How to Cut a Privet Hedge

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Privet is a versatile deciduous shrub.
Privet is a versatile deciduous shrub. (Image: Privet Hedge at Night image by Gary Chorpenning from Fotolia.com)

Privet (Ligustrum), comes in many varieties: Japanese, Chinese, common, California Privet (Ligutrum vulgare) or Golden (Ligustrum ovafolium "Aureum") are the most common. All are deciduous shrubs, losing their leaves in winter. Privet grows 4 to 15 feet tall with a spread of 4 to 8 feet if left uncut, or it can be shaped into a formal hedge of whatever size you desire. It's a versatile, fast-growing shrub that will produce small white flowers in late spring, when planted in full sun or partial shade.

Things You'll Need

  • Loppers
  • Pruning shears or
  • Electric hedge trimmer
  • 2 wooden stakes
  • String

Determine your style. Your privet can be grown informally as a single specimen or in the back of a border, which won't require much pruning. If you have several planted close together for a more formal privacy hedge, you will want to prune it back at least two or three times a year to keep it shaped and neat.

Privet can be pruned into a formal hedge or left in its natural shape.
Privet can be pruned into a formal hedge or left in its natural shape. (Image: garden decoration in front of yew hedge image by L. Shat from Fotolia.com)

Choose your tool. You will need loppers for the thicker branches and small pruning shears for the smaller branches. If you are trimming a formal hedge, choose the electric trimmer. Buy good quality tools and keep them sharpened for the best pruning results.

Large loppers will cut thicker branches.
Large loppers will cut thicker branches. (Image: sécateurs image by Claudio Calcagno from Fotolia.com)

Cut back in early spring when there are buds forming on the branches. This will make it easier to identify dead branches. For an informal look, or to revive and older, overgrown shrub, cut away any dead branches that are showing no signs of budding out. Starting at the bottom with your loppers, cut as close to the main stem as possible. Work your way up, careful not to trim away branches with buds. With the smaller pruners, cut back the smaller branches to where buds start to appear, or further back if you want to keep the shrub small. You can cut a privet to any size you desire, so have no fear.

Cut back when buds appear so you can identify dead branches.
Cut back when buds appear so you can identify dead branches. (Image: leaf buds image by palms from Fotolia.com)

Use the electric hedge trimmers to shear the sides and tops of the hedge for a more formal look. It is important to shape a privet hedge so that the top is narrower than the bottom. This allows sunlight to reach the lower part of the hedge. Shear the sides first. If the hedge is overgrown, uneven or hasn't yet been trimmed to a formal shape, you can run a string between two stakes to mark the desired height of the hedge before shearing the top. This will help keep it even. Shear along the top at the height of the string.

Tips & Warnings

  • Formal hedges require more upkeep to stay neat looking. You may have to cut it three times or more in a season to keep it neat.
  • Informal hedges are low maintenance. You only have to maintain by cutting out dead branches in late spring.
  • Keep loppers and shears sharp and oiled.
  • Use caution when operating electric trimmers. It is easy to accidentally cut through the electric cord when trimming.

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References

  • "Pruning: An Illustrated Guide to Pruning Trees and Shrubs"; Donald Rakow and Richard Weir III, 1989
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