What Is a Privet Hedge?

Donn Saylor

A privet hedge is a semi-evergreen shrub usually planted to provide privacy. A member of the Ligustrum genus, privet hedges require regular pruning and a moderately temperate planting environment. They are sometimes known as privet shrubs and became popular in suburban American yards during the middle of the 20th century.

New Zealand has banned anyone from growing or selling the privet hedge as a result of its massive spread.
New Zealand has banned anyone from growing or selling the privet hedge as a result of its massive spread.

There are between 40 and 50 types of plants that fall under the category of Ligustrum shrubs. When used as a semi-evergreen hedging plant, some of the most popular choices are Chinese privet shrubs, Japanese or wax privet shrubs, and common privet shrubs. Most varieties flower and bear fruit that is potentially poisonous to human beings.

As a universal rule, privet hedges are planted in a trench that is two feet (0.6 meters) wide and two feet (0.6 meters) deep. They are spaced one foot (0.3 meters) apart within the trench. Over the first year, a privet hedge should be watered regularly, usually through means of drip irrigation.

While a privet hedge matures, it forms a natural wall-like shape, providing privacy to homeowners. Though the shrub is flat and boxlike by nature, it typically requires frequent pruning to keep its shape. While not a traditional "high maintenance" type of plant, privet hedges do demand a certain amount of attention to serve their important role in maintaining privacy as well as their lush appearance.

A privet hedge will sprout flowers after 330 growing days. The blossoms are aromatic and small. They grow on tiny clusters and are usually white in color.

The berries that come from the privet hedge will vary in color and shape depending on the variety of Ligustrum shrub planted. The Leucocarpum variety, for example, has greenish-white berries, while the Xanthocarpum has yellow berries. The berries are mildly poisonous to human beings, though they provide food for a number of animals, namely certain insects, moths, and butterflies. The privet hedge is toxic to horses.

When left to its own devices, the privet hedge can grow wildly out of control. It is not a native plant to many regions and was introduced as a means of privacy, but when the plant fell out of popularity, many homeowners abandoned their privet hedges. They spread quickly, and in several notable instances have entered wild areas and displaced native plant species. The United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand have all seen this problem firsthand; New Zealand banned anyone from growing or selling the privet hedge as a result of its massive spread.

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Discussion Comments


As you know what you are talking about, I have a question! Some of the individual privets in my hedge have been dying back over a period of about five years. One has died back and regenerated and one has died back completely. The third is in the process of dying back.

One "expert" told me it was honey fungus and the whole hedge would die, but not so far! Is there any other reason this might be happening and can I do anything to prevent it? I have been cutting the dead bits hard back to green wood but it's difficult to say whether or not that has helped. The first one that died (and then regenerated) I just cut down to the ground, and did the same thing with the second one that died and it has stayed dead. Any suggestions would be really useful. Thank you.

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