Tree Questions

When Do Honey Locust Trees Lose Their Leaves?

Despite being nearly the perfect shade tree, the honey locust tends to only have its leaves around for a short time.

When do honey locust trees lose their leaves? Honey locust trees are one of the first trees in the fall to start losing their leaves. Once a honey locust tree starts to turn yellow, you can expect the entire tree to lose its leaves in two to three weeks. Leaves start to turn yellow when nighttime lows dip into the 40s.

I’ll show you everything you need to know about honey locust trees at this time of year: from timing to cleanup and more.

What to Expect About a Honey Locust Tree Losing Leaves

The leaves of a honey locust tree truly have a short life-span. One of the last trees to leaf out in spring, and one of the first trees to lose their leaves in the fall, it’s best to enjoy your dappled shade while it lasts.

How to Look for Early Signs of Leaves Falling

Honey locust trees tend to have a small patch of their canopy turn yellow early in the season. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

If you notice that part of your honey locust looks like that, you can expect for the leaves to be shed completely in the next two to three weeks.

In our region (6a USDA zone for Chicago), we typically see our honey locust trees start to lose their leaves in late September or early October, depending on the weather for that year. This means that nighttime temperatures have steadily been in the 50s, and may have dipped down into the 40s on occasion.

As trees lose their leaves in accordance to temperature changes, you can expect your honey locust trees to start losing their leaves once you reach similar temperatures.

Leaves will start to fall as soon as part of the tree starts turning yellow, so you can expect the leaves to fall quickly. Here’s what the fallen leaves and branches look like:

Notice that you’ll have a mix of fallen leaflets and some complete compound leaves.

How Long it Takes a Honey Locust to Lose Their Leaves

Once your honey locust tree starts to lose leaves, you can expect that all of the leaves will have fallen in a few weeks.

Here’s about what you can expect the honey locust tree to look like once the leaves have fully turned yellow:

This is the point when you can expect your lawn or garden to be littered with the bright yellow leaves and leaflets.

Leaves Fall Around Same Time as Purple Seedpods

It’s also worth noting that the honey locust leaves drop around the same time that they drop their purple seed pods. Some domesticated varieties of honey locust trees are bred to not have the seedpods, but I believe the majority should have them.

There’s no two ways around it: between the tiny yellow leaflets and the purple seedpods, the honey locust tree makes a pretty good mess. You can expect a mature honey locust tree to drop several hundred seedpods.

If you’re looking to avoid the additional work of pulling up honey locust seedlings the next year, you might want to clean up the seedpods sooner than later. The seedpods are a food to a wide variety of wild animals, and they contain small seeds ready to start the next generation of trees. As such, the longer that animals have the opportunity to eat the pulp of the seedpod, the more trees they’ll accidentally plant.

If you happen to be like me and don’t mind some weeds here or there (my wife might consider that a bit of an understatement), then no need to feel any rush. Just enjoy your beautiful fall days!

What Kind of Clean-Up to Expect

It’s a bit tedious, but the clean-up of honey locust leaves isn’t too bad at all. First of all, they drop in the earliest days of fall, where the days are still a bit warm but you get those crisp fall nights. Any chore that gets me outside at this time of year is more than welcome.

Here’s the part that makes it a bit tedious: the small leaflets to tend to get left behind in the grass. I don’t think this really has an impact on the grass as long as you leave piles of them on your grass, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

Our lawn in our backyard is rather small, so I usually prefer to handle our honey locust leaves and seedpods manually with a rake. You can definitely use a leaf blower fitted with the vacuum attachment, but I find that it takes longer than I’d wish to finish that way.

You might also consider bagging them up with a lawn mower if you use a mechanical mower with a bagging attachment.

Uses for Honey Locust Leaves

Before we drag the bags of leaves to the curb for the city to haul away, consider a couple of alternative uses.

If you have garden beds that are protected by the wind you might want to save your bagged leaves for use as a mulch. These leaves can make an effective mulch on all sorts of garden beds, but perhaps the best use is as a mulch on vegetable gardens.

As anyone with a vegetable garden knows, mulches that consist of large leaves or heavy debris like woodchips are problematic on most parts of the vegetable garden. Simply put, delicate vegetable seedlings stand no chance against a wood chip and they can’t compete with large leaves like maple leaves that form dense mats that smother.

So if you have a vegetable garden, save your honey locust leaves for use as a mulch. I prefer to spread the leaves a few inches deep on my garden beds after I’ve raked them up. Then I like to spray them down a bit in order to prevent them from blowing away so easily. The timing of this all is fortuitous as I’m usually starting to wind down parts of my vegetable gardens at the same time I’m raking up the leaves.

If you don’t have a vegetable garden but happen to know a neighbor that does, ask them if they’d like your leaves for use as a mulch. They might really appreciate the gesture.

Concluding Thoughts

Being one of the first trees to drop their leaves, yellow honey locust leaflets on the ground is truly a bell-ringer for the fall season.

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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.