AUBURN, Ala. — Chinese privet is commonly found as an ornamental throughout the southeastern United States, but it is an invasive species in the region’s woodlands. December is an optimal time to control Chinese privet. At this time, hardwoods are dormant and will avoid injury from herbicides.
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 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.
Foliar herbicide 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 specialist Dr. Nancy Loewenstein said treating privet in December is beneficial because temperatures are cooler and undesirable critters are less active.
Some beekeepers use Chinese privet as a source of nectar each spring during flowering. Many birds eat the fruits in winter while other fruits are not readily available, and deer use privet for cover and grazing.
Although privet may be pleasing to the eye and beneficial to some wildlife, the true costs of the invasive species 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. 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, controlling privet is a multistep program that requires 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 to 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.