Chaste Tree Is Pure Delight

June 19, 2009 | By | Comments (208)

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. Sharon Hoffman

    Steve – thanks for the great information in the original article and answers to the comments. I have a Chaste Tree planted as a specimen tree several years ago – it’s always done great in our harsh West-Texas weather an has been a favorite of mine. This year, the tree has not grown back leaves on the old wood/branches, when it always has before. It only has new growth from the base and it is flowering, so I know the roots are still alive. Do you think there’s a chance it will come back at the top? I can cut down the old wood, but I love the shape of the existing tree and would hate to “start all over”. I have another Chaste Tree in a different location that is doing well, but we have had a record amount of rainfall this year, and the tree might not have liked all the rain we received in the spring. Thanks for continuing to look at your comments, happy gardening :)

    June 26, 2015 at 10:56 am
  2. Steve Bender

    Patricia,
    Seedlings are often quite different from their parents. Chaste tree may be blue, purple, pink, or white.

    June 22, 2015 at 1:19 pm
  3. Steve Bender

    Douglas,

    That’s not common. It must just be the cultivar.

    June 22, 2015 at 1:17 pm
  4. douglas T. Hawes

    I have a question. I have a chaste tree in my backyard. Today I realized that the flowers start out in the early morning the color pink and gradually darken through the day to a dark blue. Is this just my Texas cultivar or is this common with the species.

    June 8, 2015 at 7:50 pm
  5. Mary Filos

    Can I buy one The vitex tree from you?

    May 27, 2015 at 9:32 am
  6. Patriica Buchanan

    I have a seven year old chaste tree in the back yard that is about 20 ft tall with beautiful dark purple flowers. The chaste tree in the front yard is a baby of the one in the back and only three years old but is putting out almost white flowers. Can you tell me why the color is so different between trees? Both get full sun.

    May 20, 2015 at 8:15 pm
  7. Shelley Bero

    I wanted to leave my observations on growing a chaste tree in Southern California, Zone 9b.
    I planted mine about three years ago against a north facing fence. It seemed to grow and bloom alright, reaching about 6 ft tall. But I was concerned because it would drop all its leaves starting at the end of summer. Then I realized that it was probably not getting enough sun, as a Crepe Myrtle next to it was shading it. The branches had become very leggy. So I pruned it back by 2/3 and transplanted it to a sunnier spot. I tried to get as big as root ball as I could and still lift it myself. Also, I transplanted it in the spring, when it was dormant, just before the new growth began. I’m happy to see that it’s doing great. The little tree seems to love the new location and is leaving out all over. Although I cut it back to only 30″ tall, The four main branches have a twisted and gnarled form that looks like a bonsai tree. I’m very happy with it I can’t wait to see if it Will bloom this year.

    May 2, 2015 at 5:40 pm
  8. Steve Bender

    Sharon,

    Yes, you can root cuttings, as long as the cut stem is still slightly pliable and not old and woody.

    July 31, 2014 at 11:33 am

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