page contents The Little Bonsai: Easy Steps to Bonsai Wiring Techniques

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Easy Steps to Bonsai Wiring Techniques

bonsai wiring

Wiring techniques can be applied easily when the student get hands on to do the job, otherwise it will seem mission impossible to fix the branches the way you wanted. For strong and firm type of wood e.g. pine tree, I would rather select a strong and thick wire whereby for softer and smaller branches the opposite. Wire is placed on the trunk and branches of bonsai for one purpose… to assist in making branches and trunks bend to the desired location. Like a hammer or a screwdriver, wire is a tool designed to accomplish a specific task in the most efficient manner possible. When it has served its purpose, it is removed. Interestingly, a segment of the population seems determined to believe that wiring a bonsai is the key to some sort of ancient Asian secret for keeping the tree small. People have ask if the purpose of the wire was to cause the tree great pain. They were sure that the creation of bonsai had something to do with the ancient Chinese practice of binding the feet of noble women. When I would smile and patiently explain what the wire was actually used for they seemed…. somehow…. disappointed. Wire serves the same purpose as braces on a child’s teeth. It is a temporary shaping device designed to be removed after it has done its job. We wire because it allows us, to train, to shape, to style and to create a bonsai that fits our aspiration and immagination! Bonsai is a living art form. It is a collaboration between nature and us. Wire provides us with our artistic license. That license gives us the freedom to place a branch where our imagination tells us one is needed. It allows us to give movement to the motionless. It provides us with the ability to supply stability where stability is required. Wire is an essential tool of the bonsai artist and wiring is an essential skill of the bonsai artist. So, it behooves anyone serious about bonsai to become proficient at and familiar with wire and wiring.

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The objective is to bend trunks and branches. In most situations wire is the simplest and quickest way to get that job done. However, it is certainly not the only way to bend a branch. Other methods include: tying branches to the edge of the container with string; hanging weights from the branches or using trunk jacks and branch clamps. It should be remembered that the objective is to move the branch. How that task is accomplished is of secondary consequence.

In fact, the use of wire in bonsai is not even mandatory. One school of bonsai in China known as the Ling Nan School, prohibits its practitioners from using wire. Ling Nan proponents insist that the use of wire gives the tree too much of a finished/refined appearance and that a more natural and pleasing effect can be achieved by simply clipping and growing branches.

While this artistic viewpoint has some merit, most of us will, at one point or another, wish to alter our bonsai’s appearance by bending a branch using wire.

On the surface, the process sounds deceptively simple. 

1. Put wire on tree. 
2. Bend branch to desired position. 
3. Wait for branch to harden in that position. 
4. Remove wire from tree. Nothing is as simple as it first appears.

For beginners, wiring can be a frustrating experience, but with practice and time comes control and precision. Eventually beginners discover a fact that experienced bonsaists already know. Wiring is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable processes in the creation of a bonsai.

Understand The Task

Bonsai wiring
Professional Bonsai Wires
Understanding the growth habits of the particular variety of plant material being shaped is one of the keys to success. Once a branch has been wired and moved to the desired position a certain amount of time is required for the branch to “harden off” before the wire can be removed. How much time will vary and is based on the kind of plant material being shaped; the thickness of the branch and the extremity of the bend involved.

Pines, for instance, are soft wood trees which are full of sap. They grow slowly and often take a long time before they can put on enough new wood to hold their position. Junipers on the other hand grow vigorously and will adapt to their new shape quickly. Some trees will take a month, some a year. Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure is to remove the wire and see if the branch remains where it was placed. If it does not, it must be rewired. To purchase bonsai wires you can click on here.

It is worth noting that some species of plants are such vigorous growers they will defy any attempt at shaping with wire. Weeping willows and Alberta spruces are two excellent examples and can be depended upon to move branches back into their original positions within days, if not hours after having their wire removed.

Because one can never be absolutely sure how long to leave wire in place, bonsaist will often leave wire on the tree for as long as possible. This can be very dangerous. It is possible to destroy a good piece of bonsai material by doing so.

If left on for too long, the branch will begin to grow into and around the wire. As it does it will leave spiral shaped marks on the bark. Horticulturally speaking, the tree could care less about wire marks. In most cases it will eventually absorb the wire and keep on growing.
Perfect Bonsai
Final result of a perfect Bonsai

However, from an artistic standpoint wire marks are a disaster. The objective in bonsai is to replicate nature’s patterns. Nature does not leave wire marks on her trees. Neither should you. Wire marks are a sign of bad artistic technique because they indicate that the artist was not doing his/her job. When such trees are entered into a competition judges will certainly deduct points for wire scarred trees.

