Wiring is an important part of the process of styling your bonsai and nearly all well designed bonsai have been wired at some point in their development. Though at first a daunting technique to master, it gives 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 wire. In a matter of weeks or months, the branch or trunk ‘learns’ and stays in position even after the wire is removed.
With the use of wire, straight trunks or branches can be given more realistic movement. Young branches can be wired into a horizontal or downward position to create the illusion of maturity. Foliage or branching can be moved to ‘fill in’ bare areas of the trees silhouette.
Without wiring, the enthusiast would otherwise have to wait for shoots to grow in the desired direction. With wiring, existing growth can be manipulated there instead.
You will use the wire to shape your bonsai into the style that most fits it. As we have addressed before, deciding on the shape of your bonsai, study the tree carefully and take into account the natural form of the species. Observe the way mature trees of the same kind grow in their natural setting to achieve an impression of age and reality. Decide on the final shape and size of your bonsai before starting. Make a rough sketch of what you wish to create, and use it as a guide.
Aluminum wire is perhaps best to use for beginners. Copper wire has more holding power but is a bit more difficult 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 in position but thin enough for the wired branch to be manipulated and for neatness.
To make the branches flexible before wiring, do not water the plant the day before you wire it. Begin at the bottom of the tree when wiring and shaping, and work upward. Anchor the end of the wire at the base of the tree by pushing it into the soil. Use foam pads under the wire to protect the branches.
The process of wiring and bending causes a series of minute splits and fractures in the layers underneath the bark of the branch; as the cambium layer repairs and heals this damage, the new position is ‘learnt’ by the branch. The faster the branch is growing the faster it heals, the sooner the wire can be removed without a return to its original position.
Where possible the wire should be applied at a 45° to the direction of the branch that 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 can also move the position that you secure using this hand. At all times, the wire that has already been applied should not be able to move while you continue to wire the remainder of the branch.
With the wire in 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 have reached the tip of the branch. Always wire from the base of the branch to the very tip.
The last turn of the wire should be at 90° to the direction of the branch to secure the end of the wire at the very tip.
On fast growing species it can be worth wiring more loosely to reduce the risk of the wire cutting into the trunk. When wiring an entire tree, always start with the trunk, wire the primary branches and then the secondary branches.
Bend branches slowly 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 less ‘elastic’ the wood. The branches of certain 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 tension of the branch with your finger prior to coiling the wire.
Some species are virtually impossible to bend to any real degree without the branches splitting. These can only be wired when branches are very young and haven’t ‘hardened off’.
If possible, use your hands as a clamp holding the outside of the branch with your fingers, push and bend the branch from the inside of the curve with your thumbs. This gives firmer control while spreading the force of the bend around the outside of the branch where it is most likely to split.
Bending branches at the point where they grow from the trunk can be hazardous; some 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.
Above all, be decisive. When a branch is bent into position do not keep returning to it and moving it, repeated bending can cause an unnecessary number of fractures in the branch, and so 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 don’t look as natural.
Add movement so that secondary/sub branches are on the outside of the bend, not the inside. On deciduous species in particular, make sure you add movement to all straight sections of the branch. Don’t just create movement from left to right; make sure the branch also moves up and down as well.
If allowed time to recover without any further work being carried out, all bonsai respond well to wiring. Don’t wire unhealthy or weak trees as it will delay recovery.
Some will advise that when wiring the trunk of a tree, the start of the coil is anchored into the soil and roots of the tree. This isn’t 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 movement is absolutely necessary in the first few inches of the trunk, a good suggestion is to keep the entire coil of wire above soil level.
When is the best time to wire your tree? That depends!