Chinese privet is an invasive weed that grows in leaps and bounds. It is capable of taking over large areas of land. The Georgia Forestry Commission consistently lists it at the top of their Dirty Dozen for nonnative invasive plants. It can become a real problem in wooded areas, especially along wood lines and roadsides. Let’s talk about Chinese privet and how you can control it to keep it from overrunning our beautiful mountains.
Chinese privet was originally brought over to the U.S. in the mid 1800’s to be used as a hedge. By the 1950’s it had taken over entire forests. Privet puts on berries that birds and wildlife eat who spread the seeds and start new plants. Once established, the privet shrub will send up shoots around it to create a dense thicket that will force out native plants.
First, let’s talk about how to identify it. Privet is a semi-evergreen to evergreen, which means that it’s a lot easier to identify it during the winter because everything else has lost its leaves. It has thin bark with opposite leaves that are glossy. In early May, it puts on small white flowers that have four petals. It grows as a shrub, but it can grow up into the size of a small tree. The berries that it puts on are small, about the size of your pinky fingernail, and dark blue in color.
So, let’s talk about controlling this invasive weed. For starters, it’s good to be aware that controlling Chinese privet is not a one and done kind of deal. Repeated applications of herbicide will most likely be required. Late fall is the best time to treat privet with herbicides.
Hand pulling is an option only when plants are very small. If the plant doesn’t come up easily, it’s most likely a lateral shoot off a main plant. In this case, the main plant needs to be removed. A weed wrench is a tool that can make hand pulling of plants more effective, by allowing you to hand pull bigger plants. Brush mulching will level thickets of privet, but because it doesn’t remove the roots, and regrowth will occur. However, that regrowth will be uniform, making it easier to control with herbicides.
The two main herbicides used to treat Chinese privet are glyphosate and triclopyr. There are a couple of different ways to make the application. A foliar application from a sprayer will work if you have a concentrated enough mix. Ready to use mixes are usually not strong enough. The issue with foliar applications is drift. Nearby plants will also be affected by the glyphosate.
A couple of other options are cut stump and basal bark. Cut stump will require a saw for you to cut the plant down to just a couple of inches above ground level. Then apply the triclopyr or glyphosate at a strong concentration using a brush on directly onto the tree where the stump is exposed. It may be beneficial to include a dye spray indicator so that you can tell which stumps have been treated. Basal bark means using triclopyr ester at the base of the plant, spraying the herbicide in a ring on the base. Herbicide treatments work well with controlling privet, but they can still be time consuming. Whenever applying any kind of pesticide always read and follow the label instructions.