Growing Apples with black locust

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:


I planted some sea buckthorn hoping to achieve something similar. The buckthorn did not do well for one reason or another and moving forward I will be encouraging the spread of clover to help fix nitrogen under my trees.

There is a thread with a lot of good information on nitrogen fixing cover crops here:

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i had mine growing in gravel and it grew fast. only mulched around it a few years then it took right off. i didnt like the taste of the berries so i removed them. i might put another pair in of the newer cultivars to try again. they prefer poor well, draining soil.

there are shorter varieties of pea shrub that only grow to 6ft. i got the seeds from esty. i also have autumn olive. speckled alder fixes N but tends to spread and form thickets.

Any idea if deer dislike your homebrew fertilizer?

I believe the jury is still out on this. Studies have shown honey locusts tend to get more nitrogen than they should, and they survive in nitrogen poor soils better than non-fixers. The soil around them has been measured to have elevated nitrogen levels, more so than non-fixers. They don’t have the nodules of other fixers, but formations inside the roots seem to suggest they have a primitive nitrogen fixing mechanism different from nodules.

Basically, it quacks like a duck, but it doesn’t look like other ducks.


I really like black locust personally. It’s one of the few trees which can be established on sandy soil in central texas without irrigation and it grows about 10ft/year here despite the drought. I’ve been inter-planting them with persimmons and in 1/4 acre clearings I made in some thick cedar/yapon brush, hoping to shade out the understory and make the land more navigable. It’s too early to say how bad of a problem the suckering will be, but I’ve read that the suckers are completely shade intolerant and the stems seem to lose their thorns after about 2 years, so as long as there’s canopy of trees I don’t think there will be too many thorns at ground level. I can’t imagine it would be any worse than the native yaupon and greenbriar at least.


Black locust are difficult trees to kill if you were to go that route. However, I found it’s best to cut them in late summer and then apply a mix of 20% triclophyr and 80% diesel. Just make sure the roots aren’t interwoven with any desirable plants, because it can be transferred between intertwined roots. I have not had it kill other trees but it’s possible that it could.

I just keep thinking that if I had space for a locust tree I could better use the space for another fruit tree.