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Winter is the Time to Punish Privet

As I sit on my front porch looking out into a drizzly sky, I am reflecting on what to write to you this month.  A few hardwood leaves remain in my trees; their lifeless forms clinging to the branch not wanting to cascade to the forest floor.  Silhouetted against a gray sky, is the green of my mountain top pines. Winter is a great time to assess the amount of pine in the forest.  I lost a few pines to lightening this past year, but as I count the trees from my porch I can see my financial friends standing proudly and increasing their value.  Winter is not just a good time to assess pines, but it is also a good time to punish privet hedge.

Chinese (Ligustrum sinense) and Japanese (Ligustrum japonicum) Privet were brought into the U.S. in the 1800s as a landscaping plant.  In our yards, under the strong hand of the hedge shear, the shrub can be pretty.  It grows thick, becoming an evergreen living fence, separating neighbors in closely packed neighborhoods.  Privet has a bountiful supply of pretty, fragrant white flowers in spring and an equally bountiful supply of blue-black berries in the fall and throughout the winter; which birds love.

Apart from the strong hand of the hedge shear, privet can grow to a height of thirty feet, and can provide so much shade that nothing will grow under these shrub-trees.  These shrubs like moist soils, many times we find them growing along streams and creeks in the forest.  One time I found a thirty-acre privet patch growing under a canopy of large cypress and tupelo trees west of Tuscaloosa.  The normally open “park-like” stand of large trees with young trees under them was so crowded with privet, I had to machete my way through this death zone as I appraised the large cypress.  My advice to the landowner was to kill the privet first, allow regeneration to begin, then harvest the mature timber.
Privet, occupying one million forested acres, is second only to Japanese honeysuckle as an invasive plant in Alabama.  Privet is a BIG problem.

How do we get rid of privet?  One landowner at a time.  First for all you homeowners, please do not plant privet in your yards, and if you consider re-landscaping remove your privet and replace it with a native species.  Now for all the rural landowners out there, please get in the battle against this invasive.  Privet is easy to see this time of year, it’s one of the few green plants in the winter woods, and because the plants tend to be shallow-rooted they can be easily pulled.  Small plants can be hand pulled.  Wrist size plants may require the help of a metal weed-wrench tool.  Chainsaws can tackle the largest of plants.  This method of removal is labor intensive and time consuming. It works well in small areas and with lots of labor.  For those of us doing this by themselves I recommend using herbicides.

Extension has a publication entitled:  ANR 1468-Control Options for Chinese Privet.   This publication lays out all of the options before us as we begin to tackle the privet problem.

by Andrew J. Baril, Regional Extension Agent, Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resource Management