Privet is one of the best all round hedge plants, happy to grow in most soils, hardy enough to survive in most weathers and a great choice for topiary. Let’s dig into this perennially popular plant in a bit more detail.
- Genus: Ligustrum
- Most common variety: Oval Leaf (ligustrum ovalifolium)
- Other popular varieties: Common (ligustrum vulgare), Fragrant Cloud (ligustrum sinense), Golden (ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’)
An evergreen shrub, privet is densely packed with green shiny foliage. It is an ideal hedge plant as it likes sun and shade and will grow in most soil types. It is semi-deciduous with some varieties holding their leaves better than others, and it is resistant to most diseases and threats. It can grow up to 4m in height, although dwarf varieties have been cultivated to suit more modest gardens.
The Oval Leaf variety has glossy green leaves, while varieties like Golden and Lemon & Lime have leaves that tend towards the yellower end of the green spectrum. The leaves occur in opposing pairs on either side of branches.
Privet hedge usually flowers in mid-summer (July in the UK) with small white flowers which do not have a particular pleasant smell. The Fragrant Cloud variety is chosen for it’s scented blooms. It is noted as an allergy-producing plant.
Privet produces poisonous berries after flowering, however the common use as a pruned hedge usually prevents fruition. The shiny black berries are most common, but some varieties have been cultivated to produce green/white and yellow berries.
Privet hedge can be pruned in the summer months – July to September in the UK – and depending on your topiary tastes, you can use hand or machine shears to achieve your goals. This should keep the younger summer growth in check without causing damage to the core structure of the plant.
Take cuttings from privet of around 10cm in length, remove the leaves nearest to the cut and plant the cutting directly into warm soil to a depth of 4cm. Cuttings should be planted in the Autumn and will show signs of progress by the following Spring.
How to Plant Privet Hedge
If you want to give the plant a good amount of time to settle in, planting in early Autumn is ideal.
- While you prepare your trench, soak the roots of your new plant in water, to let the plant realise that good times are coming!
- Take note of the depth they were already planted in the soil, as you’ll replant them to the same level.
- Dig your trench and add plenty of well rotted manure to provide nutrition for them to get stuck into.
- Space them about 30cm apart to give them room to grow happily and then firm them in. Your first plant will want to be placed about 15cm from the end of your trench so that its growth will naturally end at the right spot.
- Water them well and give them some encouraging words while you’re at it.
Although privet hedge is notoriously hardy, it can succumb to wilt and honey fungus. Signs of infection include discoloured leaves or leaves falling off, and honey fungus can prevent new growth from occurring in spring. As with most fungi, the main cause is excessive moisture near the roots, so a well-drained soil will help keep this threat at bay. If the plant becomes infected with honey fungus, removing the whole plant, including the roots, is the only way to prevent it spreading.
Spider mites can infest hedges – these can be identified by their “webs” which cover the plant and their red-brown bodies can be seen on the underside of the leaf. Infestations can be pruned out if necessary, and pesticides are available to deal with them, however natural predators like ladybirds will be happy to tackle these mischievous mites if the problem is not too large.
Fun Facts About Privet
- Privet was named by Pliny the Elder in the 1st Century.
- Chinese herbalists use privet leaves and bark to treat ailments like indigestion and stomach ulcers.
- It is banned from sale in New Zealand because of invasive nature and it’s allergy-causing pollen.
- Privet flowers have both sets of reproductive organs, but require the help of bees and other insects to pollinate.
- It is very tolerant to pollution, making it an ideal inhabitant of urban areas.
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