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Thoughts on Honey Locust for opening up soil?

 
Posts: 16
Location: Victoria, Australia
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I have access to loads of honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) seeds. Since even small honey locust seedlings have a very deep and strong taproot, I am thinking of spreading the seeds thickly on a part of the garden that has very dense clay soil and leaving the seedlings in situ for a couple of years to break open the soil.

As they would be quite crowded they should grow straight up with minimal branching, so there's a possibility I might get some usable sized straight poles as well. That would just be a bonus though, my main idea is to get the honey locust to do the work of tilling the soil for me. The spot I want to grow them is full sun and the rainfall here is quite low (a bit more than 500mm p/a)  with only minimal extra water available to irrigate.

Would love to know if any Permies have tried something similar, and if you can see any big problems with my idea 😄!
 
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If you use black locust, you can save yourself some spikes… They both grow really well here on clay soil with not a lot of water.
 
Lizzie Day
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Location: Victoria, Australia
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Hmmmm, I do have a small established Black Locust, but it has not yet produced seedpods or sent up suckers/runners that I could transfer. The honey locust is attractive to me because I can get all the free seeds I could ever wish for 😉.
 
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Lizzie,

I like the idea of using a plant to do initial soil loosening, but I personally would avoid honey locust like the plague.  Honey locust will establish very quickly, but once it is there, it is there for good.  You can cut the honey locust down, but the roots are alive and will spring new top growth right back.  Moreover, the roots themselves are plenty tough and will make working in the soil difficult.  And then there are the thorns.  Honey locust has some of the nastiest, most wicked thorns I have ever seen in my life.  They puncture tractor tires and when they scratch skin, they have a mild toxin/irritant that really irritates the wound.  I personally find them very undesirable plants.

However, there are approaches to loosening soil that will work much better.  I would suggest that you try a deep rooted annual or biennial plant.  These will send down deep roots and then die of their own accord, having served their purpose.  I will try to get you a couple of examples, but I haven’t had my coffee yet and I have a busy day ahead.  But stick with me and I will see what I can come up with.

Eric
 
Lizzie Day
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Location: Victoria, Australia
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Thanks for that Eric.

I suspect the honey locust tree I have access to is one of the early improved garden species - it has very few thorns, and they are all well out of reach as it is a very large tree. The seedlings that spring up underneath it each year don't have thorns, although if they didn't get run over by a lawn mower while they're still pretty small, who knows what they might produce? 🤔. I will take that into consideration.

I have tried growing daikon radish in the spot, but although it grew well in other parts of the garden it didn't flourish where I needed it to.
 
Eric Hanson
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Lizzie,

So a quick thought would be any or some of the following:  spring or winter wheat (depending on your region or season), oats, rye, buckwheat.  All of these will send down roots and help to penetrate the soil.  Crimson clover is a very good nitrogen fixer, sends down deep roots and is generally considered an annual.  

Key to any of these is to cut them down before they set seeds.  If you cut down after they set seeds you run the risk of having the plants reseed and come back the next season.  Cut them early and they are generally done for good.

I hope this helps,

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Lizzie,

I am really glad that you have the improved honey locust.  I have a couple of good scars left over from clearing my honey locust.

Daikon radish can be very good for loosening soil that is already somewhat loosened.  Think of it as a secondary looser.  If planted in unprepared or really hard ground it has an almost comical effect of pushing itself a foot or more right out of the garden.

Eric
 
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Seems like using a locust will be problematic down the line - their roots run and send up suckers everywhere, especially if the soil is disturbed. You will be fighting them forever. More conventional for breaking up soil are things like daikon radishes - annuals that leave a huge amount of organic material in the soil.
 
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beets--there are several varieties of beets that willing grow deep and loosen soil and you won't have to worry about how to get deep tree roots out of your garden. big plus is you will have edible crop or can be used as wildlife habitat ie deer or used to feed chickens or hogs. if you let a pig loose in the area when beets mature they will loosen soil completely.
 
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Lizzie Day wrote:As they would be quite crowded they should grow straight up with minimal branching...



I love my honey locust trees but my jaw dropped on seeing this. I have the original pay-a-price-in-blood-to-handle ones and they have two features that work against this scheme: a thin canopy that lets them happily grow in clumps and thickets without excessively climbing for sunshine, and a tendency to grow LONG horizontal branches parallel to the ground that reach out as far from the tree as the tree is tall, sometimes.

In order to coexist with my honey locust trees I have to do a lot of painful bloody work cutting away the branches below head height.  I literally don’t have another kind of tree that likes to make low horizontal branches as much as much as honey locust does.
 
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I'll echo the concern with using Honey Locust to loosen soil.  It's really not a pleasant tree to work with and long term, I think you'll find yourself with more problems than you've solved.  I had a friend who planted a bunch of HL and then spent years trying to rip them out.  He tilled, he burned, he even sprayed RoundUp.  In the end, he did far more harm to his soil than he helped.

Have you tried deep mulching?  Put down a foot of wood chips and let the soil biota do your deep tilling for you.  It's amazing with fungi and earthworms can do to compacted soil.  If nothing else, decomposing wood chips will leave a couple of inches of compost on the surface of the soil, giving you a whole new layer above to plant into.
 
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Lizzie Day wrote: The seedlings that spring up underneath it each year don't have thorns, although if they didn't get run over by a lawn mower while they're still pretty small, who knows what they might produce? 🤔. I will take that into consideration.



From what I've seen,  all honey locusts are spineless in their first year, and the spines (on the spinh ones) appear in the second growing season.
 
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