Wiring Bonsai

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Bending the branches into position

· 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.
· Learning 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 such as Acer palmatum 'Kiyohime', Azalea, Bougainvillea or Berberis 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 whilst 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.
· 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.

Related article>>Repairing Snapped Branches

juniper bonsai wiring

The same newly-wired Juniper, as seen from the side

Add realistic movement to your branches and trunks

· 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.

Wiring does cause a degree of stress to a tree

· However 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.

It is often advised that when wiring the trunk of a tree, the start of the coil is anchored into the soil and roots of the tree. Personally I dislike this 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, I would suggest keeping the entire coil of wire above soil level.

When to wire your tree

With the large number of tree species commonly used for bonsai and the wide variation of climates in which readers will be wiring, it is impossible to state exactly when your tree should be wired. There are also pros and cons of wiring at any particular time of the year with any particular type of bonsai. Theoretically, most tree species can be wired at most times of the year though trees wired during the Winter may need frost protection in certain climates.

I am therefore listing a number of factors that should be taken into consideration when deciding at which to wire your tree;
· The only time that wiring can negatively impact the health of your tree to a large degree is during Winter, in areas where temperatures regularly drop below -10°C/approx 15°F. In temperatures this cold, any fractures that have not healed will be exposed to the cold and possible future dieback of the branch. If your tree still carries wire at this time of year, give it frost protection below -10°C.
· In warmer climates, the best time to wire deciduous trees is just as the leaves fall in Autumn. With the branches bare it is much easier 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 before the tree becomes completely dormant for the Winter. I have been wiring my deciduous trees here in the UK (Zone9) in the Autumn for a number of years and they have suffered no setbacks, even without frost protection.
· 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 through the growing season but when in leaf it is more difficult to study the structure of the tree and wiring around the leaves is more difficult. Branches wired at this time; particularly new shoots, will heal very quickly. On fast growing species, keep checking every few days that the wire is not beginning to dig in.
· The second best time to wire deciduous trees is at midsummer after defoliating the tree. Again with the branches bare, wiring is clear and easy; the branches should take to their new positions before the end of Autumn.
· Coniferous species can be wired at any time from Spring through to Autumn. Coniferous species will continue to heal over Winter so can still be wired in Autumn. As the wire on Coniferous species needs to be on the branches for a longer period of time; often over Winter, frost protection is needed if temperatures drop below -10°C.
· Coniferous species need wiring annually and need at least one complete wiring of the entire tree for a successful design.
· Coniferous species are best wired (particularly if heavy bends are to 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 branch thickness by August, wiring after this time will allow the wire to stay on the tree until the following year without cutting in and scarring the bark.
· Coniferous species can be wired in the Spring and this growth will set into position relatively quickly but will need reapplying as the years new growth appears. Any wire still on the tree by midsummer should be checked regularly to avoid wire scarring; particularly on Pines that swell suddenly around this time.
· Tropical species can be wired at virtually any time of the year as they are protected from frost and have little or no dormant period. The wire can cut in fast due to the typically vigorous growth of tropical species and must be checked very often.

Removing Bonsai Wire

As a tree grows, the branches very slowly increase in size. Any wire on the branches can become tight and as it does, mark the bark. In severe cases, the wire can cause coiling scars where the wire has bitten deep into the branch. Light marking will grow out within a year or two but heavy marking can be permanent. Wire marks are always considered ugly and should be avoided by removing the wire before it has a chance to dig into the bark.
It is always recommended that the wire be removed by cutting each turn with some wire cutters. Trying to unwind the wire can easily lead to dislodged buds, torn leaves or broken branches. However, there are many enthusiasts who do unwind their wire so it can be reused…….great care must be taken if doing so.
Don't bother unwinding copper wire as it is not possible to remove kinks from it after use. I tend to reuse heavier, more expensive gauges of aluminum wire on my trees still in training (potentsai) but have learnt to my cost that it is rarely worth trying to unwind and reuse narrow gauge wire used for thin branches. These branches are the ones that tend to get damaged!