Bonsai Styling: How To Wire And Curve Your Branches

Wiring is an important technique used to train and mould your bonsai to its desired shape. Various thicknesses of wire are wrapped around the growing trunk and branches so that you can gently curve the branches to your required design.

Wiring a bonsai is a long-term project that requires patience because the desired effect can take several months to achieve. You can remove the wires when the branch sets in place.

Your tree is ready to wire as soon as the roots are established and the trunk begins to grow. Wiring is carried out in various stages and can be done on different branches simultaneously.

Wiring Bonsai: The Key Benefits

Wiring your bonsai tree allows you to influence the growth of your tree to produce a uniquely beautiful and aesthetically pleasing specimen.

Encouragement through wiring allows you to create different tree shapes, such as the spectacular formation of Shakan. The slanting form mimics harsh nature where a tree has been standing in the prevailing wind and is leaning to one side or perhaps where the tree has grown in the shade and bent towards the direction of the light. Your bonsai would not be able to do this through natural growth and pruning alone.

Nature forces trees into all sorts of magical shapes; consequently, bonsai trees can be the same.

Typically, a bonsai tree is given its name according to its shape or the number of trunks.

When Should You Wire A Bonsai?

Wiring should be carried out on a young, healthy plant to achieve the desired results. The branches should be soft and pliable. Usually, wiring takes place after repotting the tree to support the new growth. Deciduous and coniferous trees should be wired at different times.

Deciduous trees such as maple, ginkgo and beech should be wired in the spring before the new buds appear on the twigs and branches. Because the tree has shed most of its leaves throughout the dormancy phase in the winter, it gives you the best visualisation of the shape of the trunk and limbs before the new growth starts.

You can easily apply the wires without new leaves and branches hampering your progress.

Coniferous trees like the beautiful juniper and pine are best wired in the late autumn or early winter months. Coniferous trees do not lose their leaves, so the branches are always busy with leaves. Wiring, therefore, takes place when the sap is at its lowest so that the branches are more flexible and will respond much better to wiring during this slow growth phase.

Always make sure that you keep a close eye on the wires and the tree’s growth so that you don’t allow scarring to occur.

Wire Types: Which Should You Use?

Two types of wire are used in bonsai – anodised aluminium and annealed copper. Aluminium wire tends to be the best choice for deciduous species. The anodised aluminium is much easier to work with because it is much more malleable.

On the other hand, the harder, annealed copper wire is best for conifers and pines.

Wire comes in various ‘gauges’. The wire can vary in thickness from 1mm to 8mm thick; or gauges 20 to 2. You can start with a primary collection of wires measuring 1mm, 1.50mm, 2.50mm, and 4mm thick. If you are going to wire thick branches, you will need to wrap them in raffia soaked in water. This will help protect the branches from being damaged by the wire during the shaping process. Raffia is a natural fabric made from the fibres of palm leaf.

Anodised Ammonium

Aluminium wire is flexible and easy to manipulate, but unfortunately, it is not as sturdy as annealed copper. It is much more forgiving and recommended for novice bonsai enthusiasts. You will need to monitor the wires bi-weekly. The shiny, polished finish of the aluminium wire is anodised in natural colours such as black or brown to help camouflage the wires.

An electrochemical process converts the metal surface into a decorative, durable, corrosion-resistant, anodic oxide finish. The shiny aluminium is too bright. The anodising process does not change any of the properties of the wire.

Aluminium is lovely and soft, and easy to apply. If you make a mistake, it can be easily removed and reapplied. The softer wire is better when applying to thin bark trees such as elm, maple and olive. It won’t damage the bark. It doesn’t have as much strength as annealed copper; tougher branches might be impossible to manage.

Annealed Copper

Annealed copper is much harder than aluminium, and once bent, it retains its position very well. Copper work hardens, which means it has the propensity to stiffen as it is manipulated. Often, work hardening is carried out intentionally, which give strength to the soft metal and helps it hold its shape.

