Growing Apples with black locust

We have lots of black locust groves on our land and you can tell that they deposit nitrogen in the soil because everything around them is growing like crazy. Does anyone plant nitrogen depositing crops alongside trees if they want to increase nitrogen in the soil? Would fire blight be a concern? I was looking at the post about mistakes made in orchard establishment and someone was saying they were too concerned about excessive nitrogen. Do any of you worry about over mulching?

Does it really matter if you aren’t trying to maximize production?


No, if you’re growing trees for fun, go for it. But in a orchard, the black locusts will take over if you let them. Control of locust sprouts would be a bigger job than tending the apples.


Yeah, my husband’s uncle had a house in the Catskills. And his neighbor had a black locust near the property line. When the uncle died, we drove up to visit the house and clear out personal effects. (I also took some peonies and cuttings from his apple tree.)

The entire front yard, not having been mown, was covered with spiny shoots of black locust. Where the roots had been stopped by a rock wall, there was a thicket, reminiscent of sleeping beauty. I couldn’t believe what a mess the yard was from that tree.

A friend removed a couple of black locusts from his yard, and spent the next three years removing tough spiny shoots from the still-live root system.

It’s a pretty tree, especially when it blooms in the spring. I enjoy it near the parking lot by my commuter rail train station – where almost all of the ground is paved, and there are maintenance people to keep the sprouts in check. But I won’t be planting it near any ground that I want to do anything else with, like walk on, or grow other plants.


We just cleared Black Locust from a small portion of our orchard site. 2 years later it’s still popping up as much as 30 yards away from where the trees stood. We regularly run the rotary cutter to keep them from growing back. Black Locust aggressively spreads and propagates by root. It’s not a good choice for companion planting.


I should probably start to clear some of them now from my future orchard site. Good advice.

aspen do the same here when cut down. i limited the amount of sprouts coming up by drilling holea just under the bark of the stump and fill those holes with undiluted herbicide. you will only get a few sprouts the spring after and not many. some dont sprout at all.

Hello I am a student studying Sustainable Food and Farming Systems at Purdue University and I have had a recent reading on coplanting of black locust in an Agroforestry model. I mention this because I have no in field experience with running an orchard, although I look forward to one day. The reading was Ken Mudge & Steve Gabriel. Historical Perspectives. Ch. 2 in Farming the
Woods (Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT; 2014) the author commented on the ability of Black and Honey Locusts to both fixate atmospheric nitrogen in the soil and mitigate synthetic fertilizer application and provide a food source for livestock. Black and Honey Locust seed pods are digestible by all types of livestock but sheep process them the easiest! They are an extremly nutritious food source for livestock, especially when compared to the common grain feed most livestock is fed in modern Ag. Therefore I think in a Permaculture model coplanting of Black/ Honey Locust with grazing livestock would be fantastic. Livestock would eliminate or at least limit the need for control of saplings.


I don’t see too many concerns planting locust in pastures.

Some of the books out there are actually authored by people having little actual farming experience and hours of having their minds filled up on ideas. So be careful copying all the advice of some of these books. Read diverse stuff, not just ‘sustainable’ ideas.


Welcome, and thank you for the great contribution!


I never thought of using a Black/Honey Locust in a prairie setting! If someone were to explore that option think it would be particularly useful to create a barrier of Locusts like in English grazing systems. This could prevent erosion, provide livestock with additional food sources, and increase Nitrogen in the soil, how interesting. I will say the reading by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel was talking about an orchard setting! The crop in the reading was primarily nut trees; pecans and chestnuts and the Black Locust was introduced to keep these high demanding nut trees fitted with available Nitrogen. Underneath the canopy of these rowed trees several crops and grazing animals were rotated annually to deal with Locust saplings.

I completely agree that theory is sometimes entirely useless in the field! It’s fun to dream of a perfect system but it can be difficult when faced with both economic and practical road-blocks.

Unfortunately, I do believe sustainability is absolutely necessary for the next generation of farming. There is no saying how long the Harbor system will be able to continue supplying synthetic fertilizers due to it’s massive intake of energy for a low product yield. Using the Harbor system to create synthetic fertilizers it takes an average of 10 calories of Natural Gas to produce 1 calorie of food in the United States. That being said the next generation will have to be creative on how to convert Nitrogen from the atmosphere without having to use fossil fuels! As a student of permanent agriculture I study how past and current cultures were able to farm the same land for thousands of years without outside input or degradation of the landscape.


they seem perfect for coppice hedges.


it would work well with the locusts until you cut it down. they send up hundreds of suckers from the roots. our aspen and poplar do the same here. you could mow some but there still would be many more in the rows. maybe if they were continuously coppiced, they wouldnt have the energy to send out suckers.


You’ll have to get creative using locusts or something if fertilizers are no longer produced from petroleum.

You’ll have to quit flushing and reuse that stuff … like Koreans do. Or you’ll have to pay 3 times as much or more per each meal you purchase. And each grocery shopping trip.
For cheap food cannot be farmed by the thousands of acres on mega-farms and not use
nitrogen fertilizers.


It’s be ok if the cattle grazed the locusts but not the apples! Or pecans.


I produce nitrogen by the gallon and as a matter of fact more than I can put to use. I don’t see the need to introduce a tree that may fix nitrogen while sucking up other minerals.


