How to Grow Vitex Chaste Flowering Shrubs and Trees

Vitex agnus-castus

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

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 to 9, V. agnus-castus is sometimes referred to as “lilac of the South” because its beautiful, five- 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.

A close up vertical image of a deep blue flower spike of a vitex or chase shrub. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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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.

A close up vertical image of the 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.

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.

A close up vertical image of the purple flower spikes of Vitex agnus-castus with skinny light green leaves pictured in light sunshine.

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.

A close up vertical image 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 close up square image of a chaste tree growing in the garden, with purple flowers and green foliage, next to a brown outdoor chair.

Chaste Tree

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

Looking for something a little smaller? The Blue Puffballcultivar is perfect for growing as a shrub. Live plants are available from Nature Hills Nursery.

A close up square image of a small 'Blue Puffball' vitex plant growing in a container.

V. agnus-castus ‘PIIVAC-Il’

It will reach a maximum height and spread of three to four feet, and is available in #1 or #3 containers from Nature Hills Nursery. It can be grown in Zones 6 to 9.

The Pink Pinnaclecultivar is also available exclusively from Nature Hills.

A close up square image of 'Pink Pinnacle' vitex growing in the garden.

V. agnus-castus ‘V07-SC-OP-4’

These are available in #3 containers, and will reach a mature height and spread of three to four feet. This pink variety will grow well in Zones 6 to 9.

Shoal Creekis another outstanding cultivar with violet-blue flower spikes, and it’s available from Nature Hills.

A close up square of the purple flower spike of 'Shoal Creek' vitex pictured in bright sunshine.

‘Shoal Creek’ Chaste Tree

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

In the Dark of Night

You can also propagate vitex from cuttings.

To do this, nab a four- to six-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.

A close up 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.

A close up vertical image 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.

A close up vertical image of green narrow leaves of the vitex plant growing 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 (NPK) 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 gardeners 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 from Bonide, available at Arbico Organics.

A close up vertical image of a spray bottle of Bonide Insecticidal Soap isolated on a white background.

Bonide Insecticidal Soap

It is available in 12- or 32-ounce ready-to-spray bottles.

Scale can also be water-blasted off, or you can use neem oil to smother them. Consider this neem oil also from Bonide, available from Arbico Organics.

A close up vertical image of a bottle of Bonide Neem Oil isolated on a white background.

Bonide Neem Oil

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.

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.

A close up vertical image of four purple flower spikes and green leaves of Vitex agnus-castus.

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.

Photo of author
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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