Sunburst® Honey Locust Tree Plant Profile

Sunburst honey locust tree branches with bright green fern-like leaves and yellow-green panicles hanging

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Honey locust trees (Gleditsia triacanthos) have been admired for centuries, but the native species has thorns and seed pods that cause major cleanup issues, which limits its appeal for homeowners. Plant science has, however, given us a number of podless, thornless honey locust cultivars that are much more suitable for landscape use.

One such well-behaved cultivar is usually known by its registered trademark name, Sunburst®. The official cultivar name is Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis 'Suncole'; it was created through selective manipulation of a thornless variation of the native species. 'Suncole' has a pyramidal shape and is somewhat shorter than the native species, growing to about 40 feet vs. the 80 feet of the native tree. The podless/seedless characteristic derives from the fact that commercially offered trees are typically male cultivars.

Honey locust is a member of the Fabaceae family (also known as 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 relatively open and airy. The new foliage starts out yellow, morphs to a still attractive greenish-yellow, and turns a plainer light green shade in summer. When it is time for the fall display, the leaves return to the yellow color that marked them in spring. These are tough, fast-growing trees that tolerate challenging urban conditions, such as drought, pollution, salt, compacted soil, heat, and alkaline soils.

Botanical Names Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis 'Suncole'
Common Name Sunburst honey locust
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 30 to 40 feet tall, 25-foot spread
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Tolerates most soil types
Soil pH Tolerates all pH levels
Bloom Time Late spring to early summer (inconspicuous)
Bloom 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 choice for a lawn tree because it allows plenty of filtered light to enable grass to grow underneath it.

Keep the tree well-watered, and make sure to protect the trunk against damage from lawnmowers and other lawn equipment, as the bark is tender and prone to injury. Applying a ring of mulch such as shredded wood or bark chips around the base of the tree is a good idea, as it will keep mowers away from the trunk. Do not let mulch come in contact with the trunk because doing so can damage the bark and introduce diseases and pests. Be careful not to create a mulch volcano.

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 serious problems if you keep the trees in good condition with adequate watering and regularly removing dead and damaged branches. They can also be attacked by diseases such as leaf spot and canker.

Sunburst honey locust tree branch with yellow-green panicles hanging closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Sunburst honey locust tree with bare branches and brown seed pods hanging

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Sunburst honey locust tree branch with fern-like leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Sunburst honey locust tree with bright green leaves in garden field

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Sunburst honey locust tree trunk with large thorns

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Full sun is preferred by these thornless honey locust trees.

Soil

The honey locust tree is a very hardy tree and can grow well in different types of soil. Loam is ideal, but the trees are also quite tolerant of sand or clay. This tree is also tolerant of salty soils.

Water

Honey locusts have a moderate tolerance for flooding, drought, and other adverse conditions. They thrive in both moist or dry soil. Trees should be watered as soon as they are planted and weekly for the first year. A one-hour trickle that slowly saturates the roots provides adequate water for a new tree. Adjust watering based on the local rainfall amounts.

Temperature and Humidity

The honey locust is able to grow in a variety of climate conditions, but it will perish if exposed to temperatures below minus 33 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

Older trees rarely need additional irrigation or fertilizing, especially if they are in an irrigated, fertilized lawn. For newly planted trees, apply an evenly balanced 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 granular, fertilizer stake, or liquid fertilizer. An organic fertilizer such as manure is another good option.

Propagating Sunburst Honey Locust Trees

Sunburst is not a tree that lends itself easily to DIY propagation, though you might have success by taking cuttings, coating them with rooting hormone, and planting them in a growing medium until roots form. In the commercial industry, thornless or podless varieties are generally grafted onto the rootstock of a native honey locust. 

Pruning

Mature honey locust trees need little pruning except to remove dead or diseased branches, but until they are 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, which can spread and kill a tree. The best time to prune is in late spring to fall when sap flow has lessened somewhat.

Comparison With Other Cultivars

Thornless honey locusts are all members of the inermis variation, and the podless/seedless varieties are typically male cultivars. Some other varieties to consider include:

  • Imperial™ (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis 'Impcole'): This is a more compact and thornless cultivar (35 feet) that produces a few seed pods.
  • Moraine (Gleditisia triacanthos var. inermis ‘Moraine’): This is a seedless male cultivar has a more rounded head with small dark green leaves that turns golden yellow in fall. It grows up to 50 feet tall.
  • Northern Acclaim (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis 'Harve'): This seedless male cultivar is cold hardy to USDA zone 3, it is more cold hardy than other cultivars and grows 40 to 50 feet tall.
  • Perfection (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis 'Wandell'): This is a seedless male cultivar that grows 50 feet tall.
  • Street Keeper™ (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis 'Draves'): This cultivar has a more narrow pyramidal growth habit with attractive dark green foliage that emerges light green in spring (20-foot spread); produces some seed pods.