Although one species makes a fine landscape tree, privets are first and foremost hedge plants. They take well to shearing and can be clipped into almost any shape. In spring or early summer, all bear abundant clusters of showy, white to creamy white flowers that are highly fragrant. Some people don't care for the cloyingly sweet scentand the pollen may cause allergic reactions. Bees and wasps also swarm to the flowers. Clipped hedges produce fewer flowers, as shearing removes most of the flower buds. Blossoms are followed by small, berrylike, blue-black fruit. Birds eat them and distribute the seeds everywherewith the result that seedlings come up everywhere, too. Since most privets will grow well in any kind of soil, vigilance is required to keep them from taking over. Most make good container subjects. They are resistant to browsing deer.
L. japonicum. JAPANESE PRIVET. Evergreen shrub. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. From northern China, Korea, Japan. Dense, compact growth to 1012 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide, but can be kept smaller by trimming. Roundish oval leaves are 24 in. long, dark to medium green and glossy above, distinctly paler to almost whitish beneath. They have a thick, slightly spongy feel. Excellent plant for hedges or screens or for shaping into small trees. In caliche soil or where Texas root rot prevails, grow it in containers. Often confused with its selection 'Texanum'.
'Howardi'. Garish, two-tone shrub: leaves are yellow when new, aging to green. Both colors are usually present at once.
'Jack Frost'. Dark green leaves edged with creamy white.
'Recurvifolium'. Leaves are wavy edged, twisted at the tip, and slightly smaller than those of the species. Somewhat open grower.
'Rotundifolium'. ROUNDLEAF JAPANESE PRIVET. Grows 45 ft. high; has nearly round leaves to 2 in. long. Partial shade.
'Silver Star'. Grows 68 ft. high. Deep green leaves have gray-green mottling and startling creamy white edges. Provides a good contrast to solid deep green foliage.
'Texanum'. Similar to the species but grows a little smaller (to 810 ft, tall, 46 ft. wide), with somewhat denser, lusher foliage. Useful as windbreak. Often sold as L. texanum.
'Variegatum'. Leaves have creamy white margins and blotches.
L. lucidum. GLOSSY PRIVET. Evergreen tree. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Native to China, Korea, Japan. Makes a round-headed tree that eventually reaches 3540 ft. high and wide. Can be kept lower as a big shrub or may form multitrunked tree. Glossy, 4- to 6-in.-long leaves are tapered and pointed, dark to medium green on both sides. They feel leathery but lack the slightly spongy feel of L. japonicum leaves. Flowers in especially large, feathery clusters are followed by a profusion of fruit. Fine lawn tree. Can grow in narrow areas; good street tree if not planted near pavement or where fruit will drop on cars (see disadvantages noted below). Performs well in large containers. Or set 10 ft. apart for tall privacy screen. Useful as windbreak.
Before planting this tree, carefully weigh the advantages against the disadvantages. Eventual fruit crop is immense; never plant where fruit will fall on cars, walks, or other paved areas (they stain). Fallen seeds (and those dropped by birds) sprout profusely in ground cover and will need pulling. Fruiting clusters are bare and unattractive after fruit drop.
L. ovalifolium. CALIFORNIA PRIVET. Semievergreen shrub. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to Japan. Dark green, oval, 2-in.-long leaves. Grows rapidly to 15 ft. but can be kept to any height; reaches 10 ft. wide. For use as hedge, set plants 912 in. apart; clip early and frequently for low, dense branching. Be prepared for regular maintenance; you may need to shear every 3 weeks in hot, wet weather. Well-fed, well-watered plants hold their leaves the longest.
This species is a good choice for a fast-growing hedge or screen, but be aware of disadvantages: The plant has greedy roots, its seedlings come up everywhere; and once established, it is hard to eradicate.
'Aureum'. YELLOW-EDGE CALIFORNIA PRIVET, GOLDEN PRIVET. Leaves have broad yellow edges. Often sold as 'Variegatum'.
L. sinense. CHINESE PRIVET. Evergreen shrub. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. From China. To 1015 ft. tall and wide. Avoid planting the plain species, which has become a horrible weed in the Southeast, conquering woodlands and stream banks. It tolerates just about any conditions and is known to pop up through cracks in the pavement. Hard to kill but worth the effort required to annihilate it. The following three selections are better behaved.
'Pendulum'. WEEPING CHINESE PRIVET. To 10 ft. high and wide, with billowing, cascading branches that create a soft, cloudlike appearance. Branches occasionally revert to upright form; cut these out to maintain pleasing shape.
'Sunshine'. Sterile selection with bright golden foliage. Grows 34 ft. tall and wide. Good for low hedge. Also good in containers.
'Variegatum'. VARIEGATED CHINESE PRIVET. Grows quickly to 6 ft. tall and wide. One of the better-looking variegated plants, popular for its handsome matte green leaves with creamy white margins. Useful for brightening dull areas of the garden. Cut out any branches with leaves that revert to solid green.
L. 'Suwannee River'. Evergreen shrub. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Reported to be a hybrid between L. japonicum 'Rotundifolium' and L. lucidum. Slow-growing, compact plant reaches 1 ft. tall in 3 years, eventually grows 45 ft. high and wide. Leathery, somewhat twisted dark green leaves; no fruit. Use as low hedge, as foundation planting, in containers.
L. 'Vicaryi'. VICARY GOLDEN PRIVET. Deciduous shrub. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-11. This one has yellow leaves; color is strongest on plants in full sun. To 46 ft. (possibly 12 ft.) high and 810 ft. wide. Best planted alone; color does not develop well under hedge shearing.