Cutting Back Privet: How And When To Prune Privet Hedges

Woman Pruning Hedges
privet pruning
(Image credit: michaelpuche)

Privet hedges are a popular and attractive way of delineating a property line. However, if you plant a hedge, you’ll find that privet hedge pruning is a must. If you are wondering when to prune privet hedges or how to prune a privet hedge, read on. We’ll provide tips on cutting back privet.

Pruning Privet Hedges

Privet (Ligustrum spp.) is an excellent shrub for hedges. It has oval or lance-shaped leaves and grows dense, compact foliage. Privet is an evergreen bush in USDA plant hardiness zones 8 through 10. Privet works well for tall privacy screens. It is one of those shrubs that make good hedges 5 feet (1.5 m.) tall or taller. 

Privet gets leggy and uneven over time though. In order to keep these hedges looking neat and attractive, you’ll definitely need to start privet hedge pruning.

When to Prune Privet

You’ll want to undertake these pruning steps in late winter. That is, removing damaged branches or opening the interior of the shrub should be done before spring growth begins. When to prune privet by trimming the outside of the hedge? This type of privet hedge pruning should take place in midspring after the annual growth has begun.

How to Prune a Privet Hedge

Privet hedge pruning involves cutting back privet shrubs. Pruning privet hedges requires some effort, but it is worth the time and energy. You’ll need to wear gloves since privet sap causes irritation and rashes. 

So how to prune a privet hedge? The first step in privet hedge pruning is to trim out crossing branches. You’ll also want to keep cutting back privet to remove damaged or dead branches. Remove them at their base with loppers. Once you finish this, remove several large branches from the inside of each shrub to open up the center of the hedge. 

Use bypass pruners for this, cutting back each branch to a side branch. In time, you’ll want to trim and shape the outside of the privet hedge. You first want to determine how high you want your hedge. Then get several stakes of that height and plant them in the ground toward the center of the hedge. Tie a string between the stakes.

 Shear the top of the privet along the string line, then shear the face of the hedge down to the bottom in a diagonal downward slope. The hedge should be narrower at the top than the base on each side in order to allow light to touch the entire hedge face. 

To rejuvenate a privet hedge, cut the entire hedge back to within 12 inches (31 cm.) of the ground. Do this in late winter. The shrubs re-sprout after being cut back hard.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.