This is a photo of a tree sucker sprouting from an existing root. The root is attached to a Black Locust tree stump in our neighbor’s front yard. Over 100 feet away. On the other side of our house.
About 2 years ago, our previous neighbor (in the same house) decided to spruce up his property in order to sell it. He thinned out the trees, removing one of his Black Locust trees down to the stump. I thought this was great because that tree had loomed closer to our house and chimney with every passing year. Little did I know that removing it would trigger hordes of tiny Black Locust babies sprouting up across our yard. In fact, we’ve discovered sickly, whitish suckers growing in our crawl space, despite the fact that it is sealed and pitch black inside.
About Black Locust Trees
Black Locust is native to the Southeastern U.S., but has naturalized in many areas. I’ve seen a number of them on roadsides in Seattle and Portland, surrounded by their colonies of suckers. Unfortunately, it’s a handsome, fast-growing tree that produces beautiful clusters of fragrant flowers in spring, which is probably why nurseries still sell it. Our neighbor’s remaining Black Locust casts off white petals that delicately decorate our front yard in early summer, which looks super cool. But that doesn’t make up for the huge negatives which, in addition to the suckering behavior, includes brittle wood prone to splitting during wind storms. Not good!
Black Locust Abatement
Last year I made an intense effort to dig up each sucker and sever the root it had sprouted from. I thought I’d done a great job until around August 1 this year, when I started seeing the sprouts reemerge. I was pretty disappointed to see these popping up in our back yard as well! So I’ve started digging and cutting again. I’ve noticed some of the sprouts are attached to the ends of roots that I had cut last year. I’m hoping to eventually sever and exhaust all the long roots that have made their way across our yard.
A different solution might be to have the stump ground, but I haven’t had the gumption to ask our new neighbor if they’d go for that. They might be into it, because the suckers are invading their yard too. But stump grinders are large machines, and I’m not sure the stump is accessible. In fact, I’m thinking the grinding could spark another suckering frenzy.
The best solution would have been to not plant one in the first place. So if you see one at the nursery, please think twice! Your neighbors will thank you, and you will thank yourself!
Update: February 2019
If you are in the Northwest (or have heard the news) you know we had an insane amount of snow recently. After the last evening of the deluge, my husband and I woke up to a rather large limb of our neighbor’s black locust draped across our overgrown boxwoods, tensioned against our cable line – which was probably the only reason it didn’t slip forward into our living room window.
My husband and neighbor broke out the chainsaws and luckily remedied the situation without any issues. Unfortunately our neighbor lost part of his fence to a second downed limb from the same tree. So…more reasons to not plant this one! Although to be honest, we also lost a few limbs and sustained roof damage from a couple pine trees sited way too close to the house. So maybe be careful what you plant AND where you plant it!
Update: June 2021
Our neighbor had the last locust cut down to a stump in late 2019, and we are STILL getting suckers popping up all over the yard, though there seems to be fewer of them (or maybe that’s wishful thinking?). I’m hoping the roots will be exhausted in the next 2 – 3 years.
Update: June 2023
Yep, still getting suckers. Here’s one growing under our deck stairs on the OPPOSITE side of the house from the old locust tree. The sprouts coming through the top are short and stubby due to my attempts to pull them out, which obviously didn’t work. Crawling under the deck landing to pull these is on my to-do list.