Learning how to wire a bonsai tree is arguably at the heart of this millenary art. Proper wiring will give our trees the characteristics desired and the eventual repositioning of branches will imprint our bonsais with the proper look.
When learning how to wire a bonsai tree, there are several essential steps to remember.
- Buy and use only the proper specialty wire.
- Follow the natural flow and direction of the tree.
- Don’t use one single wire; use several pieces. Likewise, use sturdier wire for thicker branches and thinner wire for smaller ones.
- Large movements will sometimes be made with extra materials, like a guy-wire or branch jack.
- Avoid scarring of the tree by regularly checking the rate of growth.
- Eventually, remove wires by cutting them. Then re-wire from scratch, if need be.
Let’s go deeper into the nitty-gritty of how to wire a bonsai and learn the details.
The Basics of How to Wire a Bonsai Tree
The general aim of growing bonsais is to create miniature trees and wiring is a large part in achieving this. Learning how to wire a bonsai tree will create an aesthetic flow and a visual experience without the ostensible imprint of an artist.
Wiring can be done throughout the whole year, for most species. In the case of deciduous species (species that their leaves fall off in the colder months) wiring should be confined to late winter, when the lack of leaves allows for easier bonsai wiring.
Note, however, that some bonsai enthusiasts wire this particular species right up until early spring. The point is to try to do the wiring when the bonsai tree doesn’t have leaves. This will give us the possibility of getting a clearer picture of its shape, and where we want to take the tree, so to speak.
Coniferous bonsai trees (plants with cones), on the other hand, are wired in late autumn or early winter. This is because this type of tree renews leaves every year and always has some sort of leafing throughout. The main consideration for this timing is simply that it is a good idea to wire when sap is at its lowest in the branches. Low sap means greater flexibility and a safer wiring.
Getting Down to Business
Now let’s get to the goods. The following is the proper basic procedure on how to wire a bonsai tree.
Before we follow a step-by-step procedure, let’s establish the general principles of how to wire a bonsai tree. These basic guidelines are a basic template in the art of bonsai wiring.
- Wire branches independently with individual pieces of wire. Occasionally, it will be possible to wire two adjacent branches together. Such double wiring occurs at a ‘Y’ intersection, for instance. In this case, it is possible to place wire on top of the ‘Y’ and create the spirals there. It is also acceptable to wire below the ‘Y’ and wire from there.
- Wire all branches first and only then focus on giving the tree form and creating movement.
- Work from the trunk and up towards the rest of the branches. After these main branches are finished, work on the thinner branches.
- Wire at a 45 degree angle.
- When bending a branch downwards, wiring is to be done from below. Likewise, if we want to bend a branch upwards, the wire applying this force should come from above.
There are two types of wire which may be used: (1) Anodized aluminum (2) Annealed copper. Aluminum wire is used mostly for deciduous species. Copper, on the other hand, is used mostly with pines and conifers. In any case, beginners should consider using aluminum in general, since it is easier and safer to work with. Wire-cutters are evidently a must with both.
Wires should generally be about 1mm, 1.5 mm, 2.5mm and 4mm thick. Wire which is about 1/3 of the thickness of the specific branch is generally preferred.
Occasionally, there will be a need for specialty equipment. A branch jack, for one, is quite useful when large bends are needed. A guy-wire comes in handy when moving particularly strong branches.
Remember to acquire these things from specialty bonsai shops, as regular materials will not be suited to wiring. Copper wire bought from a local electrical appliance shop will not work, for instance. Such wire must first go through an annealing process (a process whereby the wire is heated and softened) to be useful for bonsai wiring.
The Step by Step of Bonsai Wiring
- Cut a piece of wire which is about the same size of the first branch to wire. This branch will generally be the longest one and include the trunk.
- Dig this wire into the pot and start wiring upwards.
- When this first wire is finished, cut another one and wire a second branch. As stated above, it’s best to start with the main, largest branches first and only then proceed to the smaller ones.
- After these secondary branches are wired, we can wire the smaller branches. Remember the rule of thumb mentioned earlier: we want to use wire that is about 1/3 of the thickness of the branch we are working on. This means that we want to be using a whole gamut of wire: thicker wire for thicker branches and thinner wire for thinner branches.
- Once all wiring is done, then we can begin to bend. When bending, hold the outside of the branch and bend from the inside with your thumbs. This is a way of reducing the risk of breaking a branch through sudden, angular movements.
- After the whole movement has been made, place the bonsai tree in the shade, fertilize normally and observe it regularly thereafter, to control its growth and prevent scarring of the branches from the wire.
Tricks of the Trade
Moving Strong Branches
A guy-wire can help move a particularly strong branch. To achieve this, we have to wrap the branch with protective material (raffia, for example) and set a small hook on top of it. The guy-wire is thereafter tethered to the pot. Sometimes, the guy-wire may be connected to a root, for added strength.
A branch jack, as mentioned earlier, is also useful to achieve tough bends on thick branches and on trunks. It can also be used to pull branches closer together, instead of relying solely on wire to create such movements.
Mistakes to Avoid
There are a number of things to avoid, when learning how to wire a bonsai tree:
- As bonsai trees grow, a major issue to be avoided is scarring of branches. This happens when wire cuts into them. To avoid this, it is essential to check the trees constantly and cut off the wiring before it gets too tight.
- When learning how to wire a bonsai tree attention must be given to avoiding over-extending and breaking branches. It is useful to wrap thick branches with water-soaked raffia for protection. Experience will eventually teach the proper amount of bending that is feasible.
- Likewise, it is best to be prudent with the amount of movement that branches endure. Too much movement may end up breaking them. Position yourself comfortably, and wire towards yourself, in single, complete movements.
- When wiring, bend the wire and apply it to the branch and not the other way round. This avoids accidents and needless damage to the trees.
- Avoid using extremely long wires. Some people are tempted to wire a bonsai tree from the trunk all the way up. This is risky. Instead, wire from the base and until the first fork, then terminate and use new wire.
Removing the Wires
Knowing when to remove the wires is very important. The key is to watch the bonsai tree regularly and to remove the wiring before it cuts into the branches themselves.
When removing the wire, cut it, instead of un-wiring it. This prevents damage to the tree.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should I leave the wires on my bonsai tree?
The main purpose of the wires is to direct the general movement of the branches and trunk. This means that once the wire has helped to achieve this movement, it may be removed.
Moreover, wire must be removed as the tree grows, to avoid scarring of the branches. Constant observation of the tree will point out when wire should be removed and new wire, if at all, should be applied.
Should I wire an unhealthy plant?
Refrain from wiring an unhealthy plant or from wiring weak, wilted branches. It is best to give this type of plant some time to get healthy and only then proceed with wiring.
Likewise, it is best to refrain from wiring a plant which has just been watered. Remember that a bonsai tree’s branches are at their most flexible when they are moderately dehydrated.
How tight should I wire bonsai trees?
Wiring should be able to move the tree, without being too tight. It is essential to remember that the plant will continue to grow with the wiring and that it needs space and range to do so.
Imagine, by way of analogy, how one would apply a cast to heal a broken bone. A cast which is too tightly applied will be unhealthy, but a loose cast will not hold the bone in place. When learning how to wire a bonsai tree, we will discover that correct pressure is one of the biggest challenges, offset ultimately by experience and observation.