Q: I have a number of variegated privets that are becoming thin near the bottom. I usually prune the tops but these have now grown to eight feet tall. I am thinking about cutting these off at about four feet to make them more bushy lower. Is this a good time to do that or should I wait?
A: In my experience, privet can be pruned any time of year without problems. If you cut yours back by half, though, the results may not be what you expect.
The re-sprouting and “bushyness” you want will inevitably occur within six inches of where you make your cuts. In other words, if you prune them down to four feet tall, nearby buds will sprout at that level. The leggy stems below will still be there, uncovered, for all the world to see.
If you want a full and leafy look all the way to the ground, you have two choices: prune the variegated privet down to twelve inches or hide the ugly knees with another low shrub (like dwarf yaupon holly) in front. If you take the first option, the stumps will be ugly for a few weeks but will begin to sprout by mid-July.
As the sprouts grow longer, pinch out the growing tip of each one when it reaches six to twelve inches in length. In this way, the new privet will have many limbs low on the plant. Due to its strong and established root system, will grow densely to four feet tall by next summer. The University of Georgia has an excellent publication on pruning all sorts of shrubs at www.ces.uga.edu/pubcd/B961-W.HTML