Obviously it is good idea to watch a freshly wired tree closely. If the wire starts becoming too tight, remove it immediately, even if it means the branch will not hold its shape. The wire can always be reapplied later in a different position.

Trees can generally be wired and shaped at any time during the year. Extensive wiring in the early springtime, however, should be avoided. Most plants get a vigorous spurt of growth during this period and will develop wire marks quickly.

Also remember the majority of trees send their most vigorous and active growth to the top of the plant. The horticultural term for this habit is “apical dominance”. It means that branches in the upper regions of the plant are enlarging faster and will therefore be more inclined to develop wire marks more quickly than lower branches.

Types Of Wire?

There are two types or kinds of wire used in bonsai: copper and aluminum. Copper wire is stronger, but in my experience, is less forgiving. If it is not monitored very closely, it will invariably bite into your bonsai, scaring bark and branches alike. Aluminum wire, on the other hand, has one-quarter the
strength of copper wire, but it is easier to apply and easier to remove. These two fundamental characteristics make aluminum wire an advantage for the beginner and a blessing for the experienced.

How Should You Wire?

The rule of thumb for selecting the proper gauge wire is to use a wire that is roughly one third the width of the section of your bonsai that you are planning to wire. Apply the wire at a 45-degree angle; making certain that it is wrapped neither too tight, nor too loose. Bending the trunk or branch, should be done using both hands. It is important to support the trunk or branch, as much as possible, as you proceed. Be sure to hold the wire from behind with your thumb, as you proceed forward, bend the wire and not the trunk or branch. If you are wiring the entire bonsai, it is best to begin with the trunk and then move on to the largest branch and then to the next largest branch and so on. Also, it is imperative that you wire in the direction of yourself. It is easier and safer, because you will be able to avoid wiring over any buds, leaves or twigs that may be hidden by your arms or hands; and on a pragmatic level, you will be able to cut off the excess wire as you reach the very end of the branch.
Japanese Maples
Bonsai with Japanese Maples by Peter Adams

When Should You Wire?

You should always secure a bonsai that has just been re-potted with a wire running up from the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes. In regards to what season is optimal to wire your bonsai for styling purposes, the answer is: it depends upon what type of bonsai you're styling. If you grow pines, it is often recommended that you wire in the late fall or early winter, when sap levels are low and trees are more flexible.

If you grow deciduous trees, then early spring - before your bonsai leafs out - is a good choice, as a leafless tree allows you to see the entire branch structure clearly. As for when to remove the wire from

your bonsai, the safest answer is: before it bites into the bark of the tree. If you are using copper wire, checking weekly is prudent. If you are using aluminum wire, checking bi-weekly is advisable. You should only remove wire with the use of wire cutters. Trying to unwind a wire usually results in a crack or split, which is followed immediately by inconsolable weeping.

Big Sale

General Guidelines For Placement Of Wire On A Bonsai

1. If you are unsure about whether or not to remove a branch, it is usually better to wire the branch

2. Always begin with the thickest branches and the heaviest wire first. Gradually work toward thinner branches and thinner wire. This will greatly assist in the task of keeping the wire placement organized and orderly.

3. Avoid crossing wires when possible. Follow previous strands up the trunk and out the next branch. The result will be increased holding power and a much more professional appearance.

4. Wire needs to be applied so that it is snug against the bark with no spaces or gaps, yet not so tight
Bonsai wiring techniques - How to wire a bonsai the right way
that it cuts into and damages the bark. You should not be able to see daylight between the wire and the bark. Loosely applied wire will increase the risk of cracks or stress fractures in the branch.

5. Wire needs to be coiled at about a 45 degree angle perpendicular to the branch or trunk and placed snugly up against it. An angle of about 45 degrees seems to provide the best holding power. Wire coiled too close together will tend to behave like the spring on a screen door and will want to “spring” back. Wire coiled at an angle greater than 45 degree may leave such wide unsupported sections of the branch exposed that breaks and cracks may more easily occur. This is a critical consideration on heavier branches, but becomes less critical with smaller branches.

6. When wiring any given branch you have the choice of applying the wire in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Plan what you are doing. Don’t simply “throw” wire onto the tree. If your plan is to move a branch down and to the right then placing wire on the branch in a clockwise pattern will cause it to tighten slightly during the bending process. Counterclockwise placement would cause it to loosen slightly and therefore lose holding power. Think about what direction you are wiring and how you plan to bend the branch. Again, this is a consideration which is more critical for thicker branches than for thin ones.

