus die to the ground every winter. Esperanza-and now Texas Lilac Vitex- should be cut to the ground every winter to keep the plant manageable from season-to-season.
Depending on weather and cultural conditions (fertilizer, water, region of the state, etc.), plants will bloom again within six weeks of seed pod/stalk removal. It is best to remove the seed pods before they harden-the sooner after the bloom petals drop, the better, and the faster the plant will come back into bloom.

To annually maintain the plant in a desirable size range of six feet, plants should be cut within a few inches of the ground every winter. It will sprout and bloom by June if cut to the ground in winter. If the plant has gotten large during the previous growing season, you can use a small chain saw to cut them back and then use hedge shears to deadhead them during the growing season. Cutting the plants back will make the spikes much longer but, of course, there will be fewer of them (at least with the initial cut-down)-very similar to the thinning of fruit crops to produce larger, high-quality fruit. To stimulate rapid re-blooming and larger flower spikes, three pounds of a slow-release formulation of lawn fertilizer (19-5-9) per 100 square feet should be scattered around each plant after spent blooms have been removed.

The butterfly craze has created a new interest in growing the ultimate nectar plant known as buddleia or butterfly bush. Unfortunately, the majority of buddleias do not perform well in most areas of Texas and are not reliable perennials. However, the Texas Lilac Vitex can become the “buddleia” of Texas if handled properly.

So, whether you want to stimulate the presence of butterflies in your backyard with a drought-tolerant, pest-resistant plant, or whether you want to try some ancient herbal remedies, the new Texas Lilac Vitex is the plant for you. Check it out!

Remember, Learn and Have Fun!

Special Event: Do you want to learn about growing citrus in San Antonio? Come visit Dr. Jerry Parsons on Thursday, June 8 at the Schultze House Brown Bag Lunch program at 12 noon in downtown HemisFair Park, 514 HemisFair Plaza. Have fun touring the cottage gardens too.

David Rodriguez is the County Extension Agent-Horticulture for Bexar County. He represents Texas Cooperative Extension with the Texas A&M University System. For any landscape or gardening information, call the Bexar County Master Gardeners [email protected] at (210) 467-6575, email questions to [email protected], or visit our County Extension website at http:bexar-tx.tamu.edu

Purple is popping out all over Houston. The vitex tree is having its moment.

Vitex agnus-castus has many common names, including chaste tree, Texas lilac, lavender tree — even hemp tree for the palmate shape of its leaves. It not only draws the gardener’s attention this time of year, but its lightly fragrant purple flower spikes also attract butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and swallowtails.

Vitex is drought-tolerant and blooms heavily in spring, then sporadically through fall. It loves full sun and good drainage. It’s so easy-growing and pest-free, the Texas Highway Department has planted it along Interstate 10 from Katy to San Antonio.

Texas A&M University horticulturalists have developed three varieties they call Texas Superstars: ‘Montrose Purple,’ ‘LeCompte’ and ‘Shoal Creek,’ all marketed under the name ‘Texas Lilac.’

There’s also a snowy white variety that isn’t nearly as showy.

The deciduous tree grows up to 20 feet. If you want your vitex to look like a tree, pick a plant that has one to three trunks. They prefer to grow as shrubs with many stalks and side branches, so it’s important to pick the right plant at the nursery. Keep them pruned close to the main trunks, cutting off the new shoots. When a shrubby, multitrunk vitex gets too large, the under-canopy branches die and need constant pruning. I know this from experience.

You will need to snip off the old flowers to encourage blooms through fall; clip them before the seeds form. And cut the shrub all the way back in the winter.

After the beautiful blooms are spent, the vitex seeds come on. Also known as “chasteberry” or monk’s pepper, each seed is about the size of a peppercorn.

So what’s all this chastity business with the “chaste” tree? It goes back a few thousand years. In fact, the plant name, agnus-castus, includes the words for “chaste” in Greek and Latin. Athenian women are said to have used the sage-scented vitex leaves in their beds to keep themselves chaste during the feasts of Demeter, or Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility. The tree was also considered sacred to the virginal goddess Hestia, or Vesta.

In medieval times, monks used the “monk’s pepper” in potions to help maintain their vows of chastity. The berries are still used in herbal supplements as a natural hormonal treatment and to alleviate PMS.

While vitex is the perfect tree for Texas summers — it may be a little too perfect. While it’s not on the official list of noxious and invasive plants published by the Texas Department of Agriculture or by the USDA, there has been concern about its spread in the Hill Country’s limestone outcrops and dry creek beds, according to the Texas Superstar website. That hasn’t been a problem in Houston.

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