Privet Hedge Renewal Pruning Timing

(Question)

Can I do renewal pruning of my old privet hedge in May (know it is best to do in late winter or early spring)?  Half my hedge died when neighbour did landscaping and I would like to renew the rest while planting new privet plants in the bare spots.  Would like to cut back to 2 feet but am worried about it being too warm.

(Answer)

Most likely the privet (Ligustrum spp.) in your garden is creating a formal hedge, which is clipped on a regular basis to maintain it’s shape.  Pruning at the correct time is important because you might remove flower buds or leave plants vulnerable to damage by cold weather.  In general the best time to prune is in the dormant season.  In Ontario, that would be March/April or the Fall.

There are two types of pruning:

The first, involves removing dead, damaged, diseased, dangerous and any crossing branches back to near the base of the shrub.  This opens up the plant to air and light and improves growth.

The second, involves cutting the hedge to almost ground level and waiting for new shoots to grow.

If leaf buds have already appeared on your hedge then it is safest to take the first approach this year, and leave the major pruning to early next spring – see below.

In your case, it sounds as if your old privet hedge would benefit from a really hard pruning, which is called renewal (sometimes renovation or rejuvenation) pruning.  Shrubs with multiple stems that are damaged, overgrown or neglected can be cut back close to the ground.  You can cut the entire plant down to within 12 inches of the ground, so the 24 inches you mention should be just fine.  Healthy roots on an established privet hedge will send up multiple new shoots almost immediately.  Privet is very tolerant of pruning.  It’s a vigorous grower and it will recover quickly.  This will also make it clearer as to where the gaps are in your hedge.

Make sure that you fertilize and water plants well after pruning and once you have your hedge growing again be sure to prune it back by one-third annually to keep it healthy.

For more tips on pruning go to:

http://urbanext.illinois.edu/stateline/010405.html

https://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/pdf/hgic1053.pdf