goodbye maples, hello sunburst honeylocust?

mary4b(4b WI)May 14, 2013

I had two large maples taken down last year and now have blasting sun on my front walk garden.

I'd given up on the hostas in that garden because of the maple trees and but I think I'll be able to put them back in there, as originally planned...only with much nicer varieties now!

I'm about to purchase two sunburst honey locusts...I love their spring foliage. Does anyone have issues growing hostas under them? That could be a game changer.

Thank you! Mary

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

when i was shopping trees.. 12 years back .. with hosta in mind..

van wade would not sell me locust.. and I THINK ... he suggested they were worse than maples.. with their surface roots.. suckers.. and seedlings ...

BUT!!!! .... i vaguely recall there are two kind of locust ... neither great.. but one, much worse than the other ...

the 6 foot oaks he sold me back then.. are going on 30 feet.. and their growth rate.. believe it or not.. is close to maple ... dont get confused with the old wives tales of them being slow growing .... i highly suggest you consider such.. if they are zone appropriate ...

the peeps in the tree forum may be able to suggest the right one for your location ....


    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 7:17AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mary4b(4b WI)

Thank you, Ken.
I do know that native locusts are weak, super fast growing and sucker everywhere.
However, that is different than the honeylocust hybrids.

I'm hoping someone here on the forum will have specific info on growing hostas beneath a Sunburst honey locust.

I will check into the oaks you happen to know which oak you purchased? I will check the tree forums, as well. My soil has a lot of clay and there are not a lot of oaks growing near me, so I'm not sure they are the right tree for me. (If I remember correctly, they like a slightly more sandy soil?)

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 11:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I can't much about Honey Locust except that my neighbor has had one for many years and it is pretty. The Roseville Arboretum has had some but they are mostly defoliated by the little green caterpillars each year. Some have died. Apparently they are a caterpillar favorite. The Arboretum is not using chemicals to control. My sister has one of the new hybrid Locust but the dear got after it so bad this winter, stripping bark off, she doesn't know how it will do. I don't think she will plant anything on under it this year, but if it survives, she will next year.

On the other hand her new Lilac tree and Dakota Birch were untouched by the deer. She also grows Oak and gardens under them. I have 2 Maples, one of which I pray for lightning to hit so my DH can part with it. I plan on replacing with a male Gingko. They have nice spring and fall color.

Like you said - hopefully someone with more direct experience will answer.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 12:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jan_on zone 5b

Mary - We have two honey locusts, one a Sunburst in the front yard facing west, harsh location, no hostas under it (yet!), and the other a Shademaster (slightly larger/faster growing) in the back yard with lots of hostas cozied right up to it, including 'Great Expectations'. The trees are 37 years old, and we love the way they cast dappled shade, and their leaves just disappear into the lawn when they drop in fall. Honey locusts are used a lot as street trees throughout the city, and they are a favourite of landscapers as well. They have no pests of which I am aware, and except for occasionally removing a limb or two when they overhang the roof they have required no special care or maintenance.

Here are 'Great Expectations' and friends under the locust.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 2:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We have only native locusts down here,and they are just plain ugly,but I have no hostas planted under them. Jan,nice little planting area! I see GE,and Liberty,and a couple Heucheras in there. I guess that's a good place for hostas! I even garden under a red maple in my garden,and,just like you have them growing right up to the trunk of it. Good job! Phil

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 2:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It seems you have some good info on those locusts.

Just a FYI, there are oaks that do well in acid soil and oaks that do well in alkaline soil. White Oaks don't grow well here, but do well in East Texas where they have sandy, acid soil. Red oaks do well here in our alkaline (and clay) soil and also in East Texas. So, if Oaks interest you, you can probably find one that would do well in your environment.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 7:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mary4b(4b WI)

Thank you everyone, I really appreciate it. Jan, your pic is lovely! I did buy two Sunbursts, and will update here should I ever have a problem with them with hostas. It may be that I have many years before a problem might develop with roots, but Jan's pic sure does indicate that things may go very smoothly.
I will look into oaks as well...I still have 2 more large maples to come down, and a huge spruce...I sure am sorry about that, but it got sick and is now an eyesore.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 10:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Mary, stay far far away from any locust tree.

Truly, that is no jest.

Many reasons for this attitude.
My DH had a house in Massachusetts on LOCUST ROAD. Tell you anything right there? Yes, it was surrounded by LOCUSTS. Like a PLAGUE of locusts, in the form of TREES.

Well, they send out runners. Like, maybe 50 feet out, and they begin a new locust tree. ROOTS? Oh my yes! If erosion is your problem, then a locust might be your friend. Also, besides the runners, they have to be figured into the labor cutting them out in order to plant anything. Which says, something that dense would soon regrow into your hard dug planting spot.

But no hosta gardener in his right mind would willingly assume the ignominy of PLANTING a honey locust....YEAH, it's that bad.

