Privet (Ligustrum) for bonsai

Privet is well known as a hedging plant. These plants are however also well suited for bonsai. Through cuttings one can easily propagate the plants. But better yet, as it is frequently used as hedge, one can often find mature individuals when people restyle their yard. Through frequent trimming a dense crown can be developed with fine twigs and leaves.

Privet - L. ovalifolium
Privet – L. ovalifolium

Privets can be identified by their somewhat oval leaves of roughly 2-3 cm long, placed opposite along the stems. Mature plants have a silvery smooth bark.

Two species are mostly encountered as bonsai:

Ligustrum Ovalifolium: This privet has firm somewhat glossy foliage. This is the most encountered species in gardens

Ligustrum Sinense: The foliage of this species is softer and thinner than the L ovalifolium. This species is rarely encountered in garden centres

Not to mix up with

Sageretia Theezans has some characteristics that make it look similar. Keep them apart by studying the connection of the leaves to the stems, and comparing the leaf fringes which are smooth for privets.

Position of privet bonsai

Privets can take full sun and will have the most compact growth here. However, also in shaded position will the species do well.

L. sinense is less frost-hardy than L. ovalifolium and will need frost protection when temperatures drop well below freezing (colder than -5c / 33F). When exposed to frost privets drop (part of) their foliage, which is replaced in spring.


Although privets can handle being on the dry side. They prefer a continuous moist rootball.

Trimming and shaping privet bonsai

Privets can be trimmed all year. Very aggressive trimming is no problem, as privets will backbud even on the oldest trunks. However, this is a thin barked species and after strong trimming it is best to keep the plant out of full sun for a while.

When wiring keep in mind that thin barked species scar easily and that scars hardly fade over time. As such wiring is best done on young branches only and use guy wired for old thick branches.

Good starting material may be foun in hedgerows
Good starting material may be foun in hedgerows

Repotting privet bonsai

Privet bonsai need to be repotted every or every other year. Root growth is very strong. Aggressive rootwork is no problem for a healthy privet. Rootwork is best done around budbreak in spring.