Some tree species have growth that is pliable enough for branches 1" thick or more to be successfully wired into a new position. Slight adjustments in position can be made using straightforward wiring techniques. However, with more severe repositioning, damage can occur to the branch and the bark, from both the wire that is used, and the degree of turn put into the branch itself.


Bending Bonsai Branches with Raffia

The tree that is used in this photo series is a Fagus sylvatica/ European Beech. Beech have fairly pliable branches, but they also have thin bark which is marked easily by wire. Similarly, most coniferous trees, such as Junipers and Pines, have pliable branches on which this technique can be used.

On the other hand many deciduous species, have brittle growth, that if bent too far, will snap. It is very important that great care is taken that branches are not broken from the use of over-zealous wiring.

The branch in the foreground of this picture is approximately 1" thick; it is growing out towards the front of the tree though it actually emanates from the right-hand side of the trunk. It is necessary from a design point of view, for the branch to be moved so it grows to the right of the tree.

 Bending Bonsai Branches with Raffia

The red arrows in this picture indicate where the branch is to be moved to. When the branch is moved by hand towards its new position, there is only moderate tension in the branch; it will however be difficult to hold into place with just wire alone.



Bending Bonsai Branches with Raffia


In this picture, the intended new branch position has been digitally super-imposed; though pliable, there are still a number of problems that could occur. The bark on the outside of the bend will be stretched in order to allow the branch to move; it is important that any small breaks in the bark, (indicated by the straight red lines) are supported, and encouraged to heal as rapidly as possible.

If the stress along the outside edge is allowed to concentrate on one point instead of being spread over a larger area by raffia, it is likely that the point of stress could open and snap the branch.


Bending Bonsai Branches with Raffia

To protect the bark, ensure that the branch is protected and strengthened, raffia is wound around the branch.

Raffia is a reed-like plant material commonly found in most garden centres, it is soaked in water for 30 minutes and then carefully wound tightly, around the length of the branch. In this case, 4 layers of raffia are used. When applied wetted, raffia can be placed in single flat layers; dry raffia is far more difficult to manipulate. As the raffia dries, it will also shrink and tighten slightly, giving the branch more support.

As well as protecting and strengthening the branch whilst it is wired, the raffia also stops the bark, and any small fractures, from drying out which will ease healing.

After wrapping with raffia, two lengths of wire are then applied to the branch; these will not be able to stop the branch returning to its original position on their own, but will again, diffuse the stress of the bending across the length of the branch.


Bending Bonsai Branches with Raffia



Finally, the branch is moved very slowly into its new position; while doing so, it is important to listen out for the sound any sharp 'cracks' as the branch is moved. Cracking-sounds indicate that the wood inside the branch is breaking and no further movement should be applied.

If there are any doubts as to whether the branch will tolerate further bending, it is better to secure in its current position and allow time for the branch to adopt its current position before further movement is applied.

To ensure that the branch is held in its new position, a guy wire is applied from the branch itself to another nearby branch.

The tree and this branch in particular, will now be encouraged to grow strongly through the next few months to allow the branch to heal and set in its new position.




UPDATE October 2005

Since originally writing this article 4 years ago, I have stopped using raffia when creating severe bends in trunks and branches. Though raffia is the traditional method for providing protection and is without doubt a viable option, I have found plastic tape is a better product to use.

Picea raffia


In this image you can see that ordinary black insulation tape has been used to protect the trunk prior to bending.

The first layer of tape is wound with the sticky-side facing outward so that the adhesive does not stick to the bark; the tape is then wound around the branch with the sticky-side facing inwards.

The result is a strong level of protection using a cheap and easily available material (compared to raffia). Application is even more straightforward than using raffia and removal after the branch has set is also much easier.

The colour of the insulation tape is also less obvious than the raffia (though raffia can be dyed to a more appropriate colour prior to application).


There are other products that can be used as well as insulation tape; many enthusiasts are now using a product called 'Vet Wrap', a type of elasticated bandaging.

If you decide to try an alternative to traditional raffia, ensure that the material you use is low-tack to aid easy removal. Make sure that the product is strong enough to bind the branch tightly but importantly, also has a degree of elasticity.

picea spruce raffia bonsai


Related: Bending Thick or Brittle Branches Article Series


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