fun with boxelder

Sneak Peek

Boxelders are no one’s first choice for bonsai. But they can make nice trees, even if you have to redesign them from time to time.

Fun with Boxelder

Boxelder, or Ash-leaf maple (Acer negundo), is no one’s first choice for bonsai. They are what we call “trash trees,” because they have no comercial value and very limited ornamental value. They reproduce prolifically wherever they happen to be, but are ultimately short-lived trees that tend to drop branches for no discernible reason.

Now that I’ve whet your appetite for Boxelder bonsai fun, let’s start off with a photo of a specimen I started a few years ago and got to this shape by mid-2020. Not a bad bonsai, if I say so myself.


Here it is, as it looked earlier today. Winter 2022 was not kind to it. The tree seemed to withstand 20F on the ground, but not 24F subsequently on the bench. I’m a scientist at heart, so I figured I’d learn something about Boxelder and cold. Boxelder does not like 24F on the bench. Check!

Not only did I lose a bunch of branches, but the apex as well.

You wouldn’t think the tree would root so nicely while dying off above-ground, but there you are. Look at those lovely long white new roots!

I resisted the urge to root-prune the tree, and instead just moved it to a larger pot. I do want it to have a fighting chance, after all.

I almost always start at the bottom. There aren’t but three branches left, so it didn’t take long to get these in position.

I went ahead and chopped back the dead apex, leaving a new leader.

Now we wait. I’m in hopes I’ll get a couple of buds near where branches used to be. This is a common thing you’ll see with trees having good vigor. If I’m lucky, I can rebuild something like the old branch structure. If not, then I’ll make a new design by hook or crook.

Here’s my other Boxelder. You may recall it from a couple of past blog posts. It held up to 20F on the bench, by the way. It might have been the soil volume that did the trick, but frankly I’m not sure.

Notice the carving I did on the trunk. I wasn’t surprised that it rotted at the chop, given the nature of Boxelder wood. It actually turned out well (it was going to have to be carved regardless, in order to make the tapering of the trunk smooth).

The bottom two branches are wired and pruned.

The next couple are done.

And the rest. Easy peasy.

This Boxelder will not win any prizes, but the thing about bonsai is you perfect trees, you don’t just have perfect trees. I have never understood the concept of the collector who just has trees that are maintained by a visiting artist. They never work on them! I’d rather work on trees like this poor fellow, and make it look like something, and have it drop branches or even keel over dead because I messed up, than have to admire someone else’s work from a distance (*shudder*).

Anyway, I hope you whacked and wired and had some bonsai fun today too!