7. Any given piece of wire applied to a tree needs to be secured to some other part of the tree if it is expected to hold when bending pressure is applied. A piece of wire has two ends. Always attempt to wire two branches (of the same diameter) with one piece of wire. When doing this make sure that the wire makes at least one circumference of the trunk (more if necessary) before going out the next branch. This “required” turn around the trunk will insure that when branch #1 is moved, it will not cause branch #2 to also move. Instead, the “torque” will be against the trunk and not the other branch being wired. If you have only one branch to wire, secure the opposite end with a couple of wraps around an adjacent branch.

8. When applying wire always support the branch being wired with the thumb and forefinger of your

9. Place wire on the outside of any intended curves or bends you plan to make. When bending a branch the wood of the tree is compressed on the inside of the curve and stretched on the outside of the curve. Placement of wire along the outside of the curve provides critical support where it is most needed.

10. To determine the correct gauge of wire needed to hold a branch securely in place you can try pushing on the branch with an extended piece of wire about 8 or 10 inches long. As you “push” against the branch you will discover that: 1. the branch will move, or 2. the wire will bend. If it is the wire that bends, it is probably of insufficient strength to hold once coiled into place. Go to the next thickest diameter and repeat the test. At some point the wire will remain rigid and the branch will move. This is probably indicates you have selected a gauge of wire sufficiently thick enough to hold the branch securely. Note that we said probably.

If the branch does not remain in its new position, you have two options: 1. remove the wire and replace it with a heavier gauge that will hold, or 2. Place another strand of wire on the same branch by coiling it alongside the first one.

The development of good wiring technique is dependent upon practice more than any other thing. Remember that if the branch goes where you bent it and does not break… you did it correctly.

Admittedly you will probably use more wire than necessary in the beginning and its organizational structure on the tree will look a little like a road-map in the mountains, but with time and practice your technique will improve. And try to work its placement into the final design than to cut it off. The branch can always be removed after the fact.
Bonsai Tool Set
Bonsai Tool Set from Japan
opposite hand.

Bring the wire to the tree and rotate the wire slightly as you wrap it about the branch. This rotation will cause it to seat more snugly against the branch. When working with very thick wire you will find a pair of wire pliers handy for assisting with this task. When that wrap is complete, inch forward with your thumb and forefinger and support the next section as you apply the next wrap. Continue in this manner until you have reached the end of the branch. This technique guarantees that the branch will always have the solid support of the artist’s hand as the wire is moved into place and that unnecessary breaks will be avoided.

Interesting Books on Bonsai can be found here:

The Complete Book of Bonsai --> I've been into bonsai for 25 years and this is the basic Bible for beginner and intermediate bonsai enthusiasts. It has an excellent section on techniques, including pruning, wiring and whatnot, and it has a large species-specific tree guide. If you're into bonsai and want only one book, this is it.

Indoor Bonsai The Great Selection --> Creating beautiful, healthy bonsai is a wonderful skill that anyone can learn, with a little time, patience, and this all-inclusive manual. With color photos and drawings to illustrate the points, it introduces all the cultivation techniques; offers expert advice on location, soil types, watering, and pest control; and provides intricate instruction on training the bonsai--including pruning, wiring and stretching it.

The Secret Techniques of Bonsai --> In The Secret Techniques of Bonsai, the author of the groundbreaking Bonsai With American Trees teams up with his son to offer not only the basics for creating perfect bonsai, but also secret techniques they’ve developed over years of careful work and observation.

Bonsai Survival Manual --> Problem solving when your Bonsai get sick. Expand your gardening repertoire as you create a captivating and exquisite miniature world. In this introductory guide, Colin Lewis covers everything you need to know to design, grow, and successfully maintain attractive bonsai.

Bonsai and the art of Penjing --> Bonsai & Penjing, Ambassadors of Beauty and Peace describes how Chinese penjing and North American bonsai were later added to the Museum, making its collection the most comprehensive in the world. Stories of individual trees and forest plantings are featured, as are the roles played by the skilled and talented creators of these living art forms people such as John Naka, Saburo Kato, Yuji Yoshimura, Harry Hirao, and Dr. Yee-Sun Wu.

Bonsai with Japanese Maples --> With their delicate foliage, seasonal color changes, and intricate pattern of branching, Japanese maples are among the most popular and suitable plants for bonsai design. In this long-awaited book, internationally renowned expert Peter Adams discusses both the specific horticultural needs of Japanese maples as bonsai subjects and illustrates proven techniques for creating and maintaining beautiful specimens.

The Modern Bonsai Practice --> The most current, useful information on growing Bonsai. Fresh, practical, definitive, comprehensive reference guide to the finest art of horticulture: growing miniature trees. Common sense bonsai answers separating myth from fact with depth and detail. Appropriate for both bonsai hobbyists and experienced practitioners.

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