Chinese Privet

If I had to name one plant that was the bane of many land managers existence, chinese privet would probably be at the top of the list. I can’t even begin to estimate how many gallons of gly I’ve sprayed on the stuff over the years. The countless hours I’ve spent cutting, trimming, whacking and sawing….

Then sometime around 2005 something happened, I was hunting, kinda bored, kinda hungry, almost time to get down to eat lunch. A group of does was feeding about 50yards in front of me, in a food plot. I pulled the binocs out to watch them and I saw something I didn’t expect. The does were standing on the edge of a beautiful, lush wheat/oats Farmer Brown food plot, but they werent eating it… they were wrapping their tongues around long chinese privet limbs, along the edge of the plot, then pulling their heads back so they essentially stripped every leaf off the long switchlike limb. Then they would chew for a while and move to the next limb. After they moved on I walked down to take a closer look, and sure enough almost every privet limb below head level had been stripped bare. If I hadn’t watched the doe physically strip the limbs i would not have recognized the bald privet switch-like limbs as browse bc it didnt have the typical browse clipped/bitten off look. Simply looked like a kid had walked down the row and stripped all the leaves off with their hands/fingers…, like kids will do.

After seeing this, I started looking for it at other places on the property and sure enough, it was very plain to see that the deer were eating chinese privet, and LOTS of it. But being such a resilient and high growth plant they were just re-sprouting new fresh leaves days later, bouncing right back to supply more food. One thing I did notice is that privet around the food plots was definitely more utilized.

After a side by side comparison it was very apparent that privet leaves around the plots was a darker green color, the leaves were bigger and more lush. I even tasted both and could not really tell a difference in flavor (fyi. both tasted terrible and bitter), but the privet around the plots definitely had a different texture, it was not as tough or stemmy as the non fertilized privet away from the food plots. Maybe more crisp or more chewable is the right way to describe it. Whatever it was, the fertilized privet around the plots was definitely preferred.

A very interesting characteristic of privet is that in most natural soil it has approx 14% protein content. This is good, not great. Better than corn, better than sweet potatoes, better than wheat, oats, rye.. etc, but not as good as beans or clover. The real magic happens when you apply fertilizer, especially high phosphate fertilizer, the protein content soars (almost seemingly overnight) to 25%+. Which makes its nutritional value to deer very similar to ironclay peas, soybeans, alfalfa…etc.

Chinese Privet is one tough plant! You can cut it to the ground and it will just resprout. Even if you spray it, it will likely just resprout from the stump or send up new suckers. You can bushog it, drive over it, hack it…etc and it just resprouts. It is essentially immune to drought, it can thrive in everything from full sun, to almost full shade. It grows equally well on a dry hilltop or a low muddy spot. It will literally grow anywhere and everwhere. And while I would NEVER tell a landowner to plant or introduce privet to a property that didn’t have it, chances are that you already have it. Chances are you are just like me and have spent considerable time chopping, spraying and trying to kill it. The moral of this story is that you should no longer feel the need to eradicate it, I mean, lets be honest. I could make it my life’s mission to get rid of chinese privet on my property and I would never even get close to being successful. While I still do occasionally swear at chinese privet for growing over a cart path or blocking my view on a shooting lane, I have come to love and respect it for what it really is. A highly resilient (you almost cant kill it) highly preferred, high quality deer food source with high protein levels when fertilized. It’s literally the perfect deer plant.

Easiest way I have found to manage chinese privet is to bushog it every couple of years. After being cut back and fertilized it resprouts with the most lush green tender growth you could imagine and the deer absolutely love it. It will take small shrub form and provide nearly year round high quality, high protein food source for your deer. Privet left to grow more than 2 years creates great cover and bedding areas. In woodland areas I just chainsaw larger/older privet to shin height so that it resprouts from the stump and is then accessible to deer.