Updated: Jan 7
Wiring Bonsai is the part of the practise where we feel we are achieving the most artistic freedom and actually creating design, But wiring isn't just as easy as throwing some wire on and bending branches into place, There are certain limitations and nuances to look out for so lets dive into it.
Lets start at the same place we should start with all our bonsai techniques, timing!.
Timing your wiring can be a strategic advantage that most over look, This can not only give you the best success but also make your job so much easier. So lets actually look at this separated into seasons.
Spring : I try to avoid wiring as much as i possibly can in spring because this is when you have the most water moving around the tree which causes the inner tissues to be fragile and prone to tearing, All you have to do is slightly over bend a branch and you could cut off the supply of water, nutrients and hormones to a branch which will spell the end for that limb. Tearing the inner tissue is not something that can be visually seen from the outside of the tree as it is internal damage and unlike going to the hospital and getting an x-ray or cat scan we don't have that kind of luxury for our bonsai trees. However sometimes in spring as a certain branch or shoot is emerging we may need to give it some light direction so we need to apply some wire but we do so with caution. If you do apply wire in spring you need to keep a close eye on it as the tree will swell rapidly during this period if it is healthy, so wire bite will happen fast. On certain trees this isn't too much of an issue, mainly trees with very thick plating bark or trees with heavy callusing. but on deciduous this can be problematic as you may never heal those scars. If you re apply wire over fresh wire bite make sure you apply it in the same direction because if you re apply it in the opposite direction and it bites in again you will ring bark the branches causing them to die. Applying wire in the opposite direction can be done later on it the trees life but the initial wire bite has to have healed properly first and it also depends on the depth of the initial bite.
Summer : This season for wiring is a little more forgiving but still limits the amount of actual wiring we can do. In summer the tree is still moving water at a good rate due to rapid transpiration because of the heat, in humid areas this will be slightly slower then arid areas due to the moisture content in the air. This means that the inner tissues although less fragile at this time are still prone to tearing if put under too much stress so i usually reserve summer for my branch touch ups rather then initial structure wiring on developing stock. The good thing about summer is we should have just finished our first or second post spring flush pruning and interior cleaning which will have opened up the tree which makes it a lot easier to access the branches and apply wire. We can do some detail wiring on our secondary and tertiary branching as this is very small moves and nothing to stressful for the tree, after all the last thing we want to do is stress the tree in the height of the years heat. Some trees will have a summer dormancy while others will have another flush of growth so you may need to keep an eye on some trees for wire bite during this season although it wont be as rapid as it was in spring.
Autumn : We have now shifted gears from Vegetative growth ( growing foliage mass ) to Vascular Growth ( Expanding Wood ) in the autumn season, Like we spoke about before in spring as new xylem and cambium forms and there is lots of water moving around the trees system those tissues and woods are prone to tearing, as we move into the Vascular growth in autumn those expansions of xylem and cambium begin to thicken and become a lot tougher, this is what gives us our tree rings, we get 1 new ring each year as the tree expands its ability to sustain more and more growth. i did a quick google seach to see if i could find a study on this and found this quick little punchy article for you. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/ivytech-bio1-1/chapter/stem-growth/
So what does this all mean? this means we have a window of opportunity to really crank on our trees but we want to be snappy about it, Well actually i would avoid being literally snappy.
For our Conifers and Evergreens we have a larger window of opportunity because these trees don't go through abscission like deciduous trees do, Deciduous trees have that extra task of drawing the Chlorophyll from the leaves ( why they change colour ) and storing the nutrients in the trunk over winter, they then drop the no longer needed leaves ( abscission ).
For deciduous trees you have about 2-3 weeks after leaf drop to get your wiring done before the branches become too brittle. With evergreen trees and conifers i would try to aim for early autumn as the weather begins to cool which should hopefully give you enough time to keep it out before winter begins. If you are going to do Major Major bends i recommend the use of raffia to put pressure on the outer tissue to prevent it from splitting and cracking.
This is also the season i would look to do my main structural wiring on developing trees that need their branches moved a little more dramatically then can be achieved in the early growing season. If your temps get below freezing and you have done some heavy bending on a tree through out autumn i would recommend protecting that tree in a green house or un heated garage for the duration of the winter.
Winter : I always see arguments for people who wire all their trees in winter, but too me although in some cases wont be a problem is not really doing it the efficient way. i mean i could cook my dinner at my house or i could drive it all the way to my parents house cook it there and come home, same result one way was just a lot better and the meal was hotter when i sat down to eat it.
