How to Prune & Shape Ligustrums

Written by bonnie grant
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Ligustrum is also known as privet. It is a fast growing, glossy-leaved hedge, shrub or tree. It responds well to annual hard pruning and occasional shaping. The average ligustrum is only 6 to 12 feet tall, but some varieties may get up to 20 feet. The plant has nicely veined leaves and small spring flowers dangling in clusters of snowy white from the rich, dark foliage. The flowers become green berries that graduate to black and are persistent on the plant. The ligustrum can be shaped to one trunk for a tree or kept pruned on the interior to showcase the skeleton. It also makes an excellent bonsai or standard.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Sharpening stone
  • Oil
  • Rag
  • Hand pruners
  • Loppers

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  1. 1

    Hone your cutting tools before you start any pruning project. This makes the job easier and makes clean cuts that cause less damage to the plant and help prevent the introduction of pathogens. Hold the blade at a 45 degree angle and stroke it across the stone two or three times. Wipe the tools with oil to clean them and lubricate the hinges.

  2. 2

    Train the tree when it's young, so you don't have to make drastic renovations which can be stressful for the tree. Assign a main leader or strong, straight trunk. If there are more than one stem, prune these out. At the crown of the tree the main stem may separate into more than one leader. These need to be cut back 6 to 12 inches to a bud node.

  3. 3

    Practice proper cutting techniques by pruning at a slight angle and making cuts 1/4 to 1/2 inch outside the next growth or bud node. Remove broken and old wood and take weak twigs out of the centre of the privet to increase air circulation and light admission.

  4. 4

    Remove any branches that cross or rub each other. These may be larger wood and you will have to use the loppers. Cut them outside the branch collar. The branch collar is the swollen area on the secondary wood that attaches to the primary or parent wood. Remove any water sprouts which are the vertical new growth in the crown of the tree.

  5. 5

    Shape the ligustrum gradually over several seasons. If you want a rounded shape, begin by slowly removing 2 or 3 inches of lateral growth, and 1 or 2 inches of top growth. For a natural shape, select one out of every three peripheral twigs and tip prune them back to the next growth node.

  6. 6

    Trim hedges by hand. It might be easier to use an electric or gas hedger but this leaves unattractive cut foliage that will brown on the edges. Make the straight edges of a hedge by trimming back the twigs and branches to the next bud node. Choose the longest growth to prune back to the level of the short growth. The benefit of this method is that not every branch will need a cut and the overall look will be even.

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