The vitex tree can be grown as a tree or shrub and features beautiful fragrant lilac flowers that bloom throughout the summer. It grows easily, to the point of becoming invasive in some areas, to heights of between 15 and 20 feet. The foliage of the tree resembles the cannabis plant, with five leaflets splayed out like an open hand. The leaves have a similar scent to that of sage.
Used in ancient times to preserve the chastity of maidens, the plant is now cultivated for its dried leaves and fruits, which are used to make ‘agnus castus>,’ an herbal remedy to alleviate menstrual symptoms and help with acne.
Vitex Tree Overview
|Origin||Western Asia and the Mediterranean|
|Scientific Name||Vitex agnus-castus|
|Type||Evergreen or deciduous trees and shrubs|
|Common Names||Vitex tree, Chaste tree, Chasteberry, Monk’s Pepper, Hemp tree, Cloister Pepper|
|Height||Up to 20 feet|
|Pests||Aphids and whitefly|
This cultivar grows to around 6 feet in height, with a similar-sized spread. It features deep blue flowers on spikes that range from 12 to 18 inches long.
This variety of vitex grows rapidly to heights of 15 feet, with a maximum spread of 20 feet. It features white blooms.
This is one of the more common vitex trees you will see, typically growing to 15 feet tall. Its flowers are purple-blue, and the foliage of the tree is leaf spot-resistant (Clemson University Cooperative Extension).
This compact variety grows well as a shrub, as it reaches heights of just 3 feet, and is wider than it is tall with a spread of 4 feet. It is a relatively new cultivar, introduced in 2016, and features dainty blue flowers (North Carolina State University Extension).
The flowers of this vitex plant are pink and heavily scented. It grows up to 15 feet tall and 15 feet wide.
Caring for Your Vitex Tree
The vitex tree is drought-tolerant, and once it is mature, you will probably never need to water it again. It will survive just fine on rainwater alone, though during long periods of drought, you might like to supplement the tree with occasional watering.
This plant does not like to be grown in moist conditions, and in fact, it is one of the few things that the vitex tree will not tolerate. To help ensure the tree is never sat in soggy soil, it should be well-draining. Native soil usually works well as the vitex tree isn’t interested in having rich or fertile soil, but if it is not well-draining, you could add sand or gravel to assist with this.
Refrain from using soil with rich compost as this tends to hold onto moisture near the roots, and the tree won’t thank you for it. The vitex tree is unconcerned by alkaline or acidic soil, and will also grow well in poor-quality soil so long as it drains well.
The vitex tree enjoys full sun conditions but can also grow well in partial shade. Aim to provide the plant with at least 6 hours of sun a day to ensure prolific blooming. If you don’t have a full-sun position available for the vitex tree, sit it in a spot where it will receive morning sun and afternoon shade. This will help to offer the plant some relief during the hottest portion of the day.
Most varieties of vitex trees are hardy from USDA growing zones 6 through 9, though some varieties can grow in zone 5. The plant is not frost-tolerant and may die back each winter in colder areas, though do not worry as it grows well from roots and will bounce back in the spring.
Some gardening experts recommend pruning the plant back to ground level before the first anticipated frost, and mulching it over. This will help to insulate the roots and protect them from freezing during winter, therefore ensuring the plant is healthy enough to resume growth in spring. This is a good technique to employ, but in most cases, the vitex tree will survive even if you make no attempts to protect it through winter.
Pruning the tree back to ground level each year also helps to control its size, as it does have a habit of getting out of control.
The vitex tree propagates easily by itself by reseeding. Spent blooms develop into berries that contain seeds, and new vitex trees will appear wherever the berries have fallen. If you are happy to have more vitex trees growing randomly around your garden, then be sure to leave the spent flowers on the tree to do their own thing.
Some people find that the plant reseeds so well to the point that it becomes invasive in their garden. If you want to prevent the self-seeding, you should remove flowers as soon as they are spent. Deadheading will also help to encourage a longer blooming period, so the benefit of this effort is two-fold.
To propagate the vitex tree more intentionally, you can grow the plant from seed or from stem cuttings. Sow seeds directly outside after the last frost, or get a head start by sowing the seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last expected frost.
Seeds have a good success rate, but the weakest seedlings should be thinned out, allowing only the strongest to continue growing into a tree. Ensure soil is kept slightly moist until the plants are established.
Propagation from stem cuttings is also an easy process with vitex trees. You will need to locate a softwood cutting from your plant of 4 to 6 inches long. Softwood cuttings are those that are neither brand new nor old. To find out if you have correctly identified softwood, simply bend the stem to see how it reacts to the pressure.
New stems will bend easily, whereas old stems will resist being bent. Softwood stems should snap in response to bending, and these are the stems you need for propagation. Remove the lower leaves from your stem, dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and then set it into a soilless potting medium. Tuck it in well, then cover it in a plastic bag or container to mimic the conditions of a greenhouse. Set the cutting in bright indirect light, keeping the potting mix moist.
Roots should develop in around 4 to 6 weeks, at which point you can remove the plastic bag or container and transplant the cutting to a larger pot. Allow these new plants to develop over the coming months, planting the tree outside in spring.
The vitex tree responds well to heavy pruning, and you will likely need to prune annually if you want to keep your tree looking neat, as it does tend to grow to be quite wild looking. You can prune the plant to look however you wish, either as a shrub or as a tree by removing all but one of the main lower trunks.
Perform your annual pruning in late fall, or early winter, either cutting the tree back to ground level or heavily cutting it back to control growth and keep it neat. Cut away weak or spindly central branches to keep the main part of the tree from becoming too dense>; this will allow light to penetrate the branches and encourage airflow, both of which will result in a healthier tree.
Remove any low hanging branches as this will make lawn maintenance much easier and give an overall neater look. It will also mean you can grow smaller plants underneath the shade the tree offers. Throughout the year, you should prune the tree by deadheading any spent flowers. This will help to encourage more blooms, and will also prevent the plant from reseeding. Some people recommend completely pruning back flower spikes when they are spent in summer, as this can encourage the vitex tree to continue blooming right through fall.
The flowers of the vitex tree appear on long spikes and bloom from spring through fall. They are typically a purple-blue color, but some varieties grow pink and white flowers. The blooms have a pleasant scent and are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. Once spent, the flowers develop into dark berries, which also have a pleasing fragrance. Each berry contains four seeds that resemble peppercorns.
The dried leaves and fruits of this plant have long been used as an herbal remedy. In ancient times, it was said to suppress libido, which is how the plant earned the common names of chaste tree and chasteberry, as it was said to preserve the virginity of maidens. It was also supposed to help monks stick to their vow of chastity, earning it another common name of monk’s pepper. The plant is now used to help alleviate women's menstrual symptoms and is known as agnus castus.
Which variety of vitex tree do you like best? Let us know and leave any questions in they comments. Share this page with other plant enthusiasts!