A Pox on Privet! It’s Only Logical

April 18, 2012 | By | Comments (43)

Invasive plants 007

Chinese privet in bloom.

Grumpy recently received a sub-space message from a person claiming to be “Mr. Spock” of the USS Enterprise. Spock takes exception to a previous post called “Five Awful Plants for the Front of Your House,” which characterized privet as a noxious weed.

“My hedge in East Hampton doesn’t look anything like that,” claims Spock. “I’m constantly receiving compliments on how beautiful it looks. Same goes for my home in Martha’s Vineyard. The hedge there is 12 feet tall and tighter than stone. My privet and I are very insulted by your comments and I would suggest you start drafting a sincere apology.”

Now here’s the thing. Why wasn’t I told that Spock had a place in the Hamptons? I thought he was still hanging out on Talos IV. Second, my feelings regarding privet have not changed.

I hate privet. I loathe privet. I cast a pox upon privet. And I will continue to feel this way no matter how many times Spock collapses me with his neck pinch.

Privet-less Space: the Final Frontier

Privet (aka ligustrum) doesn’t belong here. It’s native to Japan, China, and Europe. While some of the large-leafed species, such as glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum) can be grown as small, multi-trunked trees, the small-leafed species were brought to this country for one purpose — to shear into formal hedges, like the ones at Spock’s Long Island home.

That’s peachy-keen if you live on a big estate and keep a gardening staff of 12 Ferengis to maintain a tidy privet hedge. My first house had a back yard enclosed by hedges of California privet (L. ovalifolium). The privet grew so fast it would blur a photo. I had to shear the damn stuff at least 4 times a year, creating mountains of clippings to haul away. Poison ivy, honeysuckle, and other weeds loved growing in it. I wanted to call in an air strike of Agent Orange.

Ferengi gardeners discuss payment for pruning services.  

 What I Hate About Privet

1. The flowers. Although they are pretty, privet flowers have two major drawbacks. The first is a cloyingly sweet smell that many people find somewhat sickening. The second is that they produce a mother lode of pollen. Where privet abounds, as it does in central Alabama where Grumpy lives, so do the numbers of allergy sufferers clawing at their itchy eyes, blowing their noses, and asking you to please just shoot them.

2. The fruits that follow the flowers. Clusters of small, bluish-black berries hang on the hang for a long time, even through winter, until they are eaten by birds. The birds then spread the seeds inside to every place they go, sowing privet everywhere.

3. Privet likes it just about everywhere. It’s only limited by the winter-hardiness of some species. It grows in sun. It grows in shade. It grows in wet soil soil. It grows in dry soil. It grows in the open. It grows in the woods. It grows through holes in the pavement. It has no serious pests. Even the stinking deer won’t eat it. (Personally, I think they’re a team.)

Return to Sender

In the South, by far the worst privet is Chinese privet (L. sinense). This rounded evergreen shrub grows about 10-15 feet tall and wide and comes up everywhere. Unmanaged areas, like woods and roadsides, choke with the stuff. It’s interesting to note that in Alabama, the most infested areas are those around cities. Why? Because cities are where garden centers selling Chinese privet set it loose on Sweet Home Alabama about 70 years ago.

I say, let’s send it back. There are more than one billion people in China today. If we sent each one of them one of our Chinese privets, they would be grateful for our caring and the problem would be solved.

‘Sunshine’ Chinese privet

In fairness, there appears to be one Chinese privet that’s safe to plant. It was recently introduced by Ball Horticultural Company and is called ‘Sunshine.’ It grows 5 to 6 feet tall and wide, has bright yellow leaves, and — most importantly — does not flower. No flowers, no seeds, no seedlings.

How to Kill Privet

Evergreen privet is easy to spot in bare winter woods, so here’s what I do. Wherever I spot a big bush, I use loppers to cut it off at the ground. It responds in spring by sending out a spray of new shoots with soft, green leaves. At the point, I spray it according to label directions with Roundup. B-bing! It’s dead.

