Blackthorn or Sloe (Prunus spinosa) Hedging Trees
A native, deciduous, almost grow anywhere British hedging tree, Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is generally planted as part of native hedging mixture, consisting of species, such as Hawthorn, Hazel, Dog Rose, Elder and Crab Apple, but there is no reason why it cannot be planted as a pure Blackthorn hedge, especially if you are after year round interest and animal hedging.
A dark barked, attractive and useful hedging species because it forms a dense, very spiny hedge which produces masses of small white flowers from February to March (among the first to flower) before the leaves in spring, and secondly, because it produces large numbers of 10-15 mm wide juicy fruits called drupes in Autumn. The fruits are commonly known as sloes and despite their succulent appearance are very bitter. Telling your unknowing partner that they are very sweet and well worth putting several in your mouth at a time will possibly get you a slap and the silent treatment for a while but the face they pull is very well worth it. Drupes or Sloes will have a waxy covering the purple to blue fruits and are ripe in Autumn when they are closer to a shiny black. Blackthorn fruits have a green flesh with a stone inside. Purists will say to harvest after the first frost as this makes them sweeter by reducing the tannins and this is usually after October. You can reproduce this effect by placing in the freezer.
Blackthorn is a popular choice for animal borders because of the 6cm long thorns and for the same reason, security hedging. Also popular for those wishing to make preserves, Sloe Gin and other edible products.
Should you have particularly poor soil then consider planting Blackthorn as a pioneer species. These are trees or plants that do particularly well in poor conditions and over a period of time with their leaf fall, attracting other animals etc contribute to the fertility of its surroundings allowing other species to prosper.
Blackthorn plants grown outside the UK can have different flowering and fruiting times making them out of phase with local wildlife. All Blackthorn purchased from Trees Online are UK grown in North UK making them used to harsher conditions.
Planting Prunus Spinosa Blackthorn/Slow Trees
Suitable for coastal planting, dry and wet sites, exposed and hostile. Now we need to clarify a few points here, as we know we will be challenged on them. What we mean by coastal is a normal garden or field that experiences coastal winds most likely laden with salt spray. We do not mean Submarine window boxes! A dry site is usually one in the South of England and/or has very light/sandy soil with little organic matter in it. A wet site will be one that retains a lot of water in the soil after a heavy downpour. Exposed and hostile sites are those that are subject to high winds, weather extremes and poor quality soil.
Blackthorn is not a fan of shade so the more sun it can get the better. It will be ok in partial shade, just better results to be had in the sun.
Considered a fully UK hardy plant (zone 4 which means down to minus 30 degrees centigrade) , it can be planted almost anywhere without major issue. This statement excludes Army artillery ranges, secret Agent Orange testing facilities and other similar environments.
How many Blackthorn hedging trees do I need for hedging?
We recommend planting 6 plants per metre using the double staggered hedge method as this gives you a thicker hedge and if a plant dies, the gap can be covered over somewhat.
Maintaining Prunus Spinosa Blackthorn/Slow Trees
Prune to shape and/or maintain height and width. Should you leave Blackthorn to its own devices, expect a single tree to grow to around 4m at a rate of around 30cm per year.
One of the downsides to Blackthorn trees is that they sucker readily which means it will spread. This can be a good thing in the early years as it will thicken out your hedge however after that, you may need to give it a good pruning just to keep it in shape.
General Prunus Spinosa Blackthorn/Slow Trees Information
Blackthorn hedges can take a real beating and still bounce back. Forest fire and over pruning will only slow the hedge down and it laughs in the face of Honey Fungus. Well we say laugh, it can certainly muster a wry smile and mutter an insult under its breath.
Blackthorn trees are native to Western Asia, Northwest Africa and Europe.
Should you forget to prune it, expect an individual tree to reach 5m tall.
Blackthorn trees are a good choice for firewood as it is slow burning and emits little smoke.
Over 150 insects are supported by the Blackthorn. We mean as in food, not Maintenance payments.
Apparently a five thousand year old mummy was found with Sloes inside his stomach which is not really reassurance for Sloes being edible!
Birds such as Wood Pigeon, Whitethroat, Finches and Blackbird use the hedge as a nesting site.
The flowers and leaves of the Blackthorn tree are edible. Some cultures dry the leaves and use them for tea, apparently good for diarrhoea. Sloe Syrup has been used for rheumatic problems and fight flu and the Sloes made into a tooth whitening paste (now we know where Colgate get their marketing ideas from!)
The leaves and seed contain very low levels of Hydrogen Cyanide, too low to cause any major harm however Hydrogen Cyanide has been shown to improve respiration and digestion.
It is rumoured that the crown of thorns for Jesus was made of Blackthorn and that bringing Blackthorn blossom into the house would bring about an imminent death. Before anyone asks, we do not know how effective or accurate this is before you start making a floral Blackthorn display for your mother in law.
When the high tanning content bark is been boiled in an alkali, it produces a yellow dye.
The Sloes are juiced and used to make an astringent face mask.
19th Century land owners buried bundles of Blackthorn, Gorse and Elm to improve land drainage.
Due to its ornamental properties and hardness, Blackthorn wood has been used extensively in the manufacture of walking stick handles and other such ornate carvings. It takes a real shine to polishing (pun intended)