Pruning a Vitex (chaste tree)

naputnamOctober 13, 2008

Hi everyone, this is my first post! :) My name is Nicole. I live in Ocala, Fl...which is supposedly Zone 9, but we definitely have chills into the teens most winters, so I am posting as Zone 8b.

This weekend, I went to the Extension Office's one day plant sale and got a $10 chaste tree, Vitex agnus-castus. I have seen them around here where they look filled out and full of blooms, so I know the potential of this small tree. I have also seen pictures of them trained as a central leader with a bushy top and they look lovely that way also.

Right now, the tree looks awful. It is about 5' high, one straight branch and a single offshoot from the bottom with a weak branch, about the size of a BBQ skewer. I know this tree needs pruning, but I am afraid of killing it!

If it would be helpful to post a picture, I can do that, but the description says it all...there is nothing to this tree but a stick with some leaves coming out of the sides. The smell is wonderful though, kind of a sage smell. Is this tree related to Cannabis incidentally? The leaves sure look like it, even the smell is slightly reminiscent of...not that I would know about such things ;)

So, does anyone have any advice on what I should do? I notice from Googling about this tree is widely planted in Texas, not so much in Central Florida. Similar zones, so maybe I should post in Texas gardening forums also...

In the meantime, does anyone know what I should do to encourage bushiness? I am thinking I will plant it somewhere and wait until December to trim it, leaving it 2 feet above ground. Plenty of mulch and a deep water once a week.

Any thoughts?

Thank you!


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the_musicman(z9 FL)

welcome Nicole!

You've come to the right place. The Florida forum is the best. I don't care what anyone else says.

As to your questions...
Was it healthy when you bought it? Do not be afraid of pruning too much. You can prune Vitex to the ground, and it will come right back. It is usually an extremely tough plant. Of course, in the next few weeks is the time when Vitex starts to lose its leaves, and it remains leafless from about November through March. Pruning will encourage bushiness and if you want to prune it, go ahead and do it now.

Vitex is not related to Cannabis, although the leaves are fantastically similar. Different families. However, Vitex does have a variety of medicinal properties, as do many of its siblings in the Vervain family. I grow Vitex negundo, which is a very similar species, and has serrated leaves which look even more like Cannabis ;)

My Vitex has never been anything but outstanding for me. It established quickly and has been very tolerant of drought and neglect. It is planted on a slope in full sun and gets sporadic water and is mulched well. It sends up tons of nicely fragrant flowers and attracts every kind of nectar loving insect. 15 months ago, it was a seedling, and now it is about a 5 foot tree. I prune it to a single trunk; the thing is constantly sending up suckers.

I hope some of this helped you out.
Again, welcome and happy gardening!


    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 1:33PM
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Thanks, Ian! Your post is a great welcome!

Well, it looks basically healthy overall, although I suspect some kind of piercing-sucking insect is plaguing it somewhat, since it's got little brown spots on the old leaves. The new leaves look very healthy.

I know some of the plants at the sale looked not 100%, for example the wax myrtle I was considering buying ended up having an infestation of thrips, so I passed on it.

I am training to be a Master Gardener, so I bought the plant as much for myself as I did to support the propagation department at the Extension...they do great work there! If the plant doesn't do well, I won't feel too terrible about it, but I can't imagine that I will hurt it...mostly all I hear about this plant is how hardy it is! :) Maybe I will offer some cuttings to my classmates.

Thanks again!

P.S. Looks like the thickness of the trunk I am cutting is going to require loppers. Anyone know of a way to sharpen them? Mine are dull as a doornail.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 2:30PM
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My Vitex is still shooting out a few flowers. It's about three or four years old and blooms primarily in one flush in late spring. If you prune the flowers it will bloom somewhat again. Right now it's going into its fall/winter mode and the leaves are shriveling up and dropping off. It's a favorite for hummingbirds when it's in bloom.

I prune it pretty heavy right now usually and it comes back strong in the spring. This fall I think I'm going to let it grow and see how it does in the spring. I will, however, deadhead it.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 1:08AM
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I live in Ocala FL and am wondering where I can purchase a Vitex (Chaste tree)

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 12:06PM
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I live in ocala borrowed land nursery on 316 has quite a few

    Bookmark   March 14, 2011 at 7:33PM
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I live in ocala borrowed land nursery on 316 has quite a few

    Bookmark   March 14, 2011 at 8:59PM
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