Black locust

Black locust

Black locust trees are recognized by their compound leaves and pairs of spines where each leaf grows from the stem.  Their fragrant white flowers in early summer are prized by North American beekeepers as nectar for honeybees.   They produce an excellent hardwood and are harvested to make wooden fence posts.  Black locust trees love a humid climate.  This prolific tree grows quickly and is sometimes used in reforestation efforts.  It can reach heights of 100 feet, but is often smaller.  It creates 4-inch legumes containing poisonous seeds.  Children have been known to be poisoned by chewing the extensive roots and inner bark.


Although the trees produce an abundance of seeds, natural germination is uncommon because of the unusually tough seed coatings.  Natural reproduction usually occurs by root suckering and stump sprouting.  In fact, their root shoots are so extensive, that it is often difficult to control these trees in the wild.

Propagation By Seed – Black locust trees begin seed production at about six years.  Seedpods are produced September through April.  They are ripe when these pods become brown and dry.  If they split easily, the seeds inside are ready for planting.  The seeds can be planted right away, but can be kept fresh in the refrigerator in an airtight bag or container for a few years if needed.

Put the seeds in hot water and let them soak there for a full day.  Select containers for your plantings that have superior drainage.  Use a lightweight potting mix containing organic ingredients like peat moss.  Plant seeds about 1 inch deep.  Of course, water thoroughly immediately after planting, and continue to keep the soil moist being careful not to overwater. 

Put your container in full to partial sunlight once it germinates.  It can be transplanted to its permanent location once its root system is well-established in the pot.  This should be approximately four months from germination.

Propagation By Cutting –The natural ability of the black locust tree to reproduce via its root shoots can be taken advantage of, if you have access to a mature, dormant tree in early spring.  Dig around the root until you find where it divides into two smaller shoots.  Find one that is about a half an inch thick, and expose it to its end for easy cutting.  Cut them flat on the far side from the trunk where it is too thin

How to Plant Black Locust Seeds

Allow black locust seed pods to ripen on the tree. They are ready to harvest in September or October when the seed pods turn dark brown and have started to open.

Remove the seeds from the pod by breaking the pod in two (run your fingernail along the seam that is showing the split) and using your finger to pop the seeds from the dried pod. Removing these seeds is like shelling peas. Each dried pod has 4 to 10 small brown seeds.

Sow seeds in October or store them until the following spring (see the tips section for directions on storing black locust seeds). Seeds need to be scarified (the seed coat softened to allow the seedling to emerge) before planting. Do not scarify the seeds until you are ready to plant them.

Place the seeds in a heat-proof glass or plastic container. Pour boiling water over the seeds and cover the container tightly with plastic wrap. Remove the seeds when the water is cool enough for you to place your hand into the container.

·Use a nail clipper, alternatively, or a small sharp knife to nick one end of the seeds instead of soaking them in boiling water. Do not cut the end of the seed off; rather, make a nick deep enough to break open the seed coating without damaging the tissue of the embryo inside. This is more time consuming, but you will have better results with this method.

Sow seeds in an out of the way place in your garden. Cover with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. Space seeds 6 to 12 inches apart. Seeds should germinate in seven days.

Plant your seedlings in their final location when they are 6 to 12 inches tall.


·  Black locust trees are an excellent source of spring nectar for bees. You can store black locust seeds for up to 10 years by removing the seeds from the seed pod, placing them in an air-tight container and storing at 32 to 41 degrees F.

·  Seeds are poisonous if ingested. Black locust trees can be invasive. Plant them in areas where they can colonize at will without interfering with your garden. Black locust trees have shallow roots, which makes it hard to transplant older trees.

How to Plant Black Locust Trees

Dig a hole where you want to plant the black locust tree. Make the hole three times the diameter of the container or root ball of your black locust tree. Dig the hole to the same depth as the container, but loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole with the end of your spade or shovel.

Fill the hole with water. As the water drains away, it will moisten the soil to a deeper level.

Lay the black locust tree on its side and remove the pot. The container should pull off easily, but if the tree has become root bound, you will need to cut the pot away with a sharp knife.

Loosen the roots with your fingers. This will help the roots to grow out and grow down deep into the soil, instead of continuing to circle the root ball.

Place the tree into the hole after the water has drained away. Begin to push the soil back into the hole. Tamp the soil down around the root ball to eliminate air pockets.

Water your black locust tree thoroughly. During the first month or two, water deeply once a week. Keep the soil most, but not soggy. After that, cut back on the watering.