You can still spray it in other seasons after other plants have leafed out. You just have to be careful not to spray and kill them. Don’t spray when it’s windy! Where you find seedlings, just pull them up.

Threats to Our Galaxy

In concluding my response to Mr. Spock’s objections, I would like to emphasize the following points in my Annual Galactic Threat Assessment presented to the United Federation of Planets this spring.

The biggest threat is not a rogue doomsday device that pulverizes and eats entire planets.

The biggest threat is not a gigantic space amoeba that eats entire solar systems.

The biggest threat to the Galaxy is not even the Borg.

This is the biggest threat. A privet with flowers.

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  1. marymary7nlat

    Ouch…..I was just about to plant some of this across the front as a privacy fence….suggested by my gardener no less…
    Am in northern CA, Nevada County, CA,
    what would be a better alternative?
    The neighbors trashy yard/cars/motorcycles/ etc are what we are trying to block. Their visual is sooooo annoying.
    (How can neighbors be so clueless?)
    Thanks for any alternatives.

    June 24, 2017 at 5:32 pm
  2. Gloria

    I also live in Alabama and trying to grow a privet hedge (for a moment, let’s just ignore the fact that you think I’m certifiable). You said nothing eats it, but something is eating my newly planted privet plants. The lower branches are cut cleanly on an angle. Any ideas? Rabbits, gopher tortoise? Thanks!

    June 24, 2017 at 12:16 pm
  3. Steve Bender

    I agree. Where I live in the SE, privet is worse than kudzu. Comes up everywhere.

    March 26, 2017 at 8:02 am
  4. Jan

    My neighbor has a privet (tree!) and I BEGGED my neighbor to cut it down. No luck! Their yard is a trash heap so why should she care! There should be a law against planting privet as it is nothing more than an invasive weed tree! When my town was being developed, the city so generously gave away 3 types of trees to homeowners and one of them was the California privet. POX on the city fathers! It is fine in a public park or in a large area but NOT in peoples’ yards. I’m inundated with purple berries, seedlings and itchy eyes! I keep praying that a good wind blows the thing down but they are indestructible! Probably like Kudzu and you can’t even make jelly out of this monster!!!!

    March 12, 2017 at 8:22 pm
  5. Lea Eldridge

    I haven’t laughed this hard in too long!

    July 3, 2016 at 10:16 pm
  6. Steve Bender


    Cut the privet to nearly the ground. Then paint Brush Killer on the freshly cut surfaces on the stumps that remain. Follow label directions carefully. Because of the privet’s size, you may need someone to help you.

    September 14, 2015 at 10:52 am
  7. Nancy

    We built our house in 2004, our contractor/landscaper put Chinese privet at the end of our house. They are now about 12 ft by 10 ft. One is near the septic tank. How to get rid of them altogether. Our son cut them back to three feet about two years ago. Now the are above the roof line. Do I need to get a REAL landscaper out to do this or can I do it myself.

    September 6, 2015 at 11:23 am
  8. Mickey Atkinson

    The dark privet berries have become a big hit for brides due to pinterest. They are pictured in bouquets and centerpieces everywhere now. Looks like they may become in demand, good or bad.

    July 3, 2015 at 7:41 am
  9. Steve Bender


    You tell it, sister!

    December 24, 2014 at 9:41 am
  10. Barbara

    I fervently hope you’re not using roundup on anything anymore, for your own sake and that of your descendants, not to mention the rest of us.

    June 7, 2014 at 9:03 pm
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  12. Steve Bender

    I’m betting that’s not the only thing they find offensive.

    October 31, 2012 at 1:56 pm
  13. hollywoodnc

    Nice to know there’s a great way to piss off southerners…Plant a Chinese Privet hedge on your property!
    I did JUST THAT…130+ to be exact!

    October 28, 2012 at 11:47 am
  14. Steve Bender

    Privet blooms on flower buds made the previous year. If you prune them regularly, they won’t bloom and form seed. In that case, they’re OK to keep.

