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.
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.
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.
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