The genus Liguster (Ligustrum) consists of several game species, one of which, the Common Liguster (Ligustrum vulgare), is also native to our latitudes. In the garden, the privet variety ‘Atrovirens’ is particularly important as a hedge plant. Liguster hedges from the variety ‘Atrovirens’ stay green longer in winter, because the variety holds the foliage better than the wild species. Another type of privet that is often used as an ornament in the garden is the Japanese oval-leaved privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium). It has slightly larger leaves, grows more upright and remains more compact than the common privet with a height of three metres. Like this, it keeps its leaves well in mild winters, but also throws them off as soon as they freeze for a long time. Another popular tub plant is the up to two meter high non-hardy Chinese privet (Ligustrum delavayanum). It is evergreen, very small-leaved and at first glance looks very similar to the boxwood, especially as it is usually offered as a shaped wood.
Liguster belong to the olive tree family (Oleaceae) and, in contrast to the box tree, carry all opposite leaves. The bark of the shoots is strikingly light grey, the small yellowish-white flowers appear in June and are usually arranged in terminal panicles. They spread an intense scent and are flown by bees and other insects with some species remarkably strongly. The fruits are mostly black berries, which are often eaten by birds, but for us humans are mostly slightly poisonous. The growth height of the different privet species and varieties varies from one to five metres. Like most olive trees, all privet species are very robust and tolerant of dryness. They grow in the wild mostly in dry, hot locations and also endure droughts lasting several weeks. All species place extremely low demands on the soil: it can be dry to moderately moist and sandy to loamy, with all privet species being very pH-tolerant, but rather lime-loving. The location is ideally sunny, but can also be shady. The name privet probably derives from the Latin word “ligare” (=band). It probably refers to the extremely pliable shoots that used to be used like willow rods for weaving baskets and other containers. For this reason, the native ordinary privet also carries the name Rainweide.
All privet species have been popular as garden plants since time immemorial because of their robustness and their high rash capacity. Liguster hedges had their place beside hedges from beech, box tree and yew in historical baroque gardens and belong until today to the most popular enclosures. No wonder, because a privet hedge is almost unbeatable if you need a fencing that does not weaken even in the root area of competitive flat root plants such as birches and Norway maples. In the individual position privet trees are mostly used as shaped shrubs, as their dense growth and relatively small leaves can also depict more complex figures. The native wild species is also popular as a free-growing shrub for wild hedges and afforestation measures in the open countryside. It is an important bird protection species as it provides both good nesting sites and nutritious berries. For the greening of the terrace or as green gatekeepers at the entrance to the house, the small high trunks of the Chinese privet with spherically cut crowns held in tubs are ideal.
Liguster hedges are very inexpensive because of their rapid growth and the simple reproduction of shrubs (see below). In autumn and spring, the plants are often offered in bundles in the garden centre as bare-root plants. For a hedge, place four to five shrubs per running metre and cut back all shoots after planting so that they branch out well. Then the new privet hedge is watered vigorously, fertilized with horn shavings and mulched with bark compost so that no weeds form between the hedge plants.
There is hardly a garden shrub that is as easy to care for as the privet. Apart from regular pruning of the privet hedges and shrubs and compost fertilization in spring, the plants do not need any further care measures. Chinese privet in a bucket, however, must be watered regularly because of the limited root space and supplied every two weeks with a liquid green plant fertilizer, so that the crowns become rich green and dense.
Recommendations from the our store-Shop
Liguster hedges grow quite strongly and should therefore be shaped twice a year: the first time at the end of June and another time at the end of August. As an alternative to late summer pruning, pruning in early spring is also possible. If the privet hedge is out of shape, you can also make a strong taper cut close to the ground to rebuild the hedge. When cutting regularly, make sure that the green wall does not become wider at the top than at the bottom – such “top-heavy” privet hedges will bald up quite quickly at the bottom and then have to be completely tapered.
Winter protection and overwintering
Although the Chinese privet tolerates light frost, it is not reliably hardy in our case. It is best to winter it brightly in an unheated, shaded greenhouse or alternatively in a winter garden. A dark hibernation is also possible if the temperatures are constant by five degrees or lower. Wintering outdoors with appropriate winter protection can only be dared in very mild wine-growing regions.
The propagation of the species and varieties is very easily possible through cuttings and woods. The higher hedgerow plants are usually propagated in the winter by cuttings. If you want to wait for a few years, you can even grow a privet hedge yourself from plug woods by inserting pencil-long shoots into the soil at the right planting distance in winter, right up to just below the upper pair of buds. You should also put a few spare plants in another place to be on the safe side, so that you can replace some of the ungrown sticks of the new privet hedge next autumn. As the Chinese privet does not form a long straight trunk, the high trunks for the tub are usually grafted at crown height on trunks of the domestic common privet.
Liguster in the our store-Shop
Diseases and pests
Privet can be infested by various diseases and pests, but they do not pose a serious threat to plants. Among the most common fungal diseases are powdery mildew and various leaf spot pathogens. Aphids and leaf bugs occasionally occur as pests. In all cases, control is only necessary in cases of very severe infestation.
In an interview with our store editor Dieke van Dieken, plant doctor René Wadas reveals his tips against aphids.Credits: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera and Editing: Fabian Primsch
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.