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Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, also known as Sloe, is a tough, thorny, animal-proof country hedging plant that is covered in white blossom in early spring, before the leaves appear. It is suitable for most soils, apart from chalk.
Blackthorn is a big shrub that will make a solid looking hedge up to about 4 metres tall.
Blackthorn hedge plants are only delivered bareroot, during winter (Nov-March).
Choosing a size:
When you are ordering Blackthorn plants for a hedge, we generally recommend that you use plants that are graded at 40/60cms or 60/80cms. These young, unbranched plants are called whips; they are cheaper than large plants, easier to handle and they will establish well in poor conditions. Use larger plants when you need a tall hedge quickly, or if you are going to let them grow into trees. All our hedge plants are measured by their height in centimetres above the ground (the roots aren't measured).
Spacing a Blackthorn hedge:
Plant Blackthorn hedging at 3 plants per metre, 33cms apart.
You can also plant Blackthorn at 5 plants per metre in a staggered double row, with 33 cms between each plant and 40cms between the rows.
General description of Blackthorn plants:
Blackthorn is a large, deciduous native shrub. In late February and early March, the blackish branches are hidden underneath dense clouds of fluffy white flowers. The mid-sized, dark green, oval leaves emerge after the flowers and the fruit, called sloes or sloe berries, ripen in late autumn, with a bloom of pale blue powder over the dark purple skin.
Blackthorn hedges produce dense suckers from ground level, forming a dense, impenetrable thicket. It is an ideal plant for a hedge mix intended to contain sheep and goats. However, its long thorns present a small risk the eyes of larger, less agile animals like cows and horses: hawthorn is a safe alternative. Blackthorn is commonly planted as a barrier hedge around allotments, as it is both secure and produces useful fruit.
A Blackthorn hedge makes a home for a mass of wildlife: nightingales nest in it and a range of endangered moth and butterfly larvae eat the leaves, including the Emperor Moth.
History & uses of Prunus spinosa
Blackthorn is much prized for walking sticks and only blackthorn or oak wood is used to make a real Irish sail eille (shillelagh in English). In Southern Ireland, County Kerry, there is a town called Killarney, which means "church of sloes".
It makes good firewood.
Prunus spinosa is self-fertile and Sloe berries are traditionally used for infusing with gin, vodka and brandy, but they also make good jam. In colder parts of the country where frosts come early, you can try leaving ripe Sloes on the branch; a touch of frost will make them surprisingly sweet.