A species I’ve specialized in over the years is Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense. Though many here in the South consider privet a noxious weed, it is in fact very well suited to bonsai culture. It takes to container life well, is drought and disease tolerant, and has the requisite small leaves and compact growth habit the bonsai enthusiast looks for. As an added feature it blooms in the pot, and you don’t have to let it go wild to get it to flower as with crape myrtle.
In 2014 privet was off my radar, as I focused on other species along with nursery construction, etc. With the new collecting year in full swing, I’ve found myself gravitating back toward this old favorite.
Here’s a newly collected privet. Some of you must be thinking, “What the heck is this?” Well, one thing about Chinese privet is it grows super fast, so you can literally pot a “stick” collected from the wild and grow the entire branching and crown structure of the tree in a couple of years. As I always tell my students, if your trunk is sufficiently thick and it’s got nice character, movement and taper, the rest can be grown in a bonsai pot. This includes roots. Privet usually comes with ready-made surface rootage, so you don’t need to spend any additional time on this chore.
I have no idea where this privet will bud in spring. I suspect I’ll have my choice of new shoots for branches. But the beauty of the art of bonsai is you adjust the design to fit the tree’s desires. I’m a big proponent of letting each tree decide what it wants to be. This way you avoid “cookie cutter” bonsai, and no two are alike. Isn’t that the way it should be?
If you decide to grow privet as bonsai, you need to be aware of one key feature of the species: it must be root-pruned annually. Privet roots as vigorously as crape myrtle and willow, so postponing the annual chore can lead to stunted growth and weakening of the tree.
Watch for the “stick” above to be available this coming summer. Trunk base is 2″ and it’s about 10″ to the top chop. Isn’t that Byron Myrick oval superb?
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. Have you ever worked with Chinese privet before? If so, what did you like about it?