The Q&A Archives: Dying Privet

Question: I e-mailed you a question a few weeks ago and did recieve a reply but there was no answer with it. I asked about my privet hedge that I planted this spring. Some of the plant's leaves are turning black while others are turning brown and dying. Many of the twigs left are dry and brittle. I need to know what I am doing wrong before I lose all of my hedge.

Answer: I remember responding to your question -- I'm sorry you didn't receive the answer!

Your new hedges may have suffered some during transplant, which is not uncommon for shrubs and trees, especially bareroot stock (instead those growing in containers). If the soil was very dry, or heavy and wet, the roots would have had a more difficult time growing and recovering from the shock. If these were bareroot plants, and the roots dried out before they were planted, then they would certainly have been set back. Ideally, roots of bareroot stock should be kept in a bucket of water, or wrapped in moist burlap, right up to the moment they go into the planting hole. Also, if plants are set in the hole higher or lower than they had been growing at the nursery, they can suffer setback.

Newly planted shrubs need soil kept evenly moist -- not too wet or dry. Mulch helps moderate soil moisture. A topdressing of compost each year underneath a layer of mulch is a good feeding schedule.

At this point, I recommend that you prune the privet back to live wood. Scrape the bark with your thumbnail, and removing
any branch that doesn't have a faint green color directly under the bark. (It's dead, anyway, so you won't be losing anything by pruning back hard.) Hope this does the trick and restores the health of your hedge!

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