Privet is a robust, hardy hedging plant that grows virtually anywhere. Evergreen or semi-evergreen (plants will drop some leaves in a bad winter), privet bears masses of bee-friendly white flowers in summer, followed by black, poisonous berries.
Both garden privet, Ligustrum ovalifolium, and wild privet, Ligustrum vulgare, are common hedging plants, perfect for creating fast-growing privacy and shelter at garden boundaries. Only wild privet is native to Britain; garden privet is native to Japan and Korea. The latter is a more popular choice for hedging as it can be clipped well into a formal hedge and is very tolerant of pollution. This makes it suitable for growing in very urban areas. However, wild privet has more value as a wildlife plant – its flowers are adored by bees and its leaves are used by the larvae of several moth species.
Privet is a popular choice for city, country and coastal hedges. Fast-growing, it can create a dense, long-lasting hedge with a mature height and spread of about 4m.
How to grow a privet hedge
Grow privet in moist but well-drained soil in sun to shade. Keep plants well watered in the first two years and the area around the plants weed-free. Prune once or twice a year to maintain a traditional ‘hedge’ shape. Be careful to check for bird nests before pruning.
More on growing hedges:
- Best hedge plants for boundaries
- How to plant a hedge
- How to prune an evergreen hedge
- Fast growing hedges
- How to plant a bare-root wildlife hedge
- Plants for a low-maintenance hedge
- Plants for a formal hedge
- Plants for an informal hedge
- How to make a lavender hedge
- Nine evergreen hedge plants
Find out more about growing privet, below.
Where to grow privet
Privet will grow almost anywhere. It’s able to cope with sea winds, full sun, partial shade, light, dry and sandy soil. It will put up with almost anything but a very boggy soil.
How to plant privet
The cheapest way to create a privet hedge is to buy bare-root plants from November to March. However you can also buy potted privet plants all year round.
Prepare the soil by digging in plenty of well-rotted organic matter. Plants are fast-growing and do best in a good soil and a sprinkling of bonemeal to get them going. Dunk bare-root and potted plants in a bucket of water while working out the spacing. For a long hedge it’s often quicker to dig out a planting trench than make individual holes. Plant each plant about 30cm apart and make sure you plant them at the same depth they were on the pot or look for a soil mark on bare root specimens. Firm plants in and water well.
For two years after planting, water your privet hedge in dry spells and keep the area around the plants free of weeds. Add an annual mulch of well-rotted compost, leafmould or manure each autumn.
How to prune a privet hedge
Once established, all you need to do it clip your privet hedge in summer using a hedge trimmer or shears. If plants are old or out of shape they can be cut back into old wood as they will regrow.
In this clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don demonstrates how to make use of the view beyond your garden by cutting a window into a hedge. It’s a great way to open up an enticing glimpse of borrowed landscape, such as a tree or an interesting building:
Video: Will privet cope with hard pruning?
How to take cuttings from privet
Privet is tough and easy to propagate. Simply cut healthy stems about 10cm long from the parent plant on a warm autumn day. In a position of dappled shade, loosen garden soil with a hand fork. Remove the lower leaves from the cuttings. Push about 4cm of the leafless cutting stem into the soil.
By mid-spring in the following year the cuttings should be showing signs of growth. Pot them on or plants them directly out in the garden.
Growing privet: problem solving
Privet is generally a trouble-free plant. However, wet root rot can be an issue if you plant too deep in wet soil. Plants will be stunted in growth, leaves turn yellow or they drop. Young hedges may need to be replanted and the soil drainage improved.
It’s unlikely that a mature hedge will suffer if it has established itself in the soil.
gap in your privet hedge? Emma Crawforth, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, explains how to fill it, in our Quick Tips video:
Privet: poisonous to livestock
The leaves and berries of privet are poisonous. For this reason, never use privet as a hedge in a garden that runs alongside a livestock field.
Privet varieties to grow
- Ligustrum ovalifolium – dark green, shiny foliage. White flowers in July. Reaches a height of 4m
- Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’ – commonly known as the golden privet. All the same attributes as its plain green relative but lighter green and golden foliage. Reaches 4m
- Ligustrum vulgare – a native plant. Semi-evergreen. Its berries are favoured by birds and it is often found in a mixed hedge
- Ligustrum sinense – deciduous species with deep green, glossy leaves. Numerous panicles of sweetly-scented flowers in summer