AUBURN, Ala. — Chinese privet is widely used as an ornamental throughout the Southeastern United States. It was introduced to the U.S. from Southeast Asia in the early 1850s. .
Chinese privet is a single to multi-stemmed shrub with dark green leaves that grow throughout the year. It produces thick clusters of small white flowers each spring. Dark dark blue fruits mature in the fall and persist into the winter. It reproduces by seed and by shallow creeping lateral roots that produce sprouts, forming dense thickets.
December is an optimal time to treat Chinese privet. At this time, hardwoods are dormant and will avoid injury by glyphosate. Foliar treatments are effective into the early winter as long as day temperatures reach the 50s and cooler temperatures do not persist. Summertime foliar treatments may be less effective, requiring higher concentration of herbicide, and pose a greater risk to actively growing hardwoods.
Alabama Extension Forestry and Wildlife Science Specialist, Dr. Nancy Loewenstein said treating privet in December is beneficial because temperatures are cooler and undesirable critters are less active.
Beekeepers use Chinese privet as a source of nectar each spring during flowering. Many birds consume the dark blue fruits throughout the winter while other fruits are not readily available, and deer use privet for cover and grazing.
Although privet is pleasing to the eye and beneficial to wildlife, the true cost of the invasive species have proven to outweigh the benefits in Alabama forests.
“A few privet may be pleasing to the eye, but privet thickets create an unappealing, monotonous ‘green wall’,” Loewenstein said. “Dense thickets shade out other trees and shrubs which would provide a variety of food sources for deer and other wildlife.”
Deer browse young privet, but the foliage of mature plants is too high to reach. Birds eat and spread privet seed but another important source of bird food—insects, is very low on non-native plants such as privet. Honeybees may take advantage of the spring flowers, but studies show that removing privet helps restore native bee populations.
Loewenstein said privet pollen is highly allergenic and proximity to privet in the spring brings misery to those who suffer from seasonal allergies.
As with most invasive weeds, control of privet is a multistep program requiring persistence for success. Because privet is a stump and lateral root sprouter, mechanical control methods generally stimulate privet growth. Cattle graze on the sprouts and leaves, but research has been conducted to determine optimal grazing control strategies.
Prescribed fire is a proven method for control of privet seedlings, but is not feasible in most hardwood bottomlands.
On fencerows where pasture overspray can be avoided and within hardwood stands, glyphosate is the most effective herbicide for privet control.
Control privet with the cut stump treatment method. Cut down the plant. Apply a solution of 25 percent glyphosate product with a minimum 41 percent active ingredient to the stump immediately. Another effective treatment is a basal bark treatment. A mixture of a triclopyr ester herbicide product and an oil carrier, sprayed on the bottom 12-15 inches of each stem is easy to apply to widely spaced privet shrubs. It is challenging in dense privet stands where it may be hard to maneuver and treat all of the stems. Late fall and early winter are also favorable for cut stump and basal bark treatments.