Planted along the edge of your property, wax privet shrubs (Ligustrum japonicum) quickly form a hedge or screen to help keep the kids and pets in the yard. When planted separately, the shrubs can be trimmed into fun shapes. They are drought tolerant, are not bothered by air pollution and attract butterflies. Wax privets are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 to 10, but are considered invasive in many areas. You need to prune regularly throughout the life of the shrub; beyond that, they do not require a lot of time or effort to keep them healthy.
1. After Planting
Wax privet, also known as Japanese privet, grows to a height of 6 to 12 feet and width of 6 to 8 feet. Plant them 2 feet apart for a formal hedge or 3 to 4 feet away from other shrubs when not used as a hedge. This allows better air circulation, and you won't have to prune the shrub aggressively to keep it within its allotted space. Immediately after planting, reduce its height by one-third to one-half. Always remove all trimmings from around the base of the shrub. The berries and leaves of wax privets are highly toxic when eaten, so very young children along with pets who tend to chew on shrubs should be monitored closely around them.
2. Second Year
Wax privets should be pruned back by one-third to one-half again the year following planting. If you want to keep the spring flowers, prune the shrub back in late spring or early summer right after it finishes blooming. The flower buds for the following year form during the summer. The shrub can be pruned at any time if the flowers are not important to you.
3. Third Year
Each year from the third season on, prune the wax privet stems back by a minimum of 6 inches when they have added 1 foot of new growth. Pruning cuts should always be made either just above a growth bud or eye, or at the base of the branch being removed. The shape of the shrub should always be more narrow at the top than at the bottom. This allows light to more easily reach the lower branches.
4. Pruning Tools
Prune your wax privet shrub with hand pruners or loppers. Use hand pruners for stems that are less than 1/2 inch thick and loppers for larger stems. Shears and clippers will tear the shrub’s large, evergreen leaves. Always clean the dirt off the pruners or loppers after using them, and disinfect them with household disinfectant both before and after. If the shrub has been infected by a disease such as cankers or twig blight, disinfect the pruners or loppers before each new cut to prevent spreading the disease.
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Libustrum Japonicum
- Invasive Plan Atlas of the United States: Japanese Privet
- University of Kentucky: College of Agriculture, Food and Environment: Guidelines for Choosing Hedges for Kentucky Yards
- The University of Georgia: College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences: Pruning Ornamental Plants in the Landscape
- Washington State University: Puyallup Research and Extension Center: The Myth of Cloroxed Clippers
- University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources: UC IPM Online: Pests in Gardens and Landscapes: Anthracnose
- North Carolina State University: Poisonous Plants of North Carolina: Ligustrum Japonicum, L. Sinense, L. Lucidum, L. Vulgare
- ASPCA: Pet Care: Wax-Leaf