Not So Chaste: Attractive Vitex Is a Plant that Reproduces Liberally

Vitex agnus-castus

Vitex is one of the most liberally reseeding plants I have ever grown.

Closeup of four purple flower spikes and green leaves of Vitex agnus-castus.

In an interesting twist, it got a couple of its nicknames — chaste plant and monk’s pepper — from old beliefs that utilizing potions made from the plant’s berries helped maidens remain maidenly, and helped monks adhere to their vows of chastity.

Hardy in zones 6-9, V. agnus-castus is sometimes referred to as “lilac of the South” because its beautiful, 5- to 12-inch purple, lavender, off-white, or light pink flower spikes resemble those of lilac. Other nicknames include sage tree, and Indian spice vitex.

Pointy narrow green leaves of Vitex agnus-castus growing radially around a center point with a longer leaf at the peak, on a shrub with several main branches.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

Yet another nickname, hemp tree, stems from the appearance of plant’s leaves, which resemble those of the cannabis plant. Fortunately, the DEA has never beat down my door.

This butterfly-attractor can be pruned into shrub form, or allowed to reach tree heights — 15 to 20 feet — with a spread as wide as 10 to 15 feet. As a tree, expect it to be multi-trunked and vase-shaped, similar to crape myrtle.

Purple spiky blooms of the vital plant with green leaves, growing in front of several trees and a blue sky with white clouds.

Native to China and India, V. agnus-castus has been planted in the United States for many years, and this fast-growing and deer-resistant plant has even naturalized in the southern United States.

Here’s what’s to come in this article:

Let’s take a look at the history and growing habits of this attractive plant, so you can grow your own.

A Plethora of Purposes

Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans ascribed many healing powers to the seeds of vitex, mostly gastrointestinal.

And as I mentioned above, vitex has long been associated with sexual passion, or rather, a lack of it. Ancients put the leaves in the beds of maidens whose maidenhood they wished to preserve.

Purple flower spikes of Vitex agnus-castus with skinny light green leaves.

Today, some women take vitex-containing supplements to ease symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome. Other people take it to curb acne.

Happy to Reproduce (And Where to Buy)

Vitex loves hot and dry growing conditions. It wants full sun and well-draining soil — either acidic or alkaline.

We planted ours in native soil mixed with leftover builder dirt, with nothing special added in. The area where we planted it — that strip between the sidewalk and street common in suburban neighborhoods — was formerly home to St. Augustine grass.

Closeup of the narrow green leaves of the vitex plant growing in a fan shape on thin stems, growing in dappled sunlight in the garden.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

At the top of this article, I mentioned that vitex reseeds generously. In actuality, I would go so far as to say it’s invasive.

Ours have multiplied all over the stinkin’ place.

If you don’t cut the spent blooms off, the plant will form attractive berries, which contain seeds that are more than happy to make more vitex plants wherever they fall.

With that in mind, if you’re thinking you want to add vitex to your landscape, you can buy nursery starts in containers of varying sizes.

Purple flowering plants are available in #3 or #5 containers from Nature Hills Nursery.

A chaste tree growing in the garden, with purple flowres and green foliage, growing in a green lawn next to a brown outdoor chair.

Chaste Tree

This traditional chaste tree specimen has a mature height and spread of 15-25 feet. This variety can be grown in zones 5-9.

Looking for something a little smaller? The ‘Blue Puffball’ cultivar is perfect for growing as a shrub. And live plants are available from Nature Hills Nursery.

Blue Puffball Vitex Plant

V. agnus-castus ‘PIIVAC-Il’

It will reach a maximum height and spread of 3-4 feet, and is available in #1 or #3 containers. It can be grown in zones 6-9.

The ‘Pink Pinnacle’ cultivar is also available exclusively from Nature Hills.

'Pink Pinnacle' vitex.

V. agnus-castus ‘V07-SC-OP-4’

These are available in #3 containers, and will reach a mature height and spread of 3-4 feet. This pink variety will grow well in zones 6-9.

‘Shoal Creek’ is another new cultivar with violet-blue flower spikes, and it’s available from Nature Hills.

Closeup of the purple flower spike of 'Shoal Creek' vitex.

‘Shoal Creek’ Chaste Tree

It will reach a max height and spread of 10-12 feet, and plants are available in #3 containers. It grows best in zones 6-9.

If you’d prefer to plant seeds, consider these, also available via Amazon.

V. Agnus-Castus, 25 Seeds

You’ll receive 25 seeds.

In the Dark of Night

You can also propagate vitex from cuttings.

To do this, steal a 4- to 6-inch softwood cutting from your neighbor’s plant in late spring or early summer. It’s important that you choose a piece of stem that’s neither brand new, nor fully mature.

You can determine this by bending a stem. It if breaks with a snap, bingo! Softwood. If it bends but does not break, that section is too immature. If the stem doesn’t bend at all, it is hardwood and not suitable for propagation.

Vertical image of long, narrow leaves of the vital plant growing radially out from a brown stem on a plant in dappled shade.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

Prepare a destination container by filling it with a soilless mix containing a good bit of perlite, moistening the mix, and dipping a pencil into the mix to create a hole for your cutting.