They are messy. They drop little things every season of the year. Even in winter, the branches break for any reason at all. They drop spent blooms, worms and masses of fine leaves that make cleanup a nightmare. Slippery if massed on a sloping path after a rain. Liberal with the pollen too, so consider allergies? And mess on car windows?

It was always a big maintenance problem for meticulous DH, and I learned what I know from watching him. Just one woman's observation.

If you want an alternative tree, and you're willing to wait for it to grow, then choose the ginkgo biloba, the Maidenhair Tree. It is the most civilized tree for gardens. It turns a beautiful butter yellow when fall arrives, and after giving you time to admire it for a couple of weeks, suddenly almost at one time, all the leaves fall....leaving a mass of melted yellow butter around the base of the tree. I always thought of the pile of yellow leaves as the melted tiger, chasing Little Black Sambo around a tree, and got so hot he melted into tiger butter.

So if they fall all at once, you know you can clean it up ONCE and be done, be neat and ready for winter.

Plus, the ginkgo is a beautiful green color, and equally lovely with his (literally, you get a MALE ginkgo) yellow fall color, distinctive leaf shape, neat habits, and polite ways. They are good street trees, because of fewer lateral roots, they tend to go deep not out, and so can be planted near buildings and paved streets without damaging structures.

Start with as mature a specimen as you can find. You won't be sorry.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 1:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
MadPlanter1 zone 5

Oh, Mocc, you're showing your age. Only us "senior" types know about Little Black Sambo - the PC rules have wiped it off the face of the earth. I never remember thinking it was racist, I just remembered the tiger butter and pancakes, and how clever Sambo was to trick the tigers.

Make sure you get a male ginkgo if you do get one. The females have a stinky fruit. We have one planted a long way from the house. It started as a 6" seedling and we still don't know what sex it is, so I didn't want it within smelling distance.

We have wild honey locusts - nasty, thorny things. I'd say they should all die, but the seed pods are a good food source, and a lot of animals find homes in their hollow trunks.

We planted a Schumard Oak about 12 years ago, and it's already a good sized tree.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 4:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

gingko grow very slow in my z5 MI ...

speed of growth might be a southern thing ...


    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 7:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think we should be very clear on the specific locust being referred to. Yes some locusts are very messy with their pods and send out enormous numbers of runners and seedlings ... but the Sunburst Locust is well known in northern areas as a very well behaved but very tough and resilient tree.

It grows fully mature to about half the size of the enormous oak trees around here, is way less messy than an oak and will I believe provide excellent shade for hostas. It is a bit slow to leaf out in spring (it is just coming now here into leaf) so watch the early spring heatwaves and bright sun on the hostas.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 7:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ken, ginkgos are slow growing here as well. There may be a little more in our climate than in yours, but compared to other species of good shade trees, the ginkgo is among the slowest growing. I guess that is why people with need for instant shade walk on by and choose something faster growing. Awesome tree though.

Dougald, I responded the first time after reading only the original post. Now I realize there is a difference. I'd have discovered my mistake sooner IF my Durr tree books were not in storage at the moment.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 10:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jan_on zone 5b

Yup what Doug says. No runners, no pods, and no insect pests on either of mine. Yes - late to leaf out in spring, but lovely dappled shade for sitting under and growing under. And yes those tiny little leaves do get tracked into the house in fall, and they do get trapped in door mats etc., but they don't require raking (hubby just mows and bags them along with the last grass cuttings for great composting). And yes they do produce some small broken twigs on the lawn after a storm. And they do have an informal shape, so not suitable if you require symmetrical! Are there totally carefree trees? I love ginkgoes, but they wouldn't produce shade here in my lifetime.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 1:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mary4b(4b WI)

Thank you for your help everyone, I did buy 2 Sunburst Honey Locusts and I will keep you informed. There are many of them planted in my area in parking lots, so I have observed them for quite some time, and I think they are great, low-maintenance trees in our area. There is a mature one down the road from me, and I have never seen a lick of storm damage on it, and I live on a highway where storm damage on large trees is commonplace.
The guy at the tree farm also told me that the wood on the Sunburst is much harder than the Skyline (the other one that sells a lot in my area.) His knowledge was based on trimming many a tree over the last 10 years.
Jan, your photo was the deciding point for me. And besides, I love the way these trees look. We have a gray house and the leaves will look great with it.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2013 at 9:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
becky_ia(z4 IA)

