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Versatile vitex bush is colorful, hardy

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Q: On our walks in the neighborhood we’ve noticed a big, shrubby type bush that is covered with bright blue spiky shaped blooms. The leaves are a gray-green color and the bush has lots of trunks coming out of the ground. Do you know what this plant is? – I.W., Near North Valley

A: I’m going to bet that the plant you’ve been admiring is called vitex, or chaste tree, as they are in magnificent bloom all over town nowadays. Now to be sure it’s a vitex, crumple a couple of the leaves between your fingers to draw out the oils in the leaf. If it smells rather astringent, then you can bet it’s the vitex. Another way to identify these creatures is if the bloom spikes are stiff and pointed up or out. If they cascade or look like a bunch of hanging grapes it’s not the vitex.

Blooming now, too, with drooping blooms in a wicked bright blue, is the butterfly bush, but I’m betting that the one you’re admiring is a vitex.

The vitex is easy to grow in these parts, and considered fairly drought tolerant once it’s established. But, yes, you still should water. The bark of the vitex is a dusky gray color and the plants can be grown as a multi-trunk piece or maintained as a single-trunk small tree. Several of my favorites here in town live in the landscaping of the property on the northwest corner of Jefferson and Osuna. That landscaping is chock full of really well-maintained vitex, kept to a single trunk by pruning, and when they are in bloom, wow! It’s an eyeful!

The deciduous leaf is a very cool gray-green color and is shaped a bit like the leaf of Japanese maples, just not as delicate. And when you crush or pet the vitex leaf, the aroma is amazing; such a clean smell.

The vitex does perform best if it’s planted in a full sun area with lots of air circulation. Kept cramped up in a corner or too close to a shady wall, they can develop mildew infections. The bloom colors range through the blue spectrum. My favorite, a vivid cobalt blue and some a more lavender-blue color, can be found to compliment the surroundings especially when planted with a lot of orange and orange-yellow flowering plants. The seed head created, after the bloom is finished, is a visual delight that lasts all through the autumn and winter months.

Q: Are daylilies easy to grow here? My grandma grew them everywhere back in Ohio. I miss them! – A.G., Rio Rancho

A: Your question couldn’t have been timelier! First, yes, daylilies are remarkably easy to grow in these parts. They get along well with our sun and soil. The constant green clumps of leaves are a welcome sight in almost any garden. And then the bloom spikes (scapes) these winners offer are such a treat. Each scape wears several buds so that the plant is in some sort of bloom for weeks at a time. And we’re just now coming into the prime blooming period for daylilies.

On top of all that, there is a daylily show happening from 1 — 5 p.m. Sunday at the Albuquerque Garden Center. This show is a great way to get familiar with these easy-to-grow perennial plants. The note I’d received announcing the event says there will be “200 different daylilies of various colors, shapes, forms and sizes” for you to peruse. Even better, parking and admission are free! One more fun thing: you can vote for your favorite daylily.

So get out to the garden center, 10120 Lomas NE, between Wyoming and Eubank. Grandma will be pleased if you add a few of those treasures to your garden! Have fun Digging In.

Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.

 

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