How to Grow Sunburst Honey Locust

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

Star Burst Honey Locust

This mountain native cheerfully shouts, “Hello, Spring!” with its glowing yellow leaves. As summer heats up, it settles down to a naturally cool green, only to turn gold again in autumn. This Watters exclusive casts a dappled shade perfect for reading a book or sharing an outdoor meal. Take the sun and wind, yet easy on your time, water, and maintenance, even the fall cleanup is a piece of cake! Impervious to deer.

Honey locust trees (Gleditsia triacanthos) have been admired for centuries for their lacey leaves, ability to stand up against the ferocious wind, blistering sun all with scarce water. This variety has no thorns and produces NO bean pods means no mess from this tree.

Honey locust is a member of the pea family, along with well-known landscape plants like lupine and wisteria. The compound leaves are fern-like, with a fine texture, and the branching pattern is airy. The new foliage starts out yellow, then morphs to cool summer green. In autumn, leaves return to the bright gold color that started out in spring. These are tough, fast-growing trees that like growing in challenging mountain conditions, such as drought, pollution, salt, compacted soil, heat, and alkaline soils.


Botanical Names – Gleditsia triacanthos

Common Name – Sunburst Honey Locust

Plant Type – Deciduous tree

Mature Size – 30 feet tall, 20 feet wide

Sun Exposure – At least 6+ hours per day

Soil Type – Adapts to most soil types

Bloom Time – Spring, summer

Flower Color – Greenish-yellow

Hardiness Zones – 4 to 9, USDA

Native Area – North America

How to Grow Sunburst Honey Locust

This tree has few restrictions on how to grow it; the only place it struggles is in dense shade. It is an ideal tree to plant in locations where you want filtered shade rather than the deep shade created by many other landscape trees. It’s a good lawn tree since it allows plenty of filtered light to reach down to the grass. Keep the tree well-watered, and make sure to protect the trunks against damage from lawnmowers and other lawn equipment, as the bark is tender and prone to injury. Applying a ring of Watters Premium Mulch, of shredded cedar bark around the base of the tree is ideal, as it keeps mowers away from the trunk.

Honey locusts are somewhat susceptible to a variety of insect pests, including spider mites, gall midges, and webworms. Pests can be treated with organic sprays, and are less likely to be severe problems if you keep the trees in good condition by adequate watering and regular removal of dead and damaged branches.


Full sun is preferred by these thornless honey locust trees, although young trees will grow well in partial shade.


The honey locust tree is a super hardy tree and can grow well in different types of soil. Loam is ideal, but sand or clay will also be sufficient for this tree to thrive. She even tolerates salty soils.


Honey locusts have a moderate tolerance for flooding, drought, and other adverse conditions. They thrive in both moist or dry soil. The water guide for this tree is deep soak as soon as planted and at least weekly for the first year. A one-hour trickle that slowly saturates the root provides proper water for a new tree. Adjust watering based on rainfall.

Temperature and Humidity

Honey locust can grow in a variety of climate conditions, but it will perish if exposed to temperatures below minus -33 degrees F.


Older trees rarely need additional irrigation or fertilizing, especially if they are in an irrigated, fertilized lawn. For young trees feed three times per year with 7-4-4 All Purpose Food (March, July, and October).


Mature honey locust trees need little pruning except to remove dead or diseased branches, but until mature, you should prune them every five years or so to shape them as desired. This typically means keeping the canopy relatively open and airy. Branches that cross and rub can be susceptible to developing canker. The best time to prune is in late winter (January through March) when sap flow is reduced by colder weather.

Companion Plants with Honey Locust for a Stunning Backyard

Moonshine YarrowA fuss-free, heat-loving bloomer with large clusters of canary yellow flowers held above ferny, grey foliage, just stunning. Sunny borders and rock gardens are perfect or planted in a mass to create a bold band of color throughout summer. Mountain tough, you can’t kill this perennial that only blooms better year after year. Javelina and rabbit detest the summer blooms.

Halls Japanese HoneysuckleAn outstanding mountain vine with fragrant yellow flowers that loves blooming in the summer heat. Wind, drought, deer, javelina are no problem. Ideal at growing up fences, walls, or as a groundcover. An excellent solution for a fast-growing screen, even in the poorest of soil. Summer is the preferred planting time for this heat lover.

Gilt Edge SilverberryVariegated leaves of bright gold and blue provide interest every month of the year. Growing to head high, she screens out the most obnoxious neighbor while standing up to blistering heat and wind. The super sweet flowers are utterly animal proof, even javelina and deer don’t like the taste of this local shrub. Best planted in the heat of summer for faster growth.

PortulacaPortulaca tolerates the blazing sun, where the neon flowers attract butterflies. Available in red, orange, violet, white, and pink. Great for containers, rock gardens, between sunny stepping-stones, or any hot, dry garden space where nothing else grows. The brighter, the better!