Copper is not particularly forgiving; once bent, it will retain its shape well and cannot be bent repeatedly without it becoming markedly stiff. It is the preferred choice of wire used by bonsai experts because of its unparalleled hold. Because of its strength, you’ll find that you will need less wire.

You will have to regularly check the annealed copper wiring and ensure that it is not cutting into the tree – check this weekly. Bonsai novices should use this wire with care. It is important to use annealed copper.

Annealing is a heat treatment that alters the physicality of a material to increase its flexibility and reduce its hardness, making it more workable.

How To Wire Your Bonsai: 5 Steps To Success

You may find wiring your bonsai a challenge; it is a complex technique to master. Where possible, wire two branches of a similar thickness using a single piece of wire. This is known as double-wiring and reinforces strength by supporting two branches. Ensure that you wire each of the branches that you want to shape before you bend them.

As a rule of thumb, use wires approximately one-third of the thickness of the branch you are wiring. It needs to be strong enough to hold your branch in its new position.

Step 1: Check If Your Plant Is Okay For Wiring

Developing a bonsai is a long-term project and requires a young, supple and healthy plant. The goal is to create a beautiful, aged and vulnerable-looking tree from a young, underdeveloped bonsai specimen. You can influence the tree’s look from the outset by controlling its growth and shape with various wires.

Almost all excellent examples of bonsai have been wired at some stage. The wired areas of the tree are bent in the desired direction. Over a few months, the new shape solidifies through thickening and lignification, which reinforces the structure of the cells.

You will need patience, learn how to take your time, and support the plant throughout the wiring process, which can take many years.

Step 2: Determine Which Wire To Use

Bonsai wire comes in a variety of sizes, between 1mm and 8mm. Whilst there are no hard and fast rules, bonsai specialists recommend that the wire you are using is approximately one-third of the thickness of the branch you are wiring. If you are planning on making dynamic bends, you will need a heavier gauge or multiple wires.

It is essential to know that both aluminium and copper can present various health challenges to your tree. Copper, as it ages, turns darker, which holds much more appeal to bonsai specialists. It can also develop a soft green patina called Verdigris which is caused by oxidisation. It can be harmful to some bonsai, particularly fruit-bearing trees.

Aluminium can also be toxic if it has not been fully anodised.

Aluminium is generally softer and easier to apply because it doesn’t harden; this also means that it is less likely to leave scarring on the tree. It has less holding power with its given diameter, which could mean that you will need to use a heavier gauge that is more expensive. The anodisation can fade in the sun, which can lead it to take on a bright unappealing sheen.

Annealed copper has more holding power than aluminium and weathers beautifully, which is important for the overall aesthetical appeal.

The downside, particularly for beginners, is that it is more challenging to apply because it quickly hardens.

Step 3: Begin The Wiring Process

This is where the magic begins to happen. Take your time and make sure that you fully support the tree during the process. As you begin to wire the tree, begin with the trunk and progress from thick branches to the thinner twigs. Make sure that you are wiring towards your body; this gives you more control when wrapping the wire around the branches.

Your aim is to create precise but loosely fitting wires to guide the new growth accurately. Your plant will want to continue growing in its natural direction, but it cannot with the wires in place. If the wires are too tight, they will cut into the tree and cause damage.

Remember that your plant is still growing, so it will need space for its expansion.

As you apply the wire, be careful, hold the limb in both hands, and intentionally bend the wire to the branch.

How To Double-Wire Branches

o Select the matching pair of branches that you intend to wire. It is crucial that you choose a pair of the same thickness and that they are located close to each other on the trunk. You need to consider that the wire should wrap around the trunk once or twice to remain in place when you bend the branches.

o Cut off the right length of wire, which you will wrap around the branches and the trunk, preferably twice.

o Firstly, you carefully wrap the wire around the trunk and progress outwards of each of the branches. Ensure that you wrap the wire from the base of each branch to the very tip. You should wrap the wire around the branches between a 35- and a 45-degree angle to allow the tree to expand as it grows whilst retaining its new shape.

o Remember, if you want to bend a branch upwards, the wire must come from above. The same theory applies if you want to train a branch downwards, the wire must come from underneath.

o When you have completed wiring all suitable pairs of branches, you can continue with the rest of the branches using the single-wiring technique.