Hi Aiden - I have a couple of black locusts, a number of autumn olive, and a pea shrub in my orchard tree lines. All the trees are so variable in themselves I’m not sure I’d be able to tell if they make any particular difference but I like them for diversity and a fuller mixed line seems to do better. I cut back one pea shrub and throw the prunings on my grapes nearby until the leaves fall off (them remove the stems) just because it is intruding on the grapes. But the locust and olive prunings go on a brush pile because of the thorns. The locusts were planted in a poorer soil area (on purpose) and grew well, the autumn olives simply get to stay where they pop up if it’s a convienient spot, main pea shrubs are old (relatively) planted way before I had any “orchard design” ideas but I’ve transplanted a few suckers.

Pea shrub grows and suckers very slowly here. Autumn Olives are bird planted here and there but manageable with mowing and cutting, or digging, out. Black Locust does sucker but thus far not a problem as I mow a fairly wide path on either side of the tree line and cut off any others. I think locusts are marginally hardy here as we only have one small natural grove in a protected area of our woods and the first leaves always get frozen with late frosts (but come back). I wouldn’t plant a lot of them all over but suckering is no worse than the plums. (And nothing is as bad as an area I cut down a few established crabs. They carpeted the area so thick with regrowth even the grass was crowded out. I wouldn’t do that again!). The vegetation under the established locusts, olives, peashrubs are lush.

I don’t add anything to my trees except mulch (hay or grass clippings) until they are established. Then mow/trim underneath (mostly for vole control). I do have a fair amount of clover in the very mixed vegetation. They all grow and produce fine (given the vagaries of varieties and weather) (I have about 70 trees) Much earlier trees that got manure simply grew very thick hard-to-manage grass underneath. I no longer do that; I much prefer mixed vegetation. For me moderate and steady growth is better than fast and vigorous since the latter seems too often to result in more winterkill. Mostly I think I have a pretty healthy orchard. Works for me! And I wish you the best in your orchard. Sue


I just planted black and honey locust in my cattle pasture last year for silvopasturing. I got turned onto the idea because I noticed our brome is much taller and healthier near trees (ANY trees). We have edges of our pasture shaded by Siberian Elm, Hackberry, and wild Mulberry. The grass is consistently 2-3 times taller and thicker in these areas, despite hackberry being mildly allelopathic. It was this way even before we had cattle on it.

I can’t I’m good conscience plant Siberian Elm. Won’t do it. Locust are the next best. Mulberry is too dense of shade, and I’ll likely add a few hackberries as well, though their shade can be dense as well.

BTW, smooth brome can be very competitive. I had it invaded and kill raspberries, and I have a living fence of honey locust planted which barely grow 2” a year competing with brome. I think it will help keep the suckering in check. My cattle will also eat the suckers (I know, because they ate a few of my planted black locust).


Veterinarian here. All parts (leaves, twigs, bark, pods/seeds) of black locust are toxic to all animals.

There are black locusts in some pastures here, and I’m certain that the cows ate a few leaves here and there, especially when a branch would beak out, but the competition for something ‘different’ pretty well ensured that no one creatur got more than a few mouthfuls, and thankfully the toxic dose is orders less than that of wilted cherry leaves (cyanide).

So…I would not purposely plant BL as a ‘forage’ source for livestock. It does, however make good firewood and decent fenceposts.

Honeylocust DOES NOT fix atmospheric nitrogen!
Cows/sheep will eat HL leaves and seedpods, and I have little doubt that the myriad thorny HL seedligs I continually had to be at war with (chainsaw, loppers, herbicide) were spread around by cows (and maybe deer) eating those pods.
I’ve had so many flat tires on farm implements and vehicles from HL thorns, that there is no way in lleh that I would ever plant one.
Even though there are thornless selections, not all seedlings from these retain the thornless trait.

Honeylocust makes decent firewood, if you can find enough trunk/branch with few thorns. As fenceposts, HL is right up there with untreated pine…powderpost beetles will mine them out, and they rot off at ground level pdq. I only use them in an emergency.

If I want N fixation, I’ll go with clovers, lespedezas. I don’t need more thorny woodies to contend with.


Very interesting topic, thank you to all who are contributing! I am an organic cattle farmer and therefore understand very well the need for plants that fix nitrogen, since I can’t go out and buy it. What I don’t understand: why are the permaculture people so big on trees for everything? Why plant trees that shade out my good pasture grasses and forbs when I can have clover, which also fixes nitrogen and gets along well with the grass? I understand the concept of the different etages, so you can use the available space better, but I am very wary of planting trees into a pasture, because where I am, the trees have to be protected for at least 15 years.

I understand if the tree serves an additional purpose, like shade for the cattle or fruit for myself. I read a paper a while back about a trial where they planted fodder hedges between pastures. These contained willow and alder if I remember it right. The hedge was protected by a simple wire, so the cattle could not destroy it it, but was able to browse the twigs. The goal was to see if cattle got enough minerals from these leafs, which could reduce mineral supplements…

Concerning black locust: I am in Europe, Robinia pseudoacacia is invasive here and I would not plant it even if it wasn’t, because as others here have said, it is a thorny, suckering mess. Honey locust is only used as a park tree here. I have read that there are varieties in the US that have very big and nutritional pods, which sounds very interesting.

And about planting nitrogen fixing trees in the orchard: my nutrient management works as follows: If a tree grows very weakly, it gets a ring of manure around it in the fall. During the winter this can mellow and break down, so that the trees get a nitrogen boost. If the trees grow enough, they get nothing. How do you control this if your main source of nutrients is growing directly beside the tree that already grows to much?


It takes a heck of a hunter to put his deer stand in a honey locust :wink: