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Ruth Correll: Chinese privet not wanted

Ruth Correll • Jul 4, 2017 at 5:00 PM

Chinese privet is an “invasive on steroids,” which means it has become a real problem for landowners of both wooded areas and pastures. As we often hear about an invasive plant, “it was introduced into the United States as an ornamental plant,” and it later escaped from cultivation and is established and has become a problem plant. 

The Chinese privet can grow as tall as 30 feet, but usually it ranges from 5-12 feet in height. The plant produces multiple basal stems that arch in all directions, forming dense thickets. When mature, the dark purple fruits are consumed, then spread, by birds. Privet is tolerant to shade, existing quite well under the forest canopy. It also sprouts prolifically. Because privet retains most of its foliage during the dormant season, it is capable of producing and storing sugars from photosynthesis even in the winter months when most other plants have become inactive. This gives privet a competitive advantage against other native vegetation.

Chinese privet spreads rapidly both from root sprouts and seed, and it can quickly displace native vegetation and dominate a large portion of a pastures, hay fields, fence rows, forest edges, creek banks and river banks. Dense shade formed by privet thickets eliminates grass and many other desirable understory plants. The result is a drastic reduction in carrying capacity of a heavily infested land. Fruit of privet is known to be toxic, but problems in humans and animals are rare.

Prevention through early identification and removal of initial invading plants is the most effective method of managing privet in pastures. Where already established and plants are small, mowing will delay growth and reduce seed production, but due to the plant’s perennial root system, re-sprouting will happen. Often, mowing causes it to become just a large clumpy woody plant problem in pastures and hayfields. 

Privet is controllable by either mechanical or chemical measures, depending on the level of infestation and a landowner’s time and resources. Forms of treatment can include prescribed burning, tractors with rootrakes and shredder-mulcher heads, pulling and digging and herbicides. Herbicides are effective in one-of-four ways, cut-stump treatment, tree injection via hack-and-squirt, basal stem spraying and foliar spraying. A number of herbicides are registered as safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for treatment of privet. Be sure to follow the label recommendations when using herbicides.

Persistence and patience are necessary. In many situations, complete eradication of privet is not attainable. As previously mentioned, pastures near woodlands that are heavily infested will be particularly challenging. New flushes of seedlings can be expected due to seed dispersal by birds and seed already present in the soil. Also, retreatment of large bushes due to incomplete coverage or root sprouting will be required in most cases. With close monitoring and diligence with spot treatments, privet can be managed and reduced. 

Prior to application of any herbicide, be sure to thoroughly read and understand the herbicide label, and follow all directions and pre-cautions. Also, remember that practicing good herbicide stewardship is everyone’s responsibility. Contact your local Extension office for additional information. Ask for Publication W324 Chinese Privet.

For more information, contact the UT-TSU Extension Office in Wilson County at 615-444-9584. You can also find us on Facebook or visit extension.tennessee.edu/wilson. Ruth Correll, UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County, may be reached at 615-444-9584 or acorrell@utk.edu.

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