Sometimes I think New Mexico Privet is the Rodney Dangerfield of native shrubs; it doesn’t get any respect.  Well that’s not entirely true as it is often specified in commercial landscaping jobs. But many homeowners and gardeners hear “privet” in the name and think “boring” and walk right past it in the nursery yard.

 

I have found it to be a remarkably useful native shrub/small tree for its durability and resilience. Growing in shade to full sun, sandy or clay soils and wet or dry conditions, New Mexico Privet can be planted just about anywhere. It’s also a landscape designers dream with its outstanding fall color, graceful, white barked multi-stemmed trunks and its usefulness in creating habitat; this shrub is an excellent food source and nesting site for song birds.

 

This species has separate male and female plants. The female plants have the beautiful black-purple berries that ripen in the fall. As a small plant it’s not possible to determine the sex of the plant. That’s why I always suggest buying at least three. Odds are you’ll get at least one female. This lady Privet plant is growing right outside my kitchen window where we watch a wide variety of songbirds enjoying the berries for breakfast.

 

In arid climates, give it regular irrigation for the first three or four years and this shrub grows quickly. I recommend it as a xeric substitute for aspen and birch trees. Granted it doesn’t get as tall as these two other white barked trees. But it can be easily pruned into a multi-stemmed tree that gets to 12-15 ft. in height. And it works in hotter, drier sites that birch and aspen dislike.  It can also be used as a xeric hedge as the common name of “privet” would suggest.

 

Yes, this is a remarkably versatile native plant that deserves our respect (and a place in our landscapes).

2 Responses to “The Fall Beauty of New Mexico Privet (Forestiera neomexicana)”

  1. Sandy Watson says:

    I have 3 of these growing in Odessa TX. Winter and summer of 2011 were brutal, the worst that even old-timers could remember. Due to terrible drought conditions, I watered these very rarely last summer and they thrived in days and days of 110 degree heat and blistering winds. I use them for screening and they grew VERY fast to what appears to be their maximum size. Love them!

  2. Dee Butler says:

    I have two privets on the south facing side of our New Mexico home (elevation 6,425 feet). I wanted drought tolerant trees; the lady at the local nursery suggested a privet. Last year I hired a woman to prune some of the vegetation around the house. She topped the privets! They are about 4 feet tall now. Can I still get tree heights out of these plants? What is the best way to shape these plants to get the tree look and encourage upward growth? I’m afraid that I will make things worse if I prune without someone’s expertise. Thanks.

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