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Privet vs Boxwood: 5 Key Differences

When you first look at Privet and Boxwood, they might seem quite different as they are distinct types of plants. But, when you think about using them for hedges, the comparison makes more sense.

The main differences between privet and boxwood are their size and how fast they grow. Boxwood grows slowly, adding about eight inches each year. In contrast, privet can grow up to two feet in just one year. So, over the same amount of time, you’ll find that privet grows much larger than boxwood.

Privet vs Boxwood

Privet and Boxwood

Privet Boxwood 
USDA Hardiness zone 5-9 4-9
Mature height 4-15′ (1.2-4.5m) 6-20′ (1.8-6 m)
Mature width 4-8′ (1.2-2.4m) 1-8′ (0.6-2.4 m)
Growth rate fast slow
Light exposure partial shade, full sun partial shade, full sun
Soil moist, drained moist, drained
Soil pH 6.0-7.0 6.0-7.0
Watering 1 time per week in a drought 1 time per week in a drought
Diseases fungus fungus
Pests insects insects

Growth Rate

Privet is generally a bit smaller than boxwood, usually not growing taller than 15 feet. Like many plants, it grows fast initially but slows down as it matures.

On the other hand, boxwood can reach heights of over 20 feet, depending on its variety. This height is achieved after many years of growth, and its width typically stays under 8 feet.

The most noticeable difference between these two is how fast they grow. Boxwood grows about 6 to 8 inches each year and may experience two growth spurts annually.

In contrast, privet grows much quicker, with an average annual increase of 1 to 2 feet. While some types grow slower, the popular Ligustrum ovalifolium can shoot up by 2 feet each year.

For those who want quick results, Ligustrum ovalifolium is an excellent choice. It grows rapidly, providing a quick natural screen from neighbors.

Cold tolerance

Boxwood thrives well in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9, making it a versatile plant suitable for most of the United States. It’s quite hardy, able to withstand frost, snow, and ice without much damage.

Privet, however, is better suited for zones 5 to 9. This means it’s not ideal for some of the northern states. More importantly, in harsh winters, privet can lose some or even all its leaves, regardless of the zone.

This is particularly true for zones 5 and 6. In these areas, if the winter is really cold, the privet’s leaves might turn yellow and drop.

From this, it’s clear that privet is a semi-deciduous plant. It’s a good choice if you’re in zones 8 or 9, or if you don’t mind having a hedge that’s a bit see-through during the winter.

Flowers

Boxwood features small, green-yellow flowers that are hard to spot against the backdrop of its young leaves. Blooming in April and May, these flowers are not particularly decorative. Additionally, they emit a faint and not very appealing scent.

In contrast, privet boasts striking white flowers, each about 1 inch across. These flowers stand out against the leaves, especially when the plant is regularly pruned, forming sizeable clusters.

Privet flowers are also pleasantly fragrant. While their scent isn’t as strong as, say, peonies, it’s still noticeable. They bloom in the summer, with the variety Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’ having some of the largest clusters of fragrant flowers.

Choosing privet for a hedge means you’ll enjoy the bonus of beautiful and sweet-smelling flowers – something that boxwood, unfortunately, doesn’t offer.

Leaves

Boxwood leaves are typically around 0.5 inches long and wide, although some varieties may have slightly bigger or smaller leaves. In comparison, privet leaves are generally 1 inch long and 0.5 inches wide. This larger leaf size can contribute to a denser hedge, but only with consistent pruning. In this aspect, privet has a minor advantage.

The leaf shape also differs between these plants. Most boxwoods have oval or nearly round leaves, usually without a pointed tip. There are a few varieties with more elongated leaves, but they are less common.

Privet leaves are more elongated and pointed. While some varieties may have less sharp leaves, generally, the length of privet leaves is about twice their width. There are even privet varieties with twisted leaves, like the Japanese privet ‘Recurvifolium’.

Color-wise, boxwood boasts dark green, glossy leaves, though some varieties feature a brighter green. Privet, except for the Waxleaf variety, tends to have less glossy foliage but offers a wider range of green shades, including bluish-green and bright green.

Both plants have variegated varieties. Among boxwoods, you can find the Variegated Boxwood with light yellow edges and a dark green center.

However, a standout is the Golden privet, Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’, known for its green center and bright yellow borders. A hedge made of this variety tends to look more striking than one of variegated boxwood.

Privet is an invasive plant

The National Invasive Species Information Center has identified Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) as an invasive species. Once it arrives in the U.S., it tends to spread quickly, progressively occupying more land. In fact, some countries have completely banned growing this plant.

Its spread is primarily through seeds and root suckers. Even if the top part of the plant is removed, its roots can still propagate. Fully removing the rhizome is a challenging task, so it’s wise to carefully consider before planting Chinese privet in your garden.

In contrast, the more commonly cultivated Ligustrum ovalifolium is not as invasive and hasn’t been classified as such. However, it’s important to note that a hedge of this plant will produce many seeds annually, leading to the sprouting of new seedlings in your garden.

Origin

Privet (Ligustrum) and Boxwood (Buxus) belong to separate genera and include numerous species found worldwide, including in the United States.

The most commonly used boxwood species are Buxus sempervirens and Buxus microphylla, while the most popular privet species is Ligustrum ovalifolium.

Boxwood vs Privet Hedge?

While both plants are great for making hedges, your choice should depend on your specific needs and preferences.

If you’re looking for a quick-growing screen and don’t mind it being less dense for part of the year, privet is a good choice.

However, if you prefer a dense hedge that remains consistent year-round and you’re not in a rush, then boxwood would be the better option.