Ligustrum plants, or privets as they are often known, are popular garden plants that come with one major disadvantage. These plants have proven to be highly invasive where they are grown outside of their native range.
Fortunately, not all species are equally invasive and at least one seedless cultivar has been developed to solve this problem.
Read on to learn how to grow and care for these fast-growing shrubs and small trees.
What Is A Ligustrum Plant?
Ligustrum is a genus of about 50 species of flowering plants of the Oleaceae family. These plants, which are popularly known as privets, can be either evergreen or deciduous and grow as shrubs and small trees.
The size of these plants varies depending on their species but most of the popular gardening species are large shrubs. Privets are native to North Africa, Europe, Asia, and northern Australia where they can be found in a variety of habitats.
Most privet plants produce abundant clusters of white to cream-white flowers and most flowering occurs in late spring. These flowers give way to masses of black berries which are often a showy feature of these plants. These berries are fairly popular with birds that spread the seeds widely.
Ligustrum flowers are fragrant and the smell can vary depending on the plant and its species. Most have a strong sweet fragrance which some people enjoy and some may find unpleasant.
There are several Ligustrum species that are popular in the horticultural trade. Some of the best-known species are introduced below:
Vicary Privet (Ligustrum x vicaryi ‘Golden Ticket’)
‘Golden Ticket’ is a seedless Ligustrum, that is the only truly non-invasive privet option available. These plants do flower, but will not produce viable seeds.
‘Golden ticket’ is a compact form that can be grown as a shrub of 6 feet (1.8 m) or so. It has golden-yellow foliage and produces small white flowers.
These adaptable plants should be grown in full to partial sun and will do well in a variety of soil types. ‘Golden Ticket’ is an easy-to-grow, brightly colored hedge plant for zones 5 to 8.
Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare)
Common privet is a deciduous shrub that is native to Europe, West Asia, and North Africa. It reaches a height and spread of 15 feet (4.5 m) and produces masses of white flowers in midsummer. Their flowers have a strong odor and occur in panicles of 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) long.
These plants grow best in full sun to part shade in mediumly moist, well-drained soils. European privet is not a very ornamental species but is useful as a hedge in colder climates from zones 4 to 7. Unfortunately, this plant has become invasive in some areas.
Glossy Privet (Ligustrum lucidum)
This large East Asian evergreen species usually reaches up to 20 feet (6 m) tall and wide. Like a tree, however, the glossy privet can grow much larger, reaching a height of 40 feet (12 m). The characteristic, large glossy leaves grow to 6 inches (15 cm) long.
This plant flowers in late summer to early fall and produces masses of cream-white flowers. It is a beautiful plant that, sadly, has become invasive in many areas of the United States and should not be cultivated there. Elsewhere, the glossy privet makes a fine hedge or small tree for warm climates. It grows best in full sun to partial shade.
Japanese Privet (Ligustrum japonicum)
L. japonicum is a Japanese and Korean evergreen species that reaches a height of about 12 feet (3.6 m) and produces cream-white flowers in the summer. It is a fast-growing privet species that has a variety of uses, from hedges to topiary and large containers.
This species prefers well-drained, dry to moderately moist soils and grows best in full sun to partial shade in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 10. Japanese privet is a hardy plant that can grow by 2 feet (0.6 m) per year and is less invasive than others due to the berries being less attractive to birds.
Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense)
Chinese privet grows to a height of about 13 feet (4 m). These fast-growing shrubs are available in a variegated form and make a fine hedge, although the flowers may have an unpleasant fragrance.
They are also attractive and ornamental enough to make great specimen plants. Unfortunately, this species has become invasive in the Southeast of the United States and should not be cultivated there.
California Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium)
Despite their common name, these plants are not native to the USA and do in fact grow wild in Eastern Asia. They are also known as the Korean privet, garden privet, or oval-leaf privet. This is a very fast-growing semi-evergreen that makes a good hedge but requires a lot of maintenance.
These plants reach about 15 feet (4.5 m) tall. Unfortunately, these plants self-seed readily and can be difficult to control. California privet grows well in coastal areas and is able to survive exposure to salt spray.
How To Grow A Ligustrum Plant
Ligustrum trees are fast and easy plants to grow. Seeds taken from ripe berries germinate well when planted in the fall. Older seeds that have dried out should be coldly stratified for 2 months to improve their germination rate.
These plants are easily grown from cuttings and usually take 3 to 6 weeks to root. When propagated in this way, new plants take about 3 years to reach a decent size. To propagate new plants by cuttings, cut 2 to 4 inch (5 to 10 cm) long softwood or sem-ripe cuttings at the nodes and keep two pairs of leaves and root directly in pots.
A root hormone powder will improve success rates and speed the process but is not strictly necessary. Being such vigorous and fast-growing plants, cuttings of up to 2 feet (0.6 m) long can root successfully.
These plants grow in a wide range of soil types ranging from very dry, to very wet, depending on the species. The best growth will be possible in moist soil and be sure to keep the plants watered for their first 2 years or so until established.
Hardiness will naturally vary depending on which species you grow but most will grow best in partial shade to full sun conditions.
Care and Maintenance
In areas where they are invasive, probably the best way to manage this plant is to keep it well pruned to limit flowering and fruit production as far as possible.
These are fast-growing plants that may require frequent pruning to keep them neat. When growing variegated forms, look out for wild-type branches without variegated foliage and remove them.
These plants can be susceptible to fungal diseases like leaf spot, canker, root rot, and pests like whiteflies.
Ligustrums have a number of uses in the landscape and make great hedges, ornamental shrubs, and small trees in areas where they are not invasive. These are fast-growing plants that take well to pruning, making them a fine choice for formal hedges and topiary. Ligustrum hedge is very fast growing.
Some species of Ligustrum have been reported as medicinal plants although great care should be taken as others have toxic properties.
Birds eat the berries of these plants and the larval stages of butterflies and moths feed on the foliage.
For gardeners looking for a vigorous and fast-growing hedge or small specimen tree, Ligustrums have a lot to offer. Unfortunately, their high maintenance needs and potential for invasiveness means there are often better alternatives to this plant. See our list of many other shrubs to grow.
Mikowski, D. A. & Stein, W. I. Ligustrum: The Woody Plant Seed Manual
Toogood, A. Plant Propagation: The Fully Illustrated Plant-By-Plant Manual Of Practical Techniques
Kluepfel, M., Polomski, B. & Williamson, J. Ligustrum.
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