    September 14, 2012 at 7:28 am
  15. leslieadavis

    I am pretty sure the shrubs beside my front door (inherited from previous homeowner) are privet, but I trim them all throughout the spring, summer and fall to keep them from obscuring windows. I don’t ever see flowers or berries. Are those the real worries with this plant? If I don’t ever let them grow enough to produce either are they safe to keep around as evergreen shrubs?

    September 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm
  16. Privethatinwoman

    We once took some sticks cut from privet and used them to stake down a tarp to kill some grass. When we decided to remove the tarp, all the sticks had taken root. No water, no fertilizer, nothing. If I were trying to start roses this way it would be a complete waste of energy. When I retire I’m going to war in my back yard, all ten acres. I just hope it doesn’t kill me before I kill it.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm
  17. Privethatinwoman

    just corrected my spelling

    June 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm
  18. Pivethatinwoman

    The really crazy thing about privet is that you can sprout it by taking limbs cut from the plant and stick them into the ground and just leave it. No water, no fertilizer, nothing. We used some we’d cut to stake a tarp over a piece of ground to kill the grass. When we started to remove it, all the sticks had taken root. I couldn’t do that with a good rose bush if my life depended on it.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm
  19. Pivethatinwoman

    I once decided to do some research on uses for privet. I was thinking along the lines of rustic furniture like the willow stuff you used to see being sold on roadsides. The only thing I could find besides hedges was that in some countries they use it for making charcoal. I just don’t want to get into the charcoal manufacturing business. However I would let someone else have all they want.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm
  20. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Live and learn, Homer.

    May 22, 2012 at 1:16 pm
  21. OldCrabbyBat

    I’ve planned the attack and destruction of “Harry, the monster” variegated privet in my own yard! Just had my yard crew whack these two monsters (2nd time in 3 months) down to 4 ft from about 8 ft tall. My goal is to dig them out and wave a fond farewell to these monsters.
    And here I thought they were more manageable than elaeagnus…DOH!

    May 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm
  22. Rachel

    Our house was surrounded by privet on 2 sides when I was a kid. It was my brother’s job to keep it trimmed. You forgot to mention that stinging insects also like to live in it. I’ll never forget the day he got stung, slung off his shoe and broke the sidelight to the door. He had hay fever too. It went away when he went off to college.

    May 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm
  23. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Different strokes for different folks.

    May 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm
  24. Sandy

    We live in South Carolina and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the fragrance of this and can’t wait till it blooms. It has a very pleasant smell to me, kind of like a sweet, musky lilac. My husband loves the fragrance too. Because it’s so strong, if I open my windows my entire house smells wonderful.
    I will agree that it is very invasive and there is also poison ivy and honeysuckle growing along with it.
    Thankfully we are not allergic.
    Thank you for your article. I didn’t know what it was.

    April 30, 2012 at 10:30 pm
  25. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    It is an awful, awful plant. Kill every one you see.

    April 30, 2012 at 7:42 am
  26. nana p

    Absolutely abhor it!!! Had a whole line about 1/4 mile long running down the side fence when I bought this place. After a few years fighting it–trying to make it stay a hedge and buying alergy medicine when it was in bloom, I pulled those jokers up–I got the last laugh! The woods around my property are full of it though.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm
  27. stephanie phillips

    i beleive im Mrs. Grumpy. i have this hedge in my back yard everywhere. i cant even find my dogs when they go outside to the bathroom. they have little tunnels built threw the hedge. i started yesterday cutting it down. gonna get rid of it even if it takes me all year to cut it down. go mr. grumpy im on your side. privet hedge is the worst.

    April 29, 2012 at 12:51 pm
  28. Nancy Clarke

    Dear Grumpy, This is hilarious. We visited our daughter in South Arkansas last weekend and when I went into the backyard the most beautiful sweet smell greeted me. She didn’t know what it was called so we took a branch out to the rural nursery and you would have thought we were Dracula and daughter the way the nursery woman backed up when we held the plant out to her. I wanted to buy a bush of it and she clued us in to it’s invasiveness and asked us to take it away. Thanks for your entertaining article.

