Over hundreds of years, techniques have been perfected to manipulate bonsai trees into the most beautiful styles. Wiring is a commonly used way to style a bonsai tree, creating the desired aesthetic. Thin wire is woven around the trunk and branches of the tree, meaning you can slowly manipulate the branches. Over time, the tree will adhere to the style and the wire can be cut off without causing damage to the bonsai tree.
In this article I’m going to explain exactly how to wire a bonsai tree, what to do once it’s wired and the potential risks for wiring a bonsai tree.
How To Wire A Bonsai Tree (Step By Step)
Wiring a bonsai tree is not the easiest thing in the world but it works wonders for styling. The large majority of all the bonsai trees you’ve seen in your life will have been wired at some point to create the desired style. Follow these steps to safely wire your bonsai:
Step 1 – Find two branches roughly of the same thickness, that you can wire at the same time.
Step 2 – Pick your wire. You will need to use a thickness of roughly 1/3 of the branches you’re about to wrap around, so eyeball that measurement and cut the length of wire needed to wrap around the two branches you have selected.
Step 3 – Wrap the wire once around the trunk, then start wrapping the wire along the first branch, starting from closest to the trunk. Maintain a 45 degree angle along the branch. Next, repeat the process with the second branch. Remember to hold the branch with both hands to avoid snapping the branch – you’re supposed to be bending the wire around the branch, not the branch around the wire.
Step 4 – Continue this process with every branch you need wired. If you cannot find a second branch to pair it with, you’ll need to wire a single branch, still wrapping around the trunk.
Step 5 – Once the tree is wired, it’s time to bend the branches in the style you desire. Slowly push your thumbs against the inside of the branch, gradually bending it. Once all the branches are in place, stop bending them completely as if you try to ‘re-bend’ a branch, it will weaken further and is likely to snap.
After completing this wiring process, you should have a bonsai tree that looks something like this:
What Time Of Year To Wire A Bonsai
Through speaking to various hobbyists locally, then doing my own researching, there seems to be a lot of differing opinions out there on the best time of the year to wire a bonsai. I would definitely recommend doing any heavy wiring in the later stages of winter due to the lack of foliage in your way, however, any very light wiring could be done year-round providing you understand how to wire a tree without damaging it.
Autumn – Many growers tend to shy away from any major wiring in autumn because of the fact that your tree should be starting to prepare the buds for the new foliage that will be coming in during the following months.
Winter – The majority of bonsai trees will have less foliage in the way of wiring during winter, already making it a very viable time of year to wire up a tree. During this period, the tree should be growing a lot of buds for the next season so if you decide this is when you want to wire, you need to tread carefully in order to not snap off the buds.
Summer – In summer, the smaller branches will tend to be very hard – which could be ideal for wiring without putting too much stress on the tree. With that being said, during the summer months it is very common to see the bark get accidentally removed when performing wiring due to the higher level of sap.
Spring – Your bonsai is going to be growing in spring, meaning there is going to be a lot of foliage in the way when wiring. As well, the bark will tend to be very soft which could cause your wiring to scar the tree.
I would take all of these tips with a pinch of salt depending on your bonsai and the situation. If I have a nursery stock plant I have started growing as a bonsai, I’ll wire it at any point in the year without a second thought. I tend to put more importance on the aftercare of wiring a tree, rather than the time of year.
When To Start Wiring
There isn’t a fixed answer as to at what age you should wire your bonsai as it depends on the tree species and the health or vigour of the tree. Wiring a tree in the younger years when growth is softer is definitely do-able but that won’t work for every tree. With species like pine, you’re able to do extreme wiring when the tree is years older as the branches respond well to it – yet some species have branches that will snap after being a few years old. In short, the age to start wiring is completely down to the species of tree you’re growing.
The Types And Size Of Bonsai Wire
There are two main types of wire, widely used in the industry.
Aluminium– This wire is most popular with beginners as it is more widely available, easier to manipulate and works perfectly for all deciduous trees.
Copper– The copper wire is harder to work with due to it being a lot harder, hence why it is used for more heavy duty trees.
There isn’t really a strict rule in terms of the thickness of wire you should use, however, a good benchmark is 1/3 of the thickness of the branches you’re wiring. Of course you’re going to have to eyeball this measurement but use this as a reference point. Standard bonsai wire tends to be between 1mm and 6mm – if this isn’t thick enough for you, you may need to consider using more than one wire per section.
Post Wiring Care
After wiring your bonsai, you need to keep a close check on it over the coming months. Most important is to fertilise the tree, keep it partially shaded and of course keep up the normal maintenance in terms of watering. If you have done the wiring before the growing season, you may want to remove the wire as the season begins, to stop the tree outgrowing the wire and causing vicious scarring to the bark.
How To Remove Bonsai Wire
When removing bonsai wire, you need to cut the wire piece by piece, making your way around the tree. Unwinding it to reuse is logical but can cause damage to your bonsai, so you’re much better off making cuts and removing it that way to be safe.
Drawbacks Of Wiring A Bonsai Tree
Wiring is a pretty essential part of bonsai for the majority of tree owners but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have potential side effects that you need to consider.
Stressing The Tree – The wiring itself won’t put too much stress on the tree, it really depends on how much you intend to bend and shape the tree. Be sure to gradually increase the angles if you’re looking to do something quite creative with your wiring, to avoid putting causing the tree too much stress.
Scarring – When wiring a bonsai, it’s common for the wire to cut into the bark of the tree, leaving visible scars. Scarring will typically occur when you have wrapped the wire too tightly around the branch of trunk, leading to it digging into the bark. Another reason would be that the wire has been left on the tree for too long, meaning the tree has outgrown it, tighten the wire around the branches and leading to the same result. To avoid this, don’t wrap your wire too tightly and check it every few months – rewire when needed.
Snapping Branches – As you get more practice, you shouldn’t really be snapping any branches. When wiring a branch, hold the it with one hand and wrap the wire with your other hand. After every wrap around, make sure you adjust your grip on the branch to ensure you aren’t likely to cause it to snap. If you feel like a branch isn’t to snap, I would suggest stopping and assessing your options with that specific branch.
How To Wire A Bonsai Tree – Video
Wiring a bonsai tree is a key technique that every bonsai owner must learn at some point along their journey. Bending branches doesn’t seem natural to a lot of people and it really can seem like it could go terribly wrong. When it comes to wiring, practice really makes perfect. When I first tried styling a bonsai tree with wire, I used a cheap nursery tree as shown in our How To Create Your Own Bonsai Tree guide. This was a very safe way to practice wiring without risking the branches on my actual collection.
There are of course drawbacks of wiring but nothing outweighs the potential of what this technique can do for your tree. If wired properly, using care and checking to make sure the wire isn’t cutting, you can really create some truly stunning bonsai, like this cascading style of tree that would be impossible to shape like that naturally.