Now that a hard freeze has descended on east Texas and erased the deciduous foliage from the landscape, the evergreens radiate in thickets and pastures alike, their verdant foliage an afterglow of warmer days when the world was all green.
Most of these I like. Eastern red cedar I adore. Pines are ok. I have an aversion to the shroud of needles they drop, but I love when wind whispers through them. Even honeysuckle I’ll leave to make the flowers into sorbet.
But, the one emblem of green I hate seeing more than any other in this dearth landscape is privet (Ligustrum sp.). The scourge is everywhere and is a horticulturist’s nemesis. The evergreen, shiny leaves cast dense shade preventing the growth of native plants below. The emerald glow that does make it through isn’t enough for species to germinate or grow. Some creature could eat it, but I’ve read due to distasteful compounds the leaves aren’t tasty to animals save for deer. Now if only we could train these prized-plant-devouring, four-legged pests to eat only privet two of our problems would be solved!
Privet spreads like a plague upon the land near and far. Rhizomes locally increase the pestilence, and it’s indigo-colored berries are feasted upon by birds and the seed spread by their wings. Those seed not eaten drop below the mother plant, sprout, and create a carpet of minions .
My first encounters with privet were at my grandmother’s house where I had my first vegetable garden. I would hack the branches and use them for stakes. Yet, sometimes even these limbs would attempt resurrection by sprouting shoots and roots.
It is so depressing to see a plant that we humans introduced for utilitarian purposes—to create living fences and hedges—now in some ways has a mind of its own. It is taking over our land and erecting its own barriers, similar to the stories where robots we brought into being have become self-aware and gone astray to create a post-apocalyptic world.
We should have an anti-privet day, a day when people and communities go out as a mob with pruners, loppers, machetes, axes, and saws to eradicate this species. I vote sometime in winter when it can’t hide in the smokescreen of foliage,few other garden tasks occupy our time, and most ticks and chiggers slumber. It doesn’t have to fall on a set cardinal date every year. A warm, sunny day will do where working outside for a bit will welcome the removal of a jacket.
I’ve been celebrating a few anti-privet days. At our new property we have a few behemoths along our fence rows, but most are spindly young whips. I’ve been eyeing their demise since we first moved in August.
Small switches are easy. A swift stab through the earth with a heavy shovel will make quick work of the job. Larger beasts require a cut back approach. They will sprout up in the spring, but a shot or two of glyphosate will kill the Hydra heads. Be cautious cutting near or through barbed wire as the metal pricks can grab your clothes and you.
Once cut straight branches can be used for trellising and staking material. The rest of the refuse goes on a burn pile.
Clearing along our fence row I had the idea of planting a fruiting shrub like a native Ilex or Sambucus where I rip a few out so that the birds have something to sustain them and tempt them more than privet in the future.
The east fence row is now clear of privet, and the north side is next. The perimeter of our yard will soon be free of this curse. Sure, there will be a few renegades I missed. But, in the words of Seth Godin, I’ve put in the work and positively impacted my little microclimate. I look forward to next winter when the deciduous leaves once again drop, and maybe the only verdant foliage I see will be the desirable evergreens. If a few privet remain or have since sprouted, then I'll celebrate another anti-privet day.
Maybe you should celebrate anti-privet day, too. And, tell or bring a friend.