Wiring is an important part of the process of styling your bonsai and almost all well designed bonsai are wired at some point in their development. Though at first a daunting technique to master, it provides the bonsai enthusiast better control and manipulation of the trunk and branches of his/her bonsai.
By coiling wire around the limbs of the bonsai, the enthusiast is able to bend the tree into a desired position upon which it is held by the cable. In a matter of weeks or months, the branch or trunk’learns’ and stays in position even after the cable is eliminated.
By means of cable, straight trunks or branches could be given more realistic motion. Young branches could be wired into a flat or downward position to produce the illusion of maturity. Foliage or branching can be transferred to’fill in’ bare regions of the trees shape.
Without wiring, the enthusiast would otherwise have to wait for shoots to grow in the desired direction. With wiring, present expansion can be manipulated there instead.
You will use the wire to shape your bonsai into the style that most matches it. As we have addressed before, deciding on the form of your bonsai, study the tree carefully and take into account the organic form of the species. Observe the way mature trees of the same type grow in their natural setting to achieve an appearance of age and reality. Choose the final shape and size of your bonsai before starting. Make a rough sketch of what you would like to create, and use it as a guide.
Where to buy bonsai wire?
Bonsai wire is a comodity that can be easily bought online. For example here are the best selling bonsai wire options in Amazon:
Aluminum wire is perhaps better to use for beginners. Copper wire has more holding power but is somewhat more challenging to maneuver. Typically, you will need a wire thickness a 1/3 that of the trunk or branch you are trying to bend. The wire you use must be thick enough to bend the branch effectively and for it to remain set up but thin enough for the wired branch to be manipulated and for neatness.
To make the branches elastic before wiring, don’t water the plant the day before you wire it. Begin at the bottom of the tree when wiring and shaping, and work upwards. Anchor the end of the cable at the bottom of the tree by pushing it into the soil. Use foam pads under the wire to protect the branches.
The process of bending and wiring causes a series of minute splits and cracks in the layers beneath the bark of the branch; as the cambium layer fixes and fixes this damage, the new position is’learnt’ from the branch. The quicker the branch is growing the faster it heals, the sooner the wire can be eliminated with no return to its original position.
Where possible the wire should be applied at a 45° to the direction of the branch which is to be wired. Hold the beginning of the wire/anchor point firmly with your left hand at all times; as you coil the wire further down the branch, you could also move the position that you secure using this hand. At all times, the cable that is already applied should not be able to move as you continue to wire the remainder of the branch.
With the wire on your right hand, feed the wire through your thumb and first finger as you make a circling motion with your wrist around the branch; carefully work down the branch towards your body.
You can either cut a length of wire approximately 1/3 longer than the branch you are wiring or as I prefer, you can keep the reel of wire in the palm of your hand and cut to length when you achieve the tip of the branch. Always wire from the base of the branch into the very tip.
The last turn of the wire should be at 90° into the direction of the branch to guarantee the end of the wire at the very tip.
On quick growing species it may be worth wiring loosely to reduce the danger of the cable cutting into the trunk. When wiring an entire tree, always begin with the back, cable the primary branches and then the secondary branches.
Bend branches gradually and steadily. Listen and watch for signs of the branch cracking and splitting. If it does, STOP! The thicker the branch, the more force that will be needed to bend and the ‘elastic’ the timber. The branches of tree species are especially prone to splitting or snapping whatever their size.
You should learn which tree species have branches that are likely to snap rather than bend comes with experience. When wiring an unfamiliar species for the first time, test the strain of the branch with your finger prior to coiling the wire.
Some species are almost impossible to bend to any real degree with no branches splitting. These can only be wired when branches are extremely young and have not’hardened off’.
If you can, use your hands as a clamp holding the outside of the branch with your fingers, push and bend the branch out of the inside of the curve with your thumbs. This gives firmer control while spreading the force of the bend round the outside of the branch where it is most likely to split.
Bending branches at the point where they grow from the back can be poisonous; a few species can be prone to ripping out of the trunk completely. Proceed with care.
Allow the soil of trees to be wired to dry out slightly. With less water, the tree will be less turgid and more pliable.
