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Summer shrubs are beautiful

We all crave color in our landscapes. Beds full of annual and perennial flowering plants are often the primary source of landscape color, but they require a lot of work to keep them looking nice.

A lower-maintenance way to provide landscape color is through the use of trees and shrubs that produce attractive flowers at various times of the year. With careful selection, trees and shrubs can be blooming in your landscape virtually year round. Although they generally don’t produce the intense, concentrated displays of color provided by annual and perennial flowers, these permanent plants bloom every year in their season with minimal effort on the gardener’s part.

For the summer season, nothing epitomizes this more than the crape myrtle. But other summer-blooming shrubs and trees can do a lot to contribute to the summer display.

Vitex or chaste tree

Lavender blue is a very welcome color in the landscape. Most of the summer-flowering trees and shrubs — such as crape myrtles, oleanders and altheas — tend to have flowers in shades of red, pink or white. The cool-colored lavender blue spikes of vitex provide a pleasing contrast to these colors.

For about a month, this deciduous, large shrub or small tree produces showy 5-to-7-inch spikes of small lavender blue flowers from late May through June. A second flush of flowers often appears in July or early August, especially if the old flower spikes are removed to prevent seeds from forming.

Shoal Creek vitex

Vitex Shoal Creek is an outstanding selection of vitex with superior characteristics compared with the standard type. That’s why it was named a Louisiana Super Plants selection for spring 2011.

For one thing, at 12 inches, the flower spikes are noticeably larger. In addition, the individual flowers in the spikes are larger and are a deeper, more vibrant lavender-blue color. They provide a wonderful addition to summer landscape color without the work involved with bedding plants.

If you’re interested in welcoming wildlife to your gardens, as so many gardeners are these days, you’ll be glad to know that vitex flowers are also attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. I especially like to see bright yellow sulfur butterflies fluttering around the flowers of my vitex trees. The yellow and lavender blue colors look wonderful together.

Vitex is also popular trained as a small, multi-trunked tree. To achieve this look, prune off lower branches starting at the bottom and working your way up. This is generally best done over several years, so take your time and do a little each year until you have achieved the look you want. Expect to see shoots growing from the lower parts of the trunk as time goes by. To maintain a nice tree form, remove these promptly as they appear.

Dan Gill is an LSU AgCenter horticulturist.

Another advantage Shoal Creek vitex has over standard types is its exceptionally vigorous growth. A great thing about vitex is that it grows quite fast and quickly fills its role in the landscape. Shoal Creek is even more vigorous, and you can expect rapid growth once it is established.

If you’re looking for plants that aren’t fussy and don’t require a lot of care, you can’t do better than Shoal Creek vitex. Once established, it’s very drought-tolerant and fits very well in the lower-maintenance landscape. It needs to be watered regularly during dry periods the first year or two after planting. But, after that, you will never likely need to water again. I’m always amazed to see my vitex trees flourishing during hot, dry, late-summer weather when other plants in my landscape are languishing or requiring regular watering.

In addition to their beautiful flowers, vitex have attractive, star-shaped, aromatic leaves that are grayish green on top and gray underneath. When summer breezes blow against the foliage, the silvery undersides are flipped up producing a lovely effect, especially when the plant is in bloom.

Vitex prefer a location that receives full sun. This will produce the stockiest plants with the most flowers. I do have a vitex growing in partial shade that is growing very nicely. It does not, however, flower as well as those growing in full sun.

Also make sure you plant your vitex in a well-drained location. Avoid low spots that tend to hold water for days after rainfall occurs.

So if you’re looking for a large shrub or small tree that over much of the summer produces beautiful, lavender blue flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies and gives you attractive foliage, fast growth and low maintenance, you can’t go wrong with Shoal Creek vitex.

Look for Shoal Creek vitex at your local nurseries and garden centers. They will likely have signs near them designating them as a Louisiana Super Plants selection. To learn more about the Louisiana Super Plants program and find participating nurseries near you, go to: www.lsuagcenter.com/superplant.