Privet plants (Ligustrum spp.) are flowering evergreen shrubs commonly grown as hedges, which can also be grown as small, bushy trees depending on the specific variety. These classic plants include roughly 50 different species in the Ligustrum genus that can offer a classic look when running along a property border. 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.
The fruits and leaves of privet are toxic to humans and pets.
|Botanical Name||Ligustrum spp.|
|Mature Size||4–15 ft. tall, 4–10 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Hardiness Zones||3–8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Africa, Asia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people, toxic to pets|
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).
Due to its vigorous growth and size, privet is not suitable for container growing.
Privet is a non-native species in the US. It is capable of invading floodplain forests and woodlands. Consider growing a native species instead.
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.
These shrubs 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 a roughly 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 in winter or near ocean spray.
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. The different species have various temperature requirements. But in general, they can survive temperatures well below freezing, along with heat in summer 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.
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.
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.
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. If you are intent on seeing your privet hedge bloom in the following year, pruning for shape and size must be done immediately after flowering ceases to avoid removing these new buds. Lightly pruning a few times throughout the summer will encourage denser, bushier growth with more branching.
Gardeners are usually trying to get rid of privet because it tends to spread aggressively and uncontrollably but if you are looking for an economical way to fill gaps in an existing privet hedge, you can propagate it from cuttings as follows:
- In the early spring, take slim, pencil-thick cuttings about 6 inches in length. Remove all the leaves from the first 2 inches of the bottom half of the cuttings so the nodes are exposed.
- Dip the end of the cuttings in rooting hormone. Fill 4-inch plastic pots with potting mix. Using a pencil or a stick, poke a hole in the soil that is deep enough to fit the leafless portion of the cutting. Gently press the cutting into the soil and press it down. Water it well until the soil is evenly moist.
- Place the pot in a bright outdoor location with indirect light, away from direct hot sun. Keep the cuttings moist at all times. In a month or two, new roots will develop, and you should see new leaf growth.
- Transplant to the landscape and keep well-watered for at least another month, longer in dry weather, until the young plants are established.
How to Grow Privet from Seed
Regarding the propagation of privet from seed, gardeners are usually struggling to keep privet from spreading by seeds. Unlike in nature, starting privet from seed is is quite involved; the seeds need stratification under controlled conditions. In nature, though, privet propagates easily by seeds that are dispersed by wind and wildlife, which adds to the invasive nature of the plant.
Privet is hardy to USDA zone 3, which means it can withstand outdoor temperatures year-round without winter protection.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
While privet can get leaf spots and powdery mildew, aphids, leaf miners, scale, mealybugs and mites, those usually don't affect the overall plant health. More serious diseases include anthracnose and twig blight.
Common Problems with Privet
The desirable property of privet—its vigorous growth—can also become a problem. To keep a privet hedge manageable, it needs frequent pruning, between two to four times per growing season. The growth rate of privets can vary so make sure to pick a variety that won’t overwhelm your yard.
A privet hedge can develop bare spots if it is not properly pruned. Shearing the tops encourages the side shoots to grow.
How do you know if privet is invasive?
Introduced privet species such as Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) or Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum) are invasive when they are the only shrub growing in a location. They grow dense thickets that choke out all other native species.
What can I plant as a hedge instead of privet?
Non-invasive alternatives to Chinese privet are inkberry or blackhaw viburnum, both shrubs that are native to North America.
How much does a privet grow in a year?
When it gets sufficient water and nutrients, privet grows fast, 1 to 2 feet per year.
Ligustrum lucidum. NC State University Cooperative Extension.
Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants. University of California.
Privet Ligustrum. Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Connecticut State.