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The Fall Beauty of New Mexico Privet (Forestiera neomexicana)

by High Country Gardens

New mexico private close-up of foliage and berries.

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).