It has now been a whole month since I finished my horticulture degree at A&M. In that time I have had three people approach me to do landscapes for them (it is interesting to me that people think all horticulturists are landscapers). One horseman wants me to landscape his two entry gates, my family cemetery wants me to landscape their entrance and another person wants an “LSU Garden” in their yard. While all three of these projects are very different, all three will feature a very lovely and durable plant – Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus).
Vitex is a small flowering tree that is, in my opinion, one of the best ornamental trees you can own. Its long, curvy, purple-blue flower spikes have earned the vitex the nickname of “The Texas Lilac”. In addition to its beautiful flower spikes, this little tree can take the heat, endure the drought and is resistant to most pests. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and deer do not like it. With all it has going for it, this drought resistant tree really is a perfect choice for the Texas homeowner.
Vitex are typically grown as a multi trunked tree. The multi-trunk look is achieved through pruning. When grown as a tree they grow to about 15 feet. However, some varieties can get as tall as 35 feet. If left alone from seed, the Vitex will grow into a lovely shrub that makes a stunning hedge that can, with regular deadheading, produce those long, lovely flower spikes throughout the summer.
You can find Vitex with pink flowers, mauve flowers and white flowers. However, most of the Vitex sold in the trade have a purple-blue colored flower that is often called lilac. The three most common varieties sold here in Texas include Shoal Creek, Montrose and Le Compte. My friends at Tree Town USA are about to release a new, and as of yet unnamed, dark blue flowering variety. Look for them this fall at all of the major nurseries or your local big box.
If you want to grow your own Vitex, plant it in the fall. Like most trees, the cooler weather of fall will allow the plant to establish itself with much less water. You can also plant it in the winter when it is dormant. If you miss both of those opportunities you can still plant it in early spring. Just remember though, the longer you wait, the more effort and water it will take to fully root.
While I do love this tree, it does have a couple of small problems. First, each of those little flowers on those 12” flower stalks will produce a little seed. Because of this it can be a bit invasive. This is not a huge problem for the homeowner. The weed eater and mower can easily control all of the volunteers that sprout in the yard. However, if planted near a creek or tank, the plant can easily escape and create enough of a problem that it is currently listed as an invasive species on the Texas Invasives website (http://www.texasinvasives.org/plant_database/detail.php?symbol=VIAG). You can control the spread of this plant by diligently deadheading each spent flower spike before the seeds develop. The other little problem is allergies. If you have a sensitivity to tree pollen you may want to avoid this tree. All of those flowers produce pollen and many people claim to be allergic to it.
As I drive around I notice more and more Vitex in yards, commercial landscapes and along the roads and highways of our great state. I think this is great. Vitex is a beautiful and versatile plant that blooms throughout the summer and thrives on average annual rainfall. It is no wonder that the Texas Highway Department has added them to their list of preferred plants. If this plant thrives along the hot and dry roadsides and medians of our great state, imagine how well it will perform for you in your yard!