Sloe (Blackthorn)

The sloe or blackthorn is a common plant native to the UK that has a wide range and it found from Siberia to the Mediterranean and Iran. It is a deciduous shrub that can grow up to 3m in height. It is often used as part of a hedge or as an understory in dappled shade or at the edges of a woodland garden. The fruit is used to make jellies jams and drinks like sloe gin. With visual interest and a yield, sloes are of interest to those who are interested in creating a layered permaculture garden. Parts of the shrubs have a whole range of other applications.

Growing Sloe/ Blackthorn:

Blackthorn grow well in dappled or partial shade or full sun. They can grow in light, medium or heavy soils though they prefer it to be moist but well-draining. Almost all soil pH levels, except acid peats, are fine, these plants can even grow in very alkaline soils and maritime conditions. It is very useful as a hedge in exposed maritime conditions, where other hedging plants may sometimes struggle.

Prunus spinosa is in flower with a white-pinkish blossom from March to April and the seeds ripen in October. Sometimes blackthorn will also occasionally flower during a cold-snap which is sometimes colloquially known as a 'blackthorn winter'. Plants can be grown from seed or from suckers planted in the spring and new bushes should be weeded and mulched in spring to help them to establish themselves.

If you wish to create a wind-break or hedge from blackthorn you should plant the young shrubs at a 45 degree angle in two or three staggered rows laid in opposite directions. The shrub can grow to up to around 4m. It has very hard wood with blackish coloured bark and a tangle of branches and twigs that end in a thorn.

Birds love the sloe fruits so you may find that that begin to take more than their fair share. If birds are eating all of your sloes before you get a look in you may have to put up nets to stop them. If you would like to eat the astringent fruits, wait until after they have been exposed to a few frosts, which will make the taste a little less harsh.

Why grow sloe/ blackthorn in the garden?

The blackthorn is an extremely useful shrub. It is well known for attracting wildlife and pollinating insects and so is perfect for a wildlife garden or hedgerow.

The fruit is of use in condiments and, most famously, to flavour gin. In France the unripe berries are picked like an olive and in some places, fruit can be eaten raw once the frost has tempered its astringency. Both fruits and leaves are sometimes used for herbal teas.

The wood of the blackthorn is also very useful. It is a hard, strong wood which can be used to make many objects, including walking sticks. It is very highly prised for this purpose because the gnarled and twisted shapes made by the branches are highly decorative and interesting.

Quick Facts

Latin Name
Prunus Spinosa