I have both kinds of the locust you are discussing-one Shademaster and one Sunburst and a Purple Robe Locust. I love them all and agree with all the positive comments here. They are finally large enough to start putting hosta under them and I do not see any problems. One is probably 15 years old (Shademaster) and it has never thrown any suckers up around it. So I don't believe you will have any problems either.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2013 at 11:09AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Does anyone here know about the allergy effect of the hybrid variety (thornless, seedless) vs. the basic honey locust? I currently have a pink silk that is deseased and ready for the green waste. I love the canopy but am exhausted with the constant maintenance. This looks like the perfect replacement what with the low maintenance and quick growth. I have a gingko in my side yard but it is a very slow grower. I would like to see shade sometime in my life. Also, it is located center stage in my back yard directly over the deck. I presently keep a cordless blower to remove branches, pink silk flowers, seed pods, leaves and whatever else this tree decides to drop on my table. Oh, I also have two large umbrellas to attempt a cleaner dining spot. My concern regarding allergies is more for my niece living next door - within 20 feet of the spot and my son-in-law who suffer. I really don't want to introduce something that will exacerbate their problems.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 1:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b


Trees like all flowering plants produce pollen. Those trees that are wind pollinated have to produce lots of pollen which is carried through the air. Those trees which are pollinated by insects produce less pollen in the air. Honey Locust, as you might guess from its name, is pollinated by insects, so it should produce less airborne pollen than Pines, Maples or Oaks. Sounds like a good tree for you.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 4:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
maribeth(south PA)

I took a biology class one summer and the prof spent one day on trees. He highly recommended the sunburst locust or the shademaster as the best shade trees for a yard for many reasons. mine is 35 years old but very thin foliage.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 8:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bernd ny zone5(5)

I planted a sunburst locust 20-25 years ago, cut some of the lower branches off. It is a beautiful tree, as others wrote here too, beautiful yellow in spring. There is not much in dropped branches, only little ones rarely. Shade is filtered, small leaves falling in fall is no problem. I have h.m.'Aureomarginata growing under since 2009 without any problems, also other hostas. A lilac bush though has troubling runners. Bernd

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 5:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I planted a 6' tall Shademaster locust in the fall. The sapling
was topped off for shipping. Can this tree still grow into a single trunk tree or will it have several trunks starting at where it was topped off?

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 12:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I like honey locusts. on my old property I had a large one. Good dappleled shade for hostas, not to much root interference.
The biggest downside was the green aphid infestations it was prone to required yearly spraying with Malathion to keep it under control. This may not be a problem in your area.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 6:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gardens1(5b ON)

As previously stated, their are two types of locust trees being discussed here. The type known for its fragrant flowers, messy seed pods, broken branches and troublesome roots that have a strong tendency to send out runners wherever they please, are robinia pseudoacacia, while the 'other' type, which includes the previously mentioned 'Sunburst' and 'Shademaster' is gleditsia triacanthos. The gleditsia is much better behaved, lending itself to being a more welcome garden guest, and is also thornless, whereas the robinias can be quite thorny. 'Sunburst' itself is a fruitless variety.

Toomnywds, if your tree has been topped, you will need to train a new leader for it, or it will develop several leading shoots, which can, with age, make the tree more susceptible to storm damage due to awkward growing angles. Select a strong growing side shoot near the top of your tree, gently but firmly push it upright, and fasten it into place, If there is a stub left on your tree, you can use this to anchor your new leader to, or if none is left, fasten a straight stick firmly (using twine) to the trunk of your tree, then your 'new' leader can be fastened to this stick, again with twine. You will have to leave this in place for approximately one growing season, then you can remove the twine and supporting stick. Just monitor them, to make sure it is tight enough to provide support, but not so tight as to damage the bark. When your new leader is strong enough to continue growing upright on its own, the supports can be removed. Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 5:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mary4b(4b WI)

I have just logged in after this brutal winter, looking forward to the new gardening season! Was surprised to see that this post had continued, so I thought I'd share that my huge new Sunbursts LOOK like they've made it through the winter. I know they will leaf out very our area they usually leaf out at the end of May. I'll try to get pics for you as the lawn dries up enough from the winter melt.
One of the trees came with a lot of lichen on it and having put out a birdfeeder with home-made suet balls, I now have downy and hairy woodpeckers visiting all day long. They hang out in the tree and pick at the lichen (where I understand that a lot of insects live) and then they do fly downs to my feeder. It's been very exciting. One of the Hairy Woodpeckers, we've named "Hairy" because he seems pretty normal. Another is named "Look Around" because he spends most of his time looking around, whether at the feeder or in the tree...he does very little pecking, I wonder how he maintains his chubby figure. I did see they are making some scars in the bark (must be Hairy!), so I probably will stop feeding them when the weather warms up so that they don't do too much damage to my new tree.
Next step is to put my hostas back! I'd had to remove them because of the lack of shade...and before that, the huge maple didn't allow them to thrive. It's going to be a pleasure to re-design that gardenbed and have hostas there again!

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 10:04AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
josephines123 z5 ON Canada
Always trying something new !
Well, if all your prime planting spots are full.. You...
Hosta Fragrants 2014
I am having computer problems today so I am on my laptop....
ilovetogrow z9 Jax Florida
New arrivals
It dawned mild and sunny here in Wales today. The postman...
tiddisolo z8 Wales UK
Hosta Tiara 2014
Question: There is an ancient invention still used...
ilovetogrow z9 Jax Florida
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™