How to Grow Privet

privet hedge (Ligustrum)

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A privet hedge (Ligustrum spp.) running along a property border is a classic look. The plant's common name even seems to say "privacy," and these bushes can form a natural privacy fence for those seeking a secluded setting in their yard. Many privet species are not especially ornamental plants when considered in isolation. They’re either evergreen or deciduous (dropping their leaves over winter) with dense, oval or lance-shaped, glossy green leaves, though some varieties have different leaf shades. Small, tubular flowers bloom on panicles in the early summer with a strong fragrance that some people dislike. Round, black fruit clusters follow the blooms. Privets have a quick growth rate and can be planted in the spring or fall.

Botanical Name Ligustrum spp.
Common Name Privet
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 4–15 feet tall, 4–10 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 3–8 (USDA), varies by species
Native Area Europe, Africa, Asia
Toxicity Toxic to people, animals

Privet Care

Privet shrubs can tolerate a wide range of growing conditions, and they are fairly easy to care for. But their planting site must have good drainage. Moreover, some privet species are considered invasive plants, depending on where you live. So make sure the species you plan to use is appropriate for your area.

To plant a new hedge, position the privets about a foot apart in a trench 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep, and mound the soil around the stems. Plan to water new privets regularly and established plants during dry spells. You will also need to fertilize your plants throughout the growing season (spring to fall).

Light

Privets typically grow well in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. Sun will bring out the best color in the foliage. However, they can tolerate partial shade conditions as well. 

Soil

These shrubs can tolerate a variety of soil types as long as the soil has sharp drainage. And they can handle a soil pH ranging from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline, though they prefer roughly a neutral pH. These plants also are tolerant to some salt in the soil, making them an option for planting sites near roadways that get salted or near ocean spray.

Water

Young privet shrubs do well with a deep weekly watering if they haven’t received any rainfall. Mature shrubs have good drought tolerance but should be watered during an extended dry spell or during very hot weather to prevent the soil from completely drying out. 

Temperature and Humidity

In cooler climates, privet shrubs typically drop their leaves in the fall. Thus, they can’t provide year-round privacy as a hedge if that’s what you wish to grow them for. The different species have various temperature requirements. But in general they can survive temperatures below freezing, along with heat if they get sufficient watering. Humidity typically isn’t an issue, though fungal diseases can grow on foliage that remains wet for too long and doesn’t have good air circulation.

Fertilizer

Use a 15-5-10 fertilizer (or a fertilizer specifically for broadleaf shrubs) in the early spring. And apply another round of fertilizer in the fall, following label instructions.

Is Privet Toxic?

All parts of privet contain glycosides, which are poisonous to people and many animals when ingested. However, some bird species and other wildlife can feed on the berries.

Symptoms of Poisoning

Symptoms of toxicity in both people and animals include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, weakness, headache, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, and low body temperature. The poisoning can even be fatal depending on the amount ingested and size and health of the person or animal. If you suspect poisoning, contact a medical professional immediately. 

Privet Varieties

There are around 50 species and even more varieties of privet, including:

  • Korean privet/California privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium): This shrub is hardy in zones 5 to 8, and it grows around 10 to 15 feet tall.
  • Golden privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium 'Aureum'): This variety grows roughly 8 to 10 feet tall and features golden leaf margins.
  • Common privet (Ligustrum vulgare): This species is known for having good cold tolerance and can form a fast-growing, dense hedge.
  • Border privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium): This species has very good cold tolerance and can sometimes survive in USDA zone 3. 
  • Amur privet (Ligustrum amurense): This species also can survive in USDA zone 3 and tops out at around 12 to 15 feet tall. 

Pruning

Privet shrubs can tolerate being shaped to your liking. They will quickly bounce back from a heavy pruning. After a shrub is finished flowering for the season, it will soon start to form new buds for next year’s flowers. So pruning for shape and size must be done immediately after flowering ceases to avoid removing these new buds. In addition, lightly pruning a few times throughout the summer will encourage denser, bushier growth with more branching. 

Article Sources
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  1. Privet Ligustrum. Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Connecticut State.

  2. Ligustrum lucidum. NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.