    April 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm
  29. Brigett

    Grumpy, Just yesterday I found out the name of this dreadful plant and couldn’t believe I found your blog post about it today. I live in N. Alabama and my allergies are about to get the best of me thanks to the honeysuckles and PRIVET!!

    April 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm
  30. Dianne

    I am sad to report that I sinned and planted privet before I knew any better. I have removed a huge overgrown hedge and it is still trying to recover. The remaining second hedge is an overgrown mess with thick woody stems. It will need to be cut back and then what to do with the massive clippings? Keep warning the unaware Grump!

    April 25, 2012 at 11:55 am
  31. Donna

    Hilarious and entertaining as always. Loved the Star Trek references. Many privet in our area, but there must be less of a problem with them seeding, as they are not populating the neighborhood.

    April 25, 2012 at 7:01 am
  32. pc

    Grump, if you wait till the ground is soft, you can usually just pull privet up by the roots (don’t bother with the work of cutting it down or spraying it), although larger ‘trees’ take a little more effort with a shovel & some pushing over by a manly man. We are working on 3 acres of woods invaded by privet and this method works! And love the Star Trek references

    April 23, 2012 at 6:37 pm
  33. Judi

    wow…didnt’ know this. I always liked privet …it’s one plant I haven’t killed…now I know why. I like the smell by the way…weird.

    April 23, 2012 at 9:24 am
  34. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Thank you, everyone, for your affirmation. To answer your question, Lisa, ‘Recurvifolium,’ a selection of Japanese privet, isn’t anywhere near the problem that Chinese and California privet are. But you will get a few seedlings. I just hate privet so much I can’t bear the thought of one more in the neighborhood.

    April 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm
  35. esh

    Thank you for speaking out so eloquently against this pest. It makes a huge mess of roadsides and natural areas. Our city, state and national parks are infested with it. Volunteers, unite! (to help remove it from parks)

    April 20, 2012 at 8:14 am
  36. Jess

    I pulled out an entire hedge that was overgrown to at least 10 ft earlier this spring. Why people plant this as a foundation shrub I’ll never know! I have to chinese privet’s who are both tree sized at this point. I have resigned myself to pulling out thousands of seedlings every year. I hate them too.. I do think its a climate thing though… in the North East and in the UK, for instance, they aren’t nearly as obnoxious as they are here.

    April 19, 2012 at 10:57 pm
  37. UrsulaV

    I love you.
    Besides, privet violated the Prime Directive first!

    April 19, 2012 at 6:31 pm
  38. TC

    Whenever you “spot a big bush…” Where? Surely you don’t go into another privet owner’s garden and kill their privet! Or do you just do it randomly, “in bare winter woods?” You really are grumpy aren’t ya?!?

    April 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm
  39. Jean

    The neighbors which have the mimosa tree also have a row of this stuff. It comes up everywhere in my yard along with the mimosa sprouts. Beam me up Scotty!

    April 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm
  40. Jim Long

    Aw come on Grump. Gardeners love plants that are hardy, bloom well, can be twisted and turned into amazing shapes, pruned into estate-worthy sculptures. What’s not to love about privet? Just because the smell of the flowers gives you the feeling of being smothered and provides bird feed…gee, one would think this a perfect plant. I bet you hate kudzu, too!

    April 19, 2012 at 9:49 am
  41. Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    Double pox and a kick in the shin. I HATE this plant. My neighbor’s privet is taking over my yard!

    April 19, 2012 at 9:34 am
  42. LaurieGo

    Do you think love of gardening and obscure Star Trek references can only co-exist in the brains of a few of us?

    April 19, 2012 at 2:34 am
  43. lisa Nelson

    I have privet recurvifolium as foundation plants. I wasn’t aware that they were invasive when I bought them. Are all privets invasive? Mine don’t have berries and I haven’t noticed any “seeding” anywhere. They do flower and it’s not a pleasant smell to me, either. Of course, none of this is indicated on the tag for a new gardener to be aware of. . .

    April 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm

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