Chaste Tree Is Pure Delight

June 19, 2009 | By | Comments (257)

The new July 2009 issue of Southern Living features an incredibly entertaining and informative story written by me about three great trees for summer blooms. In case you’re too cheap to buy  it, let me discuss my favorite tree of the bunch — chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus).

Vitex

Native to southern Europe and central Asia, chaste tree quickly grows into a multi-trunked tree about 10 to 20 feet tall and wide with a broad, spreading habit. It gets its name from the erroneous medieval belief that a potion made from it could curb the libido. In reality, wearing a house dress with orthopedic shoes and multiple nose piercings is much more effective.

That doesn’t mean that chaste tree doesn’t have its pharmacological uses. An extract made from Vitex supposedly does a very good job of controlling PMS. Which means any of you guys out there who are routinely beaten every 28 days should definitely plant one in the yard.

Blue for You

But the best thing about chaste tree, in my uber-learned opinion, is the flowers. Chaste tree is one of the very few winter-hardy trees out there that sports true blue flowers (although they can also be pink, purple, or white). The one you’re looking at here is ‘Abbeville Blue.’ which bears large, spectacular panicles of deep-blue flowers in summer. Other selections I like include ‘Montrose Purple’ (purple blooms), ‘Shoal Creek’ (blue-violet), and ‘Silver Spires.’ (white). If you buy an unnamed chaste tree tree from a nursery, buy it in bloom so you can see the color of the flowers and the general shape of the plant. A good mail-order source for named selections is Forest Farm.

The Skinny on Chaste Tree

Here are some different ways to use chaste tree in the landscape:

1. As a single specimen in the lawn

2. In a row along a property line or a driveway

3. Limbed-up in a border with lower plants growing beneath it

4. As a small patio tree

Few trees are as easy to grow. Here’s the low-down:

Light: Full sun

Soil: Well-drained

Water; Regular moisture at first — very drought tolerant once established

Pests: None serious

Pruning: Not the tidiest plant in the world. Needs regular pruning to produce an attractive multi-trunked tree. Prune in winter. Clean out the entire center of the tree, removing all side branches from main 4 to 5 trunks. Also remove messy, twiggy growth that tends to crowd the ends of the branches. As an option, cut entire plant to ground in winter. It will sprout in spring and bloom in summer, although later than chaste trees not pruned so severely. You can also force a second bloom in summer by removing the first flush of blooms as soon as they fade.

Salt & wind tolerance: Good

Cold-hardiness: Winter-hardy through Zone 6; in Zone 5, may be killed to the ground in winter, but will sprout and bloom the following summer.

Bee alert: Bumblebees love this plant above all others and will even spend the night on the flowers. Keep this in mind if bees freak you out.

COMMENTS

  1. DONNA

    I LOVE OUR “SUMMER LILAC” THEY CALL THE CHASE TREE HERE IN CA. WE STARTED WITH ONE SMALL GALLON SIZE TREE FROM WALMART 3 YEARS AGO. NOW IT’S
    7′ H’ AND ABOUT THAT ACROSS. WE’VE TRANSPLANTED 7 OTHERS THAT CAME UP JUST FROM WHERE THE SEEDS FELL NEAR IRRIGATED (IN OUR HIGH DESERT AREA) AREAS. WE TRANSPLANTED THEM WHEN THEY WERE DORMANT AND THEY ALL SURVIVED AND ARE GROWING VIGOROUSLY.

    May 22, 2017 at 10:40 pm
  2. Rebecca Helal

    I just planted a Chase tree in my back yard, near the patio! I am so excited to see it grow and develop into an amazing tree. I will plant flowers underneath it, after it gets a little taller.

    Rebecca L. Helal
    Conway, SC
    May 20th, 2017

    May 21, 2017 at 11:20 am
  3. Steve Bender

    Robert,
    I have heard of that happening before. Sure is a surprise when it does.

    May 21, 2017 at 8:24 am
  4. ROBERT BEEBE

    Near Rocky Mount, NC. In 2013, when early spring planting Gladiola, I cut off “spent” Chaste tree branches and stuck alongside bulbs for supports. To my surprise, the sticks sprouted. We now have several new Chaste trees. Sure did grow fast. 7 of them have been clumped together, now 5′ tall.

    May 20, 2017 at 3:14 pm
  5. Martine Bykowski

    Hi Steve … thanks for this good information! We planted a row of 5 to create a tall hedge. I’m not in the yard very much, but really enjoy seeing them from inside the house. I noticed a low-growing branch on the ground so went to cut it off. That’s when I noticed all the dead wood inside the trees. I didn’t know it did that. I’m guessing I should I wait for winter to cut all that out and prune it. Will pruning make them fuller? I have not pruned them in the three years we’ve had them, but thinking it’s past time. They aren’t at all the same height and would definitely look better if they were. I wanted to get this tree as I noticed the city planted these along a bike/walking path and they didn’t seem to need any special care or watering. Here in Central Texas the heat and sun is brutal and I wanted a low maintenance tree. Does it need fertilizing? I’m enjoy trees and plants, but not very good with them. Any suggestions and help is appreciated!

    May 8, 2017 at 12:12 pm
  6. Linda

    I planted a Chaste Tree in 2008 in remembrance of my mother who died of metastatic cancer. It was little more than a twig when it was planted but has grown approximately 3 feet each year here in West Central Texas. I water it when I see the leaves are drooping about every 2 weeks. It indeed attracts Honey Bees so if someone is allergic to bee stings, don’t plant one in your yard. Butterflies like the flowers as much as the bees do, and I’ve seen hummingbirds sampling the nectar a few times.

    My next tree will be a Texas Mountain Laurel when I find one.

    April 23, 2017 at 8:31 pm
  7. Steve Bender

    Patty,
    Chaste tree normally sends up multiple trunks. Cut it back back by a third or so now and new trunks should sprout.

    April 9, 2017 at 9:11 am

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