The Q&A Archives: Rejuvenating a waxleaf privet hedge

Question: Hi there,

I have a three sided hedge of waxleaf privets (about 40-50 plants total) that is 20 years old. In the last few years I had one plant begin to look bad, and it has spread to the neighboring five plants. Last year I cut back three of the worst plants, but they didn't come back very well. This morning I see yet another plant with dead branches. I'm trying to decide whether to just cut them all down to the ground and hope they come back in the spring, or just cut them down and remove the stumps.

So, my question is: If I cut the privets down to the ground, how likely are they to recover in the spring (babying them with water and fertilizer)?

Thanks for your help.

Answer: Before you resort to the Herculean task of digging the whole thing out, try to rejuvenate it, returning it to an informal look. Fast-growing deciduous shrubs such as common privet (Ligustrum vulgare) are good subjects for pruning right down to ground level. To begin the process, cut back all growth to about 6 inches above ground just before plants break dormancy in spring. Remove debris and dig out weeds and other plants that have taken root in the area. When new growth emerges, feed with a controlled-release complete fertilizer; then water thoroughly and apply a mulch. Each month for the rest of the growing season, reduce new growth by half to encourage side branching and make the renewed hedge dense. As you cut back, take care to slope the hedge's sides.

Until the hedge reaches its desired height, cut growth back by half each month during the growing season, starting when plants begin growth in spring. Once the hedge is as tall as you want it, clip it at least twice a year, in late spring and midsummer, to maintain size, shape, and density.

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