The privet plant -- botanically known as Ligustrum -- is a multi-trunked evergreen shrub indigenous to China. It is widely grown in the U.S. in the form of hedges, commonly used to provide privacy and windbreak, and serve as property boundary markers. Tough and hardy, privet grows readily in almost any type of soil. Although it is low-maintenance, it does require regular trimming. Following proper pruning procedures can help you keep your privet hedge looking compact and tidy.
The privet plant -- a member of the olive family -- features small dull green leaves that are between 1 and 2 inches long and roughly oblong-shaped. Privet produces small greenish-white flowers in the spring; many people are sensitive to the pollen, a common trigger of hay fever symptoms. So robust is privet that it is considered a noxious weed in some parts of the world; it is tolerant of deer, drought, pollution and wind. Privet can grow in poor soils -- as long as drainage is sufficient -- and can thrive in both full and partial sun.
When to Prune
According to Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, the best time to prune a privet hedge is in late winter, when the plant is still dormant. However, privet is very tolerant of pruning, and can also be trimmed in mid and late summer with no ill effects. PUCES adds that a good rule of thumb for trimming privet is to cut stems back at least 6 inches every time they grow a foot.
Thinning and Shearing
Prune privet not only to keep it to a uniform size, but to promote vigour and health. Pruning opens up the hedge to improved air circulation and allows sun to reach the leaves, helping avoid fungal infections and discourage pests. Privet hedges should be pruned by thinning out branches that are dead, broken or diseased. You should also shear the top several times between late spring and early autumn to keep a uniform height and promote a compact growth habit. To allow for proper photosynthesis, always keep the hedge wider at the base than at the top.
Rejuvenation pruning, also called complete cutback, involves cutting the hedge back drastically, down to 6 to 12 inches from the ground. Although it may be intimidating to chop the hedge down this far, you will be rewarded by vibrant new growth; privet hedges grow quickly after being drastically pruned. However, you will lose the screening and windbreak qualities of the hedge for the current season. To avoid this, perform a rejuvenation pruning over three years, each year cutting a third of the hedge down to the ground.