How to Grow Boxelder Trees

Boxelder tree branches with bright green irregularly toothed leaves

The Spruce / K. Dave

In This Article

Although its common name may be the source of some confusion, the boxelder tree is actually a variety of maple (Acer negundo). It's a cold-hardy tree that isn't always popular, due to its invasive tendency to spread via self-seeding.

It has light green leaves that don't really change color significantly in the fall, and in the spring the little "flowers" (buds) from the male and female trees tend to fall after storms and leave quite a mess on cars and streets. The female trees also bear small seed clusters a bit later in the season.

The boxelder is easy to identify by its leaves, which are light yellowish green and composed of three separate irregularly toothed segments that look like individual leaves. Unlike many maples, the leaves of the boxelder do not have a waxy surface and have a somewhat puckered texture.

The tree's wood has a somewhat weak structure and the branches are susceptible to ice damage.

The boxelder's tolerance of many different and far from ideal growing conditions make it a bit of a nuisance because it grows in unlikely or inconvenient places (like against the foundation of a house or next to a mature tree). It's best not to encourage them and to remove any suckers or young trees before they become more difficult to eradicate.

If you already have a boxelder tree on your property, however, there are some qualities specific to it that it's helpful to know, to keep it in good health.

Scientific Name  Acer negundo 
Common Name  Boxelder 
Plant Type  Deciduous tree 
Mature Size  30 to 50 feet 
Sun Exposure  Full sun 
Soil Type  Tolerant of all soils 
Soil pH  Tolerant of all soils  
Bloom Time  Spring 
Flower Color  Pale green 
Hardiness Zones  USDA 3 to 9 
Native Areas  North America 

Boxelder Tree Care

Given its invasive tendencies, most gardeners would not choose to plant a boxelder tree, but many people have to deal with them on or near properties because they spread so freely and somewhat aggressively.

One trick they have is entwining with the roots of other young trees so that it may become confusing which tree is which. The boxelder's new branches and stems are always light green which can help identify new growth.

Boxelder tree leaves with irregular and toothed edges closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Boxelder tree branches with bright green leaves with irregular toothed edges

The Spruce / K. Dave

Boxelder tree with bright green leaves on extending branches against blue sky

The Spruce / K. Dave

Triple set of light green leaves with flowering seed pods hanging down
najjie / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Light

Boxelder trees prefer at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. One way to deter them from growing in your yard might be to block their source of sunlight.

If a young tree is too deeply rooted to dig out, try cutting it back and taping with duct tape to prevent sun exposure. This can weaken the root system and make it easier to remove over time.

Soil

The boxelder is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, which add to its tendency to be invasive. One soil condition it's not very tolerant of is salt. It is not likely to grow well in areas where salt or other melting compounds are used on roads and sidewalks in winter.

Water

Being a deciduous tree, the boxelder will adapt to the water conditions of its habitat fairly easily. If there's a long term drought it may cause some weakening of the tree's branch structure.

This is true for all mature deciduous trees and it's important to give them supplemental water during dry spells, to maintain their long term health.

Pruning

The boxelder tree puts out suckers very aggressively, making constant pruning necessary to keep it looking neat. For many gardeners, having a boxelder on or near your landscape means a pretty constant source of "weed trees" that keep springing up.

If you're maintaining a mature boxelder tree, watch for diseased or broken branches and remove them to avoid having them break and fall. Also, be aware that ice and wind damage in the winter is a potential problem due to the boxelder's somewhat weak wood and branching structure.

Common Pests/Diseases

The boxelder attracts a very specific pest called the boxelder bug. These harmless but annoying insects like to invade homes in the autumn, which makes them a bit of a nuisance.