Substitutes for the American elm and native oaks as shade trees are being sought by many plantsmen because of the ravages of diseases such as oak wilt and the Dutch elm disease occurring in some sections of the country. These diseases are destroying many valuable and prized shade trees on both public and private properties in several midwestern states. Observations in many parts of the United States and Canada indicate that the honey locust has most of the characteristics needed for shade and lawn purposes.
The common northern honey locust has a native range extending from the Appalachians to the Great Plains and from Ontario to Texas. It thrives on a wide range of soils. Under conditions of high fertility and adequate moisture, it grows rapidly and in the same period of time may attain a height equal to that of the less desirable Chinese elm and silver maple. It is long lived. One honey locust recently cut in Dayton, Ohio, showed 327 annual rings.
Seedlings of the honey locust at certain stages produce many multiple-pointed thorns but as the tree matures, the new growth gradually becomes thornless. Completely thornless, male varieties can be produced by using budwood from the thornless male branches of the tree. Such thornless propagated trees are available from many nurseries.
One-year-old budded whips are straight stemmed, suitable for transplanting to a permanent location, and their use is recommended. Trees produced from seed are variable in characteristics and frequently produce thorny growth. Budded trees from a reputable nursery will prove more satisfactory. The young trees of the honey locust have a shallow, fibrous root system which permits easy transplanting.
Lawn grasses grow well beneath the light shade of the honey locust. The trees present almost no Fall leaf-clean-up problem since the thin, soft leaflets decompose almost overnight leaving only the slender mid-ribs. Even these mid-ribs decompose quickly and the debris left under the trees is almost negligible. Female flower producing specimens do drop a heavy crop of pods. However, male varieties, completely free of pod production, can be produced by using budwood from branches producing only male or staminate flowers.