How To Single-Wire Branches

o Select the matching pair of branches that you intend to wire. It is crucial that you choose a pair of the same thickness and that they are located close to each other on the trunk. You need to consider that the wire should wrap around the trunk once or twice to remain in place when you bend the branches.

o Cut off the right length of wire, which you will wrap around the branches and the trunk, preferably twice.

o Firstly, you carefully wrap the wire around the trunk and progress outwards of each of the branches. Ensure that you wrap the wire from the base of each branch to the very tip. You should wrap the wire around the branches between a 35- and a 45-degree angle to allow the tree to expand as it grows whilst retaining its new shape.

o Remember, if you want to bend a branch upwards, the wire must come from above. The same theory applies if you want to train a branch downwards, the wire must come from underneath.

o When you have completed wiring all suitable pairs of branches, you can continue with the rest of the branches using the single-wiring technique.

Step 4: Aftercare

This is where the magic begins to happen. Take your time and make sure that you fully support the tree during the process. As you begin to wire the tree, begin with the trunk and progress from thick branches to the thinner twigs.

Make sure that you are wiring towards your body; this gives you more control when wrapping the wire around the branches.

Your aim is to create precise but loosely fitting wires to guide the new growth accurately. Your plant will want to continue growing in its natural direction, but it cannot with the wires in place. If the wires are too tight, they will cut into the tree and cause damage. Remember that your plant is still growing, so it will need space for its expansion.

As you apply the wire, be careful, hold the limb in both hands, and intentionally bend the wire to the branch.

Step 5: Remove The Wire

You can remove the wire as soon as it has achieved its purpose, the trunk or branch has grown in the desired direction, or the wires are digging into the tree. Carefully cut off the wire with your wire cutters. If a wire is ‘biting’ into your tree, you will need to carefully unwind this section with jin pliers until you can cut it.

It is very important not to unwind the wire from the limb or try and recycle and reuse the wire. Attempting this can cause untold damage to your tree. Make sure that you use suitable stubby-nosed pliers so that you don’t damage the plant.

You may need to make many cuts in the wire to prevent causing damage or even breakages.

3 Key Points To Remember

Try To Avoid Gaps

Gaps are the zones on the tree where there is no contact between the branch and the wire. Not only does this render the wiring useless, but it could also cause you to over bend the branch, which could result in it snapping. You must learn how to wire the branches, so it is effective and doesn’t cause harm to the tree.

When you apply the wire, hold the branch firmly between your thumb and forefinger and use your free hand to wrap around the wire carefully. Ensure that you press the wire firmly against the branch to avoid the accidental creation of gaps.

Watch For Wire Bite

You will likely wire your tree in the spring, and at the beginning of the growing period, you need to keep a watchful eye on the branches so that you don’t allow the wire to bite. It can occur within a couple of weeks. The branch naturally thickens to accommodate the additional sap-flow when the tree grows. If the wire isn’t removed in time, the branch will swell between the wires. In severe cases, the whole wire can be encased by the branch.

There are various circumstances where you want to encourage wire bite. In juniper specimens, you might want to create attractive Shari; you can use wire bites to help you establish interesting sap-flow shapes.

In pine species, you can use the wire bites to speed up the thickening of the branches.

You must avoid wire bite in thin-barked trees such as Japanese maple, olive and azalea; it can take many years for the bark to recover and lose the scarring.

Guy Wires

Guy-wiring is a technique that allows you to bend old, brittle or thick branches downwards. You will need to anchor the guy-wires to a sturdy part of the tree or a strong surface root, pot, or external weight. When setting up your guy-wire, make sure that you protect the limb and bark with a piece of rubber or some natural raffia.

The wire will put considerable, long-term pressure on the tree.

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