How to Prune a Privet


The common privet (Ligustrum amurense) is the most widely planted shrub in the United States. Native to northern China, if left unclipped, will reach a height and spread 12 to 15 feet. It can easily be clipped to almost any shape and is not fussy about location as long as it is well-drained. Although it will grow in partial shade, the most satisfactory results are obtained in full sun. The most common use for privet is as a hedgerow or privacy screen. To keep the privet hedge dense, the bottom should be wider than the top. This will prevent the upper branches from shading the lower ones. It is possible to rejuvenate a privet hedge by cutting it back to 1 foot in height. Frequent clipping at this point will produce a dense base. Once this is achieved, the privet hedge may be allowed to grow taller. To keep it from losing its shape and becoming leggy, it should be sheared when new growth in no more than 6 inches in length.

Step 1

Place the stakes directly in front of the hedge about every 10 feet. Secure a cord along the top or the stakes just below the height you wish your hedge to be. The cord should sit in a straight horizontal line with no sags. Using a measuring tape, adjust the cord to it sits at the same height on each stake. This cord will be your guide when cutting the top in a straight line.

Step 2

Clip the top to the privet hedge with the hedge clippers. You may come across branches that the hedge clipper will not be able to cut. Cut these with either the pruning saw or lopping shears, depending on their size. Step back occasionally examine your work, making sure the height remains even.

Step 3

Clip the bottom of the hedge next. To get an even line, adjust the stakes and cord and use them as a guide. Once you have established the line of the bottom hedge wall, it is time to find the top. The top of the hedge should be narrower than the bottom by at least 1 inch for every foot of height. A 6-foot tall hedge should have a top that is 6 inches narrower than the bottom. To maintain an even cutting line, move the stakes to a position even with the edge of the desired top of the hedge wall and once again attach the cord. Clip the top wall of the hedge. Now that you have completed the top and bottom, clip the middle of the hedge to form an even line from top to bottom. Any holes in the foliage will quickly fill in as the plant grows.

Tips and Warnings

  • When using power tools, follow all manufacturer directions and wear protective goggles.

Things You'll Need

  • Stakes
  • Cord
  • Measuring tape
  • Lopping shears
  • Hedge clippers
  • Pruning saw
  • Goggles
  • Work gloves
  • Ladder (optional)


  • USDA: Ligustrum amurense Carriere Amur Privet
Keywords: pruning a hedge, amur hedge, ligustrum amurense

About this Author

Joan Puma is a graduate of Hofstra University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in fine arts, and has worked in the film industry for many years as a script supervisor. Puma's interest in gardening lead her to write The Complete Urban Gardener, which was published by Harper & Row. Other interests include, art history, medieval history, and equitation.