Q: We have a very old privet hedge which has been neglected and which is now too high and wide. Is it possible to prune it back hard and shape it?
A: Privet is a hardy beast, so it can stand hard pruning. So much so, that you can cut it back almost to the ground and shape the new growth that develops. The best time to treat an established hedge like yours is probably early spring when growth is just re-starting.
Shaping can be done by shearing or by selective pruning when the new growth is 10 to 15in tall. The base of the hedge should be kept wider than the top – that way, all the hedge gets good light and grows uniformly.
If you water well and feed to encourage growth, a privet hedge treated this way should be back to four feet high in three years, although the day after you’ve been at work with the loppers, you’ll wonder what on earth you’ve done.
Privet (Ligustrum) grows best in sun although it can tolerate most sites (acid, alkaline, even neutral) and situations – hence its popularity as a hedging plant. It can even put up with sea air, although it may not look at its best.
Like all plants, it will benefit from an occasional feed – give it a mulch of well-rotted manure or old compost once in a while.