Privet – Ligustrum

Ligustrum is the botanical name of privet, an invaluable shrub for screens and hedges, but there are also other species, some more decorative. Ligustrum lucidum is one of the best of these, a big evergreen shrub or even a small tree in favourable places, with shining green leaves and sprays of flowers, rather like a small white lilac, in August and September.

The privet was grossly over-planted since its introduction to Britain in Victorian times, but still useful for situations where nothing else will grow, such as poor soil, or in atmospheric pollution. L. ovalifolium is the common privet with glossy oval green leaves and short panicles of creamy flowers produced in July. It will grow to 4.6m (15 ft), but is usually kept lower by clipping. Cultivars indude ‘Aureum’, the golden privet, and ‘Variegatum’, which has cream leaf margins. They do not grow so tall. L. japonicum is much shorter, growing to 2.1 m (7ft); L. lucidum grows to 4.6m (15 ft), but is not happy in cold areas; L. sinensis is the tallest of all at 5.5m (18 ft), and has fragrant flowers followed by purple berries, but it is deciduous in all but the mildest areas and winters.

The best hedge-making kind is Ligustrum ovalifolium, which is semi-evergreen and can reach 15 ft., but can be pruned to 3 ft. without harm. Its yellow-leaved variety, aureum, is the popular golden privet and it also has an attractive variety named argenteum with a creamy-white border to each leaf.

All privets grow best in fairly fertile soil and the variegated varieties colour best in the sun, but there are few soils or places in which privet cannot be grown. When planted as hedges the tops should be cut out immediately to ensure branching from the base. Privet can be pruned hard in spring, if this is necessary, and can be trimmed at any time in summer.

Privet - Ligustrum

General care: Privet is very easy to grow, and will put up with poor soil and other adverse conditions. Plant 45 cm (18 inches) apart in April and cut back all shoots by half. Each autumn reduce new shoots by half to encourage the shoots at the base and to prevent the plant becoming leggy. Privet will take any amount of clipping.

Propagation: By hardwood cuttings taken in the autumn and struck in a 50-50 mixture of peat and sand. ‘

Pests and diseases: Generally trouble-free. Leaf spot, caused by fungi, can be treated with a fungicide if it becomes troublesome.

The Chinese tree privet, Ligustrum lucidum, becomes a fine evergreen small or medium-sized tree of upright-growing habit, forming ultimately a dense rounded head. The large deep green leaves, 3 to 6 in. long, are an excellent foil for the erect panicles of white flowers, 6 to 8 in. high, produced in late summer. Excelsum super-bum is a striking variant of similar ultimate size with its large leaves effectively variegated with yellow and white.


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