Most importantly, be decisive. When a branch is bent into position don’t keep returning to it and moving it, repeated bending can lead to an unnecessary number of fractures in the branch, and thus weakening it.
Make sharp bends at leaf joints and where secondary branches grow; this is where tree branches naturally have a change in direction. Bends made in the internodes do not look as natural.
Insert movement so that secondary/sub branches are on the outside of the bend, not the inside. On deciduous species in particular, make certain that you add movement to all straight portions of the branch. Don’t just create movement from left to right; be certain the branch also moves up and down as well.
If allowed time to recover with no further work being completed, all bonsai respond well to wiring. Do not wire unhealthy or weak trees as it will delay recovery.
Some will advise that when wiring the trunk of a tree, the beginning of the coil is anchored to the soil and roots of the tree. This is not necessarily the best technique as the anchorage is poor and the wire will often move and disturb the roots as the coil around the upper trunk is made. Unless motion is absolutely necessary in the first couple of inches of the back, a good suggestion is to maintain the whole coil of wire above soil level.
When is the best time to wire your tree? That depends!
WHEN TO WIRE
With the lot of tree species commonly used for bonsai and the wide variety of climates in which readers will be wiring, it is impossible to state exactly when your tree should be wired. Additionally, there are pros and cons of wiring at any specific time of the year with any particular type of bonsai. Theoretically, most tree species could be wired at most times of the year though trees wired throughout the winter might require frost protection in certain climates.
The only time that wiring can negatively affect the health of your tree into a large degree is through winter, in areas where temperatures regularly drop below 15°F. In temperatures this cold, any cracks that haven’t healed will be exposed to the cold and potential future dieback of the branch.
In warmer climates, the best time to wire deciduous trees is just as the leaves drop in autumn. With the branches bare it’s far simpler to wire and adjust the branches with a complete view of the tree. The branches should heal all but the largest cracks or severe bends until the tree becomes completely dormant for the winter.
Deciduous trees can be wired in spring before the leaves open but great care must be taken that the new leaf or flower buds are not dislodged. Deciduous and broadleaf trees can be wired any time throughout the growing season but when in leaf it’s more challenging to study the structure of the tree and wiring around the leaves is more challenging. Branches wired at this time; especially new shoots, will heal very quickly. On fast growing species, keep checking every few days that the wire is not starting to dig in.
The second best time to wire deciduous trees is at midsummer after defoliating the tree. Again using the branches bare, wiring is very clear and easy; the branches should take to their new positions before the end of fall.
Coniferous species can be wired at any time from spring through to fall. Coniferous species will continue to heal over winter so they can nevertheless be wired in autumn. As the wire on Coniferous species has to be on the branches for a longer period of time; frequently over winter, frost protection is needed if temperatures fall below 15°F.
Coniferous species need wiring yearly and require at least one complete wiring of the entire tree for a successful design. They are best wired (particularly if heavy bends must be made) from late midsummer through to early autumn.
By late midsummer, new growth will start to need wiring and will heal faster than at most other times of the year. Many species such as Pines will have also made most of their annual increase in division thickness by August; wiring following this time will permit the wire to remain on the tree until the following year without cutting in and scarring the bark.
Coniferous species can be wired into the spring and this expansion will set into position relatively quickly but will need reapplying as the years new growth appears. Any cable still on the tree by midsummer should be checked regularly to prevent wire scarring; particularly on Pines that swell abruptly around this time.
Tropical species could be wired at just about any time of the year as they are protected from frost and have little or no dormant period. The cable can cut in fast due to the typically vigorous development of tropical species and has to be checked very often.
The cable should be removed after 6 weeks. Usually the branch should then remain in that position on its own. Wire should be carefully cut from the branches. Don’t unwind wires as this may break the branch. Use your wire cutters for best results. If you attempt to unwind, you can conceivably, snap a branch.
If a branch should snap, the ends can be rejoined if they’re not completely broken. Wind some garden tape around the rest. If a branch snaps off, prune it back in the first side branch.
After spending so much time making your bonsai look the way you want it to, you have to, of course, take care of it!