Tree Questions

Are Honey Locust Trees Messy?

Our backyard has a large honey locust tree that we’ve really come to appreciate.

Are honey locust trees messy? While honey locust trees drop both small leaflets from their compound leaves and purple seed pods, these drop around the same time in fall. The resulting mess is rather easy to clean-up, though the small leaflets are a bit difficult to manually rake.

With all of that said, read below to learn more about what you can expect from a honey locust tree.

Messes You Can Expect From a Mature Honey Locust Tree

There are three main ways that a honey locust tree may make a “mess” in your yard: the dropping of leaflets in the fall, the dropping of the purple seed pods in the fall, and the rise of small honey locust seedlings everywhere and anywhere.

Small Leaflets will Drop in the Fall

One of the main reasons why honey locusts provide such a nicely dappled shade is the fact that their compound leaves have tiny leaflets. Every fall these leaflets turn a pleasant shade of yellow and drop within a several week time period.

While these leaflets are generally easy to clean up, their small size makes it a bit difficult to rake up and bag manually. I haven’t tried it yet, but I believe that a leaf blower converted to the vac shredder option should pick up the small leaflets well enough.

Those like myself who aren’t so concerned about the appearance of their lawn will be more than happy to leave some of the small leaflets behind.

I have found that the leaflets of the honey locust tree make a great mulch on vegetable beds, as their small size reduces the likelihood that they smother a delicate vegetable seedling.

Purple Seedpods Will Drop in the Fall

Perhaps the feature that honey locust trees are best known for, you may be familiar with the purple pods that contain the honey locust seeds.

Similar to the way that oak trees shed their defective acorns before they release the healthy acorns, you can expect some defective seedpods around the end of summer. In my experience this is a pretty small percentage of the seedpods that are dropped early, but some drop every year for us.

Regarding the main event: you can expect a mature honey locust tree to drop a few hundred purple seed pods around the middle of fall. These seed pods are kind of a pain, but they clean up easily enough.

If you’re like myself and have a slight composting obsession, my observations are that the pods break down easily enough but seeds are incredibly durable. I’m lazy and don’t want to go through the work of sifting my finished compost, so I just accept that any bed with the compost I apply will have a few volunteer honey locust seedlings.

You May See Honey Locust Seedlings All Over

I’m not sure if this is the case for everyone, but one observation I’ve made is that I sure pull up a lot of honey locust seedlings each year. This could be my fault in case I’ve not cleaned the seedpods quickly enough, but I would bet that I would bet that I’ve pulled up several hundred seedlings in the last year.

The seedlings pull up rather easily, and it’s best to pull them up in the first year before they get a little more difficult to dig out.

There’s one important thing to keep in mind when pulling up honey locust seedlings: even if you have a thornless honey locust tree you would be wise to watch for thorns on the seedlings. As I can recall, I’ve only come across two honey locust seedlings with thorns, and I’ve pulled up several hundred seedlings.

Be Aware of Thornless Honey Locust Trees Developing Thorns

That sounds a little odd, right? Thornless plants developing thorns?

It turns out that it’s more than possible, and my layman’s understanding is that the domesticated thornless honey locust tree may occasionally develop thorns in the right circumstances.

close up picture of honey locust branches with thorned from domestic variety

The vast majority of the branches on our tree do not appear to have thorns, but we had some lower branches on the tree that had large thorns. I cut off the thorny branches earlier in the spring, and by fall I’ve noticed that the new branches from the same spot are sporting some nasty thorns as well.

I don’t think that it’s very common that a thornless honey locust tree develops thorns. Ever since noticing our thorny branches I’ve looked over dozens of the other honey locust trees in our neighborhood, and I’ve yet to find another thorny tree.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this post and got a thing or two out of it.

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By Drew Meulemans

I've long admired forests and devote much energy to learning about them and exploring. I enjoy sharing what I learn and wish to inspire others to do the same.