Japanese privet is a 15 foot evergreen shrub which can be trimmed into a hedge or pruned into an attractive small tree. The 3 inch long, dark green leaves of Ligustrum japonicum are thick and glossy with blunt tips.
There are also variegated varieties, like 'Jack Frost', with white or yellow leaf edges.
The bark of Japanese Ligustrum is thin and easily damaged so plant it outside the path of the weed whacker.
This versatile shrub is winter hardy in zones 7a-10b. As I gaze at all the frost-burned foliage in my yard this January, I wish I had planted more Ligustrum japonicum and fewer tropical plants.
Waxleaf Ligustrum is handsome all year.
Site privet plants in full sun or part shade. Water them regularly the first year and then back off. They are quite drought tolerant once established.
Fertilize privet shrubs 3 times per season. They like a little bit of Epsom salt added to their water once in a while too.
This is an unusual upright cultivar of Ligustrum japonicum.
Waxleaf Ligustrum blooms (usually in the spring) in clusters of tiny, fragrant white flowers. Some people are allergic to the beautiful scent of these showy flower clusters.
The flowers are followed by small, dark berries that are said to be weedy and invasive.
I have 2 of these evergreen privet plants in my yard and have never seen a seedling pop up in 12 years of growing it. That being said, some plants are a nuisance in one place but not in another. I have read reports of it escaping into the wild in Texas and becoming a problem.
*All parts of Japanese privet are poisonous. Do not ingest any part this plant.
It has a close relative, Ligustrum lucidum, which is used in Chinese medicine as an anti cancer herb.
You can prune privet shrubs as much or as little as you like.
They can even be used for bonsai.
In my neighborhood, Ligustrum japonicum is most often used as a small landscaping tree, its crown kept neatly trimmed.
I like to see them pruned like these trees in this Savannah, Georgia garden.
and like the cloud pruned tree in the image just beneath the headline.
A Japanese privet tree may be kept to a single trunk or 3 or more strong stems may be selected for a multi-trunked specimen.
Cut the stems you don't wish to train into trunks off at the ground. Remove all twigs and leaves from the lower portions of the remaining stems.
The crown should comprise 1/3, or more, of the tree's total height for best appearance. Shape the crown however you like. They are often trimmed into a mushroom cap shape.
Pruning a Privet Shrub:
Privet bushes can be sheared into any shape you fancy. If you want to grow a natural, unsheared privet bush like the 1 in the photo near the top of this page, limit your pruning to the simple removal of any weak, broken or crossing stems each spring.
This form requires the least maintenance.