Black Walnut Tree: Benefits, Problems, and Identification

While beautiful, black walnuts may prevent other plants from growing in the yard

Frontal image of a black walnut tree

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) is a native hardwood tree that is often planted in large-scale landscapes and valued for its attractive woodworking lumber, edible nuts, and large size. The black walnut tree often causes problems for home gardeners because the tree is allelopathic—it produces juglone, a chemical that inhibits the growth of other plant species in its vicinity. 

Not all plants are sensitive to juglone, including dogwood, juniper, clematis, and daffodils. Many other trees, vines, shrubs, ground covers, annuals, and perennials can grow in close proximity to a black walnut tree.

Black Walnut Tree Quick Facts

  • Black walnut trees grow in temperature-varying regions, including USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9. The tree manages well in cold or hot weather.
  • Black walnut trees are sensitive to soil conditions and they do best in fertile, well-drained, neutral soil that's kept moist.
  • These trees do not tolerate shade well and thrive in full sun conditions.
  • Black walnut trees can grow 50 to 120 feet tall.
  • The trees produce edible nuts that can be harvested by collecting them fresh from the tree, removing the inner nut from the fruity shell, and drying them for a few weeks before eating. 

Black Walnut Benefits

The black walnut tree is a beloved tree for many reasons. Its large, mature size and canopy make it a desirable shade tree. The tree is also prized for its beautiful, highly desired wood used for woodworking projects, such as furniture and cabinetmaking.

As a native tree, black walnuts provide food and shelter for wildlife. The primary beneficiaries of the nuts are squirrels. The eastern fox squirrel gets 10 percent of its food from black walnuts.

Black walnut trees are the preferred host of the luna moth, an elusive large moth, and the regal moth, which are both native to North America. The eastern screech owl roosts on the limbs of black walnut trees. 

Black Walnut Problems

All parts of the walnut tree naturally produce juglone, with the highest concentration in the buds, nut hulls, and roots. The concentration is lower in the leaves, twigs, and stems, but when the leaves and stems drop and decompose, they also release juglone into the soil. Even after a black walnut tree has been cut down, its remaining roots can still release juglone. 

The highest concentration of juglone is in the soil below the tree’s canopy, but juglone is present in the entire root zone of the tree, which in large black walnut trees can stretch 50 to 60 feet away from the trunk. 

Plants That Won't Grow Near Black Walnut

Vegetables that cannot grow in the vicinity of a black walnut tree include tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, cabbage, rhubarb, and asparagus. Flowers sensitive to juglone include peonies, petunias, and chrysanthemums. Affected shrubs include azalea, hydrangea, lilac, and yew. Trees sensitive to juglone are alder, apple and crabapple trees, pine, spruce, silver maple, and birch.

Juglone is not water-soluble so it does not move within the soil. This will allow you to grow sensitive plants such as tomatoes in raised beds. 

Plants sensitive to juglone exhibit wilting, yellow leaves, and stunted or slow growth, which can be confused with a watering issue. The affected plants cannot be treated and usually die within a few months. Because these symptoms can also have other causes such as plant disease or lack of nutrients, a black walnut nearby is not always recognized as the culprit. That’s why it’s important to know how to identify a black walnut tree. 

Other nut trees such as butternut, pecan, shagbark hickory, and English walnut also release juglone but in much smaller concentrations which do not have any effect on nearby plants.


Nurseries often sell English walnut scions that have been grafted onto black walnut rootstock. Grafted trees have better resistance to pests and diseases than English (Persian) walnut trees. However, note that both grafted and non-grafted black walnut trees will affect juglone-sensitive plants.

Black walnut tree with small yellow fruit hanging under yellow-green leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Black Walnut Tree Identification

Black walnut is a deciduous tree that grows 50 to 120 feet tall, with an average height of about 80 feet. The trunk appears especially long because the first branches start at a high level. The bark of young trees is grayish and scaly and over time darkens and develops intersecting diamond-shaped ridges. The dense crown is rounded. 

Black walnut leaves are very large, up to 24 inches long. What appears to be individual leaves are actually single leaflets. Black walnut trees are one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring and one of the first to drop their leaves in the fall. The fall color is yellow to brown. 

The other telltale sign of a black walnut tree is its nuts, which drop off the tree shortly after the leaves in September or October. The yellow-green husk turns black after dropping. 

Black walnut tree branches with small yellow-green leaflets surrounding hanging round fruit

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Black walnut tree trunk with green and gray-brown bark with deep ridges closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Black walnut tree canopy

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Plants That Look Similar to Black Walnut

Two trees that can be confused with black walnut because they often grow in the same area are the highly invasive tree of heaven and the native staghorn sumac

The three features that distinguish the tree of heaven from a black walnut tree are its off-putting smell, its cantaloupe-like bark, and its non-serrated leaves. Staghorn sumac has fuzzy twigs, leaves that turn bright red in the fall, and eye-catching red flower clusters. Neither tree will grow as tall as a mature black walnut.

Tree of heaven leaves
Tree of Heaven leaves

Whiteway / Getty Images

Staghorn sumac flower cluster
Staghorn Sumac flower cluster

Michael-Tatman / Getty Images

Black walnuts in various degrees of maturation, from green husk to nut

P.A. Collins / Getty Images

How to Get Rid of Black Walnut

Small black walnut seedlings and saplings can be removed with their entire roots by simply pulling them. It might be necessary to loosen the surrounding soil with a shovel to get the entire taproot out.

To get rid of a larger tree, you can cut it down. Another black walnut may sprout from the stump, but it's unlikely. You can coat the freshly cut stump with a stump killer which you can find at your local garden center. Most stump killer products contain potassium nitrate as the active ingredient. It contains a high amount of nitrogen, which speeds up the decomposition of the stump. Another option is to treat the stump with glyphosate, a non-selective herbicide. If you are reluctant to use any of those chemicals, the most low-impact solution is to continue removing the new sprouts.

Alternatively, you can hire a certified arborist to grind the stump out mechanically or remove it.

Girdling the tree is not a great option. That method is best left to be used on trees in dense forests to increase their use as wildlife habitats.

  • How long does it take for a black walnut tree to bear fruit?

    A black walnut tree will begin to bear fruit and nuts when it is between 10 and 13 years old, give or take a couple of years.

  • What is the lifespan of a black walnut tree?

    Black walnut trees live on average 150 years but can live much longer in ideal conditions.

  • Are black walnuts worth the effort?

    Harvesting and cracking tough black walnuts from the black walnut tree is worth the effort because of its delicious meat. But if you are also wondering whether growing a black walnut tree to maturity for its lumber is worth the effort, the answer can be complex. You will need to wait until the tree is at least 35 years old before approaching a timber buyer—if you can find one that is interested in a yard tree.

  • Should I cut down my black walnut?

    Several factors can go into deciding whether or not to cut down a yard tree. If it's a hazard to your property or interfering with your home, septic/sewer system, or another part of your property, or it's losing its vigor, then it may be the best choice. Even if you want to cut down the tree due to its toxicity, the juglone will remain in the soil for many years.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Landscaping and Gardening Around Walnuts and Other Juglone Producing Plants. The Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences.

  2. Luna Moth. Missouri Department of Agriculture.

  3. Black Walnut Toxicity. The Morton Arboretum.

  4. Black Walnut Toxicity. University of Wisconsin Division of Extension.

  5. Black Walnut. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

  6. The Cold Hard Truth: Selling Walnut Yard Trees. University of Illinois Extension.

  7. Black Walnut Toxicity. University of Wisconsin Division of Extension.