Do Privet Hedges Lose Leaves in Winter?

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Privet (Ligustrum) is a great hedging solution when you are looking for privacy. With a lifespan of up to 40 years, it is a hardy plant, relatively fast growing, resistant to pollution and boasts a thick foliage. To keep things under control, it will need to be pruned around three or four times a year during the summer months and can easily grow up to 30cm a year – eventually reaching heights and spreads of around 4 metres.

I have a large 3 metre high privet hedge in my garden which has been there since I moved in 10 years ago. I prune it regularly during the summer and it does its job of providing a thick and lush green border between my garden and next door. I have noticed however that this thickness seems to significantly reduce over the winter months, with a lot of the leaves falling to the ground. This made me think: is it normal for privet hedges to drop leaves during winter, or is it a sign that there is something wrong?

Privet is classed as semi-evergreen. Although fully hardy, privet enters a dormant phase over winter when it is normal for some leaf loss to occur. This can be more pronounced during very cold spells and on younger, less well established plants. Following winter leaf loss, new buds will usually form in spring prior to normal growth continuing throughout the summer months.

What Types of Privet are Grown in the UK?

There are around 50 species of privet in the Ligustrum genus.

By far the most common type of privet hedging found in UK gardens is the “oval leaved” variety (Ligustrum ovalifolium), which actually originates from Japan and Korea. Oval leaved privet can be can be identified by its dark green, oval shaped leaves, and is the variety that I have in my garden.

My oval leaved privet

Being fairly straight forward to grow and maintain, oval leaved privet is very tolerant of pruning and can be easily shaped, often being used for formal hedging. More frequent pruning will promote a fuller, denser and thicker hedge.

During the summer months, Oval leaved privet can flower and produce dark coloured (poisonous) berries. In practice, most examples are regularly pruned and this stops flowering and the production of berries from occurring.

What are the Best Growing Conditions for Privet?

Privet is a fairly easy plant to grow. It prefers a full sun or partial shade position. In practice it will put up with most soil conditions except waterlogging so needs to be sited in well drained soil.

Is it Normal for Privet to Lose Leaves During the Winter Months?

During very mild UK winters, semi evergreen varieties of privet such as oval leaved privet may retain all of their leaves. But it is very common for them to lose some of their thickness and density at this time of year.

My privet hedge in winter showing a loss of thickness and density

Harsh winters and colder temperatures are the most common cause of privet leaf loss. Cold temperatures can have a greater effect on younger, less well established plants, especially when they are in more exposed locations.

Privet leaves turning yellow and brown during winter
Fallen privet leaves

Generally, if the winter leaf loss is evenly spread across plant it is most likely to be due to low temperatures. And the colder and more severe the winter, the more leaves will be lost.

If, on the other hand, you notice winter leaf loss that is concentrated in smaller, isolated, patches around the plant it is more likely to be due to a localised cause, rather than being temperature related – possibly a result of pests or fungus.

If the leaf loss is concentrated in a small area, it is time to take a look at the branches of the plant. If the branches in the affected area are are completely brown and can easily be snapped or broken, the affected section of the plant will most likely have died.

If the branches in the affected area are still flexible, and are still green underneath the bark, the section of the plant will still be alive so recovery may be a possibility.

When Should New Privet Leaves Start to Grow Back?

New privet buds will usually start to form in early spring on deciduous varieties. Privet should then continue to actively grow throughout the summer months.

As of early March in the UK, my oval leaved privet is showing signs of new growth and is now on the road to regaining its trademark thick foliage ready for the summer!

New privet buds growing in early spring