Japanese privet can be invasive in some places.

When Do You Prune a Japanese Privet?

by Brian Barth

As a busy parent, finding time for all the little chores that a garden requires can be difficult. It helps to know the right time and the right technique to do certain things. Pruning, for example, can do a lot of harm if done at the wrong time of year. Making cuts in the wrong place can lead to your plants looking butchered, rather than neatly groomed. If you have a Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum), there's a few things in particular to keep in mind when pruning. These evergreen shrubs grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 to 10. However, they are invasive in some areas -- contact your local cooperative extension service office for more in formation.

General Pruning Guidelines

When training a young Japanese privet into a hedge or tree, make the major pruning cuts in late winter while the plants are still dormant. If you make a major cut in summer, a tremendous amount of new growth will sprout from the cut -- giving your privet a bad hairdo for at least a year. Plus, if it's late in the season, the new growth won't have time to harden up before winter, making it susceptible to frost damage. All other types of pruning can be done as needed throughout the year.

Formal Hedging

Japanese privet grows at an astonishing rate, so if you want to maintain it as a formal, clipped hedge, it will need frequent pruning during the growing season. Beginning with the first flush of new growth in spring, have your hedge trimmers sharpened and be prepared to prune once or twice per month, depending on how "clean cut" you want it to look. At some point in early fall, growth will begin to slow down and then cease entirely for the winter. Oil your hedge trimmers and put them away until next season.

Tree Form

If weekly pruning doesn't suit your busy lifestyle, you may consider growing your Japanese privet in the form of a small tree. If you go this route, you will need to prune once or twice a year to establish the structure of the tree for the first three to five years, depending on its size when planted. Once it has an attractive tree structure, the canopy shouldn't need to be pruned again. However, the sprouts that constantly grow from the base of most single-trunked privet trees should be removed whenever they appear.

Dead, Diseased or Damaged Wood

Beside routine maintenance pruning, which is based on the seasons, your Japanese privet may need to be pruned in response to out-of-the-ordinary events. For example, if the plants have been attacked by any sort of pests or disease, the affected wood should be removed and disposed of. If wood is dead or damaged as a result of drought or any other weather-related factors, it is best to remove it as soon as possible. For example, the long, lanky branches of Japanese privet do not hold up well under high winds or heavy snow, commonly breaking under the strain. Cut off the broken branches to clean-up the appearance of the plant and minimize the risk of pathogens invading the wound.

About the Author

Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.

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