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Birds have made Chinese privet all too familiar

By Mark Czarnota
University of Georgia

In years past, at least six species of Chinese privet were used in U.S. hedges and other landscape plantings. Native birds took it from there, making the plant all too familiar in the Southeast.

The black berries of this plant (Ligustrum sinense) become noticeable in late fall, and many birds relish them. In fact, our avian friends have deposited Chinese privet all over. People will find seedlings of it growing just about anywhere.

Chinese privet can reach heights of 20 feet. In the Southeast, panicles of white flowers show up in mid to late spring. Most people find the "fragrance" repulsive.


Fortunately, young seedlings are fairly easy to remove by hand. In unmanaged areas, however, Chinese privet grows unchecked and can often form near-complete thickets, outcompeting most plants.

This lack of diversity in the plant population makes most ecologists cringe. Many people are concerned about these thickets. They'd like to see shifts to native plants that increase biodiversity while still providing homes and food for wildlife.

One of the best ways to get rid of privet is to burn it. A hot fire will kill plants less than 4 feet tall, but larger ones will usually survive. In many places, though, burning is restricted or banned.


This leaves two other options: physical removal and herbicides.

Physical removal can be as simple as digging up the plant with a pick and shovel. On larger plants, this can be a workout for even the fittest of people. And in big, established thickets, removal may require using heavy equipment.

Physical removal is immediate, but it's very hard to get every bit of every single plant. Like many plants, Chinese privet can regrow from just a piece of root.

Herbicides can be used by themselves or in combination with physical removal. Foliar products can be sprayed over-the-top. A study reported this summer showed that 6 ounces of a product containing at least 41 percent active glyphosate mixed with a gallon of water provided greater than 90-percent control for at least three years.


Applying a herbicide to cut stumps can keep privet from regrowing, too. Products that do this well are those containing glyphosate (Roundup and many others, with at least 41 percent active ingredient) or triclopyr (Garlon or Brush-B-Gon).

To use either, first cut privet to the ground. Then spray the cut stems with either a full-strength product or a half-strength herbicide-and-water solution.

If regrowth appears, wait until the shoots are 6 to 12 inches long and spray them with a solution of about 6 ounces of glyphosate (41 percent active ingredient) per gallon of water.

With any postemergence herbicide, make sure the mixture doesn't contact desirable plants. And always read and follow label instructions when using pesticides.

Once the privet has been removed, consider planting shrubs or small trees that are native to the area. Some of my favorite natives are common ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), common pawpaw (Asimina triloba), arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

(Mark Czarnota is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Mark Czarnota is an extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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