Make sure the end of your propagation piece is cleanly cut, remove the lower leaves, and then dip it in rooting hormone — liquid or powder.

Place the cutting in the prepared container and gently press the potting mix up against the stem. Place a plastic dome, if you have one, or a clear plastic bag over the container and place it in bright, indirect light to create a miniature greenhouse.

Closeup of green vitex leaves that are narrow and growing radially in pairs on either side of a central point, with one center leaf that is longer than the rest and unpaired.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

Check the cutting daily, adding a bit of water if the potting mix feels dry. After four to five weeks, check for roots by either seeing if any are peeking out of the holes in the bottom of the container, or gently lifting the plant out of the container.

When you see roots, you can remove the plastic, and transfer to a larger container filled with 80 percent soil and 20 percent perlite.

Leave the starts in their pots for several months, and then transplant to the garden the following spring.

A Hard Prune, And That’s About It

Experts say this deciduous plant should be cut to the ground every winter to keep it a manageable size. That doesn’t happen at my house. We have a hard enough time just keeping it off the sidewalk, so it doesn’t annoy passersby.

Prune as you like for shape — into a full shrub, or more tree-like. Ours sends up these crazy, skinny, long, top-heavy canes from the base; we whack those off because they look stupid, and they fall over into the sidewalk or into the street where my son parks his car. Our car.

Vertical image of green narrow leaves of the vitex plant, in partial shade.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

The literature will tell you to water vitex infrequently but deeply from April to October. I guess if you count the five or so rainfalls we might get during that time in Austin, then that’s what ours gets.

We give it no supplemental water and no fertilizer. And yet, it’s unstoppable.

If your vitex looks like it needs a little pick-me-up, give it a dose of 10-10-10 fertilizer in early spring and in early summer.

Maybe, Maybe Not

Although our V. agnus-castus plants have never been bothered by pests or diseases, other gardners have had to watch out for a few problems.

If you see aphids, trying blasting them away with water, or try an insecticidal soap such as this one, available on Amazon from Garden Safe.

Garden Safe Houseplant and Garden Insect Killer, 24-Ounce Spray

This 24-ounce spray bottle is ready to use.

Scale can also be water-blasted off, or you can use neem oil to smother them. Consider this ready-to-use neem oil from Bayer Advanced, available via Amazon.

Bayer Advanced Natria Neem Oil Concentrate, 24 Oz.

This potion is also effective against whiteflies, which some gardeners have reported seeing on vitex.

Big or Small, It’s a Keeper

If you have a large space that needs filling quickly, or if you’re diligent with the pruners, vitex might be a good choice for you.

Six spikes of lilac-colored vitex flowers, on narrow stems with skinny green leaves beneath the blooms that come to a sharp point, with green and brown foliage in the background.

This fast-grower can be kept trimmed to bush size or allowed to grow into a multi-trunked, vase-shaped tree. Either way, you’ll be rewarded with attractive, lilac-like boom spikes all summer long.

Have you ever grown V. agnus-castus? Which of its many nicknames does it go by in your neighborhood? Tell us in the comments section below. If you’d like to try your hand at another shrub-slash-tree, consider Chinese fringe flower.


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing different types of Vitex flowering shrubs in bloom.

Photos by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Nature Hills Nursery, Jon Valley, Garden Safe, and Bayer. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.

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About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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MEG KEMP
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MEG KEMP

I HAVE CHASTE TREE WHICH IS NOT SHOWING NEW GROWTH IT LOOKS DEAD. HOW DO I TAKE CARE OF THIS, IS IT A LATE BLOOMER? APPRECIATE ANY ADVICE.

Daniel
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Daniel

I have heard that if you prune the flowering ends often chaste has to dedicate its effort to re-flowering and not reseeding. In turn this keeps the sprouting shoots at bay. We live in the Austin area and with the unusual rain recently our tree needs more attention than Donald Trump’s Twitter posts.

Lorena Ford
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Lorena Ford

Hi! I’m not far from you, we live 5 minutes from Texas A&M (whoop!) Nevertheless I’d appreciate your advice.😃 My vitex has never been a good bloomer at all, it’s been planted maybe 2 years now. Is there a trick to get it in gear? Thanks!

Jackie
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Jackie

I live in Dallas, and ours has been planted (from a gallon pot) about 6 years ago. We’ve had prolific blooms for about 2 years. Give yours a year or two and it should start giving you more and more blooms. We only prune to shape.

Mandy
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Mandy

This was informative and entertaining. Thanks!

Sunshine
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Sunshine

Ok, so I also live in far north Austin, almost Pflugerville. I bought a small chaste tree and planted near the house hoping it grows up to cover a window that overlooks the neighbors trash cans. It’s very healthy, growing well, flowering etc., but I’m now nervous that I shouldn’t have planted it so close to the house. Will the roots bother the foundation? Thank you for the informative article.

Dondi
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Dondi

I live at Possum Kingdom Lake TX, last year my blooms were purple this year they are white. Do you know why?

Helen
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Helen

I live in Waco and would like to buy and plant a Vitex tree. When is the best time to plant it? My next problem is finding one.