Ligustrum (Privet)

Ligustrum flowers

A large group of deciduous and evergreen tree and shrubs, mainly grown as formal hedging in the UK. When grown as a hedge it is rarely allowed to flower but when it does it will reward you with masses of strongly fragrant, frothy white flowers.

Family: Oleaceae
Botanical Name: Ligustrum (li-gus-trum)
Common Names: Privet

Foliage: Deciduous to semi evergreen, simple ovate, mid to dark green leaves. Attractive variegated and golden forms are also available.

Flowers: Pointed clusters of small, highly scented white flowers, followed by dark berries.

Flowering Period: Spring or summer.

Soil: Moist but well-drained, fertile soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.

Conditions: Full sun or partial shade. Plant in any aspect.

Habit: Bushy, upright.

Type: Shrub or small tree.

Origin: Temperate and tropical Asia. Except L. vulgare, which is a native of Europe.

Hardiness: Hardy but may lose some leaves in very severe weather conditions.

Toxicity: Harmful if eaten. Wear gloves when handling and wash hands after.

Planting and Growing Ligustrum

Plant bare root saplings between autumn and spring. Plant container grown plants at any reasonable time.

Grows well in any moist but well-drained garden soil, in sun or partial shade. Can become leggy in deep shade. Avoid winter waterlogged soils.

Most varieties are happy in exposed situations except L. japonicum, which needs shelter.

Yellow and variegated forms are excellent for brightening up a dull area. Although some sun is required for variegated forms to keep their colour.

Taking Care of Ligustrum

Feed annually in spring.

Pruning Ligustrum

They can be pruned hard and often, and easily clipped into intricate topiary shapes.

If grown as a hedge, clip two or three times during the growing season to keep neat and in shape. Stop pruning in late summer to prevent frost damage on new growth. If left unpruned some varieties can grow up to 20ft (6m) or more.

Specimen shrubs can be tidied up in spring. Most species will regenerate if cut back hard.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to attack by aphids, leaf mining moths and thrips. Can be affected by honey fungus.

Propagating Ligustrum

Increase from hardwood cuttings, semi-hardwood cuttings or by seed sown when ripe. Protect seedlings and cuttings during winter under a cold frame and plant out the following autumn.

Popular Varieties of Ligustrum

Ligustrum ibota Musli ('Muster') (PBR) is a tough semi-evergreen shrub with variegated grey-green and creamy yellow foliage. For sale at Crocus.

Ligustrum japonicum (Japanese privet) is an evergreen form with excellent glossy green foliage. Clusters of fragrant white flowers appear in August-September. Height to 10ft (3m). Cultivar 'Rotunifolium' has densely packed round leaves.

Ligustrum lucidum has some very excellent variegated forms, including:

  • 'Excelsum Superbum' with creamy-yellow leaf markings. Makes a good specimen shrub.
  • 'Tricolor' has similar markings plus a pinkish margin.

Ligustrum ovalifolium (garden privet) is a vigorous, upright glossy green bushy shrub. Commonly used as hedging but left unpruned becomes a small tree. Small white fragrant flowers appear in June and July. Cultivars include:

  • 'Aureum' (golden privet) a popular variegated form with green centre and bold yellow edges. For sale at Crocus.
  • 'Argenteum' green leaves with creamy-white edges.
  • Lemon and Lime is a golden yellow form. For sale at Crocus.

Ligustrum quihoui (deciduous, waxyleaf privet) is one of the best flowering forms, with large, loose panicles of flowers.

Ligustrum sinense (Chinese Privet) is a good flowering variety. Cultivars include:

  • 'Variegatum' is an excellent variegated form.
  • 'Sunshine' has bright golden foliage. Best when grown in full sun. For sale at Thompson & Morgan.

Ligustrum vulgare (common or wild privet) is traditionally grown as a hedging plant in the UK. Produces white flowers with heavy scent if left to grow. For sale at Suttons. Cultivar 'Atrovirens' is a vigorous form with shiny green oval leaves that quickly grow to make a dense screen. Height and spread to 6ft (2m). For sale at Thompson & Morgan.