·  The black locust tree is a poisonous plant to horses. The tree produces an extremely potent phytotoxin called robin

.·  Some people consider the black locust tree invasive.

Since the wood of black locust is strong, hard, and extremely durable, it is extensively utilized for fencing, mine timbers, and landscaping ties. This tree also serves as a good erosion control plant on critical and highly disturbed areas, due to its ease of establishment, rapid early growth and spread, and soil building abilities. It has limited value in wildlife food plots, but provides excellent cover when planted in spoil areas. Due to its showy aromatic flower, it has often been planted as an ornamental, but this practice should be discouraged due to the potential for spread by root suckers. This species has been planted outside its natural range, and can crowd out other plants, particularly in sandy soils.

Required Growing Conditions

Black locust’s native range follows the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania to Alabama, and a secondary population exists primarily in the Ozark Mountains. Black locust is adapted to a wide variety of soil types, but grows best on sites that are deep, well drained, and derived from limestone. This tree tolerates a pH range of 4.6 to 8.2. It is commonly found on south and west slopes in West Virginia.

Cultivation and Care

Due to the ease of vegetative reproduction, black locust is seldom grown from seed. If seedling production is desirable, the hard seed coat must first be reduced or broken to allow germination; this can be done with sulfuric acid or hot water. Once treated, the seed can be sown on raised nursery beds or directly on to field sites. Black locust seed combined in grass and legume mixtures can be broadcast, drilled, hydroseeded, or aircraft dispersed. Limit locust to 3 pounds per acre in such mixtures.Black locust is easily propagated from softwood, hardwood, and root cuttings. Preparing 6 to 12 inch hardwood cuttings, collected while dormant is often the most effective procedure. This form of cutting responds well to root-inducing chemicals. Grafting is also a viable propagation option to maintain varietal integrity.

General Upkeep and Control

During establishment, protection from weeds and deer are the main management priorities. Due to the rapid early growth, two years of protection are usually sufficient. Pre-plant site preparation to control weeds with tillage or herbicides is recommended, with continued weed control after planting. Where exceptional deer pressure exists, tubes or mesh sleeves may be required. Once established this species will not require active management unless straight trunks are desired for fence posts- see Pests for information about controlling locust borers.

Pests and Potential Problems There are 2 primary insects inflicting damage on black locust: locust leaf miner and black locust borer. The leaf miner attacks the tree in spring, turning the leaves brown by mid-summer or early fall. Overall tree growth is impacted, but not seriously. The larvae of the locust borer carve tunnels through the trunk of the tree, weakening it enough for wind breakage. Planting on good quality sites or in conjunction with other hardwood species and shading trunks will discourage infestation by locust borers. Heart rot is the only noteworthy disease effecting black locust.

How to Prune Black Locust


Step 1

Prune during the winter dormancy to cause the least injury to the tree. To be practical, some pruning must be done throughout the growing season as well. A seedling could grow--on average--to about 50 inches in height the first season. Sucker shoots might be even more vigorous.

Step 2

Only prune young trees if limbs are damaged. Black locust quickly grows tall with a naturally high crown. As height increases and most limbs are above head level, lower limbs can be clipped off. Use limb loppers to remove low limbs at the junction with the main trunk. Heavy loppers could be needed even for small branches because black locust ranks as one of the hardest North American woods.

Step 3

Watch for sucker shoots emerging near the tree as the black locust matures. Suckers sprout from the tree's roots and unless clipped off regularly will eventually match the parent tree in size. With limb loppers cut the sucker shoots off just below ground level--leaving even a small knob of this tough wood could ruin a lawn mower if caught by the blade.

Step 4

Mow the area beneath the black locust regularly. Lawn mowers could be the best defense against the tree's root suckers. If left alone, root suckers come back with a vengence--usually studded with thorns the next time. Small green shoots can be controlled by mowing, but occasionally the clusters of short spikes that remain should be clipped short by hand.

Step 5

Repeat pruning of low branches and root suckers as necessary through the season. Both branches and suckers will regrow, and second or third growth will almost certainly bear thorns. Wear eye and hand protection against the spikes and be sure to remove clippings from the yard before mowing. Thorns on suckers and twigs could puncture the tires of a riding mower.

Light: Sun,Part Sun

Zones: 4-9

Plant Type: Tree

Plant Height: To 80 feet tall

Plant Width: To 50 feet tall

Flower Color: White, Pink/Rose

Bloom Time: Summer

Landscape Uses: Beds & Borders,Privacy,Slopes

Special Features: Flowers,Attractive Foliage,Fragrant,Drought Tolerant,Easy to Grow

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