You see in winter some trees are very brittle and un forgiving so your chances of breaking branches increases. on other trees this isn't a problem but because there is no active growth the bend is not likely to hold until growth begins in spring, now this is also fine because the bend was done before the water starting moving and the tree began producing new xylem and cambium so you don't run the risk of tearing the new tissues, but the wire will come off mighty quick as the tree is about to swell big time. at this point your bend may or may not have held properly and you will have to now re apply the wire... in spring... i have also had situations for example with my Hawthorne where i tried to get away with some very minimal wiring in winter and any branch i wired didn't shoot in spring... What happened? i honestly don't know, i have been told that some trees like Hawthorne really don't like been wired at all but especially in winter, i have had good success wiring that same tree late spring / autumn for smaller moves and with guy wires for larger moves during autumn.
Ok, Now we have the timing and seasons out of the way, and let me just point out this is what i have found to be the most effective and efficient way of wiring trees for me, you may hear differing opinions and its fair to give them a good consideration if they have the reasoning to back them up. I find advice like "i wire my trees in the spring while their growing" with the answer to the question why being " i just do". I have said it many times before, if people get away with poor timing of techniques it doesn't mean it was the correct way. once again refer to my example with the hot meal cooked at my parents house.
So lets have a quick chat about the 2 basic types of wire you will see for bonsai
Copper and Aluminium
Copper Wire : This is used for trees that have a lot of strength and rapid growth, You see when using copper wire it work hardens meaning that it is soft to apply but once it bends it sets into place and hardens which gives you a much stronger holding power. This is an advantage on trees that have a lot of strength when growing, with aluminium wire they can actually straighten back out under their own power. Now that's not to say that aluminium is useless in this situation it just means that you would need to apply a much thicker wire to get the same hold which could be tricky to apply on a dense tree. Copper can usually be avoided on most deciduous trees or anything with a really soft bark. Copper wire is also a lot less noticeable due to its colour in an exhibition setting when you are showing your trees thay need some wire on them.
Aluminium Wire : Aluminium wire is a lot softer so as mentioned above you will need a thicker wire to achieve the same hold as a smaller copper wire, but copper wire is also a lot more expensive then aluminium wire so there is an obvious cost difference. Aluminium wire also stands out a lot more when applied to a tree so its not great for exhibition purposes. I always recommend aluminium for people starting out as you need to get the feel for wiring before you start using copper wire as you can do more damage to a tree.
So now we have out timing sorted out and the type of wire we are going to use what about actually applying it to the tree? I'm going to assume you have some basic knowledge here already and just give you some helpful tips.
Run your main wire in front of each branch if possible without causing your pitch to be sharp : So as you are applying your main trunk line wires and your first branch wires it is good practise to have each loop happen in front of each branch it passes rather then say in front of 1 and behind the next. the reason for this is if you run your wire in front of each branch as you start to apply secondary wires that you need to run along side the main wire you will find all your exit points will be in front of the branches you need to exit on to and you wont end up with crossing wires everywhere. If you have too many branches close together this might not be avoidable with out really tightening the pitch ( angle ) of your wire, But with good bonsai design you shouldn't have too many branches close together anyway.
In the example above you can see on the first branch you would be able to run your secondary wire along the first wire and the exit points are all the same in front of each branch, so you could wire branch 1 and 3 together no problems, or even branch 1 and 2, or 2 and 3. But as you can see in the second branch if you tried to wire branch 1 and 2 together your exit point is behind the branch because your main wire went behind that branch rather then in front cause you to now cross your wires and double back to get to the branch which is not only unsightly but can damage the tree as you wont have proper support at the base of the branch you are exiting onto.
Use 1 wire for 2 branches : Now that we have explained how to run your wires properly to avoid crossing we can talk about the need to use 1 piece of wire to wire 2 similar sized branches. Much like the example above we used 1 piece of wire to run out onto 2 branches, the reason we do this is because it creates an anchor for each branch and your wire doesn't move. When doing this it is ideal to have at least 2 wraps around the branch before you exit onto another branch. So in the above example you can see on the first branch we wired together branch 1 and 3 leaving 2 wraps around the branch in between them. This will give you the most solid anchor possible.
Support the shoulder on top for downward bends, support the shoulder underneath for upward bends : It is good practise to be able to support the branches shoulder ( the point where it exits the branch or trunk ) in the correct position. See the example below.
As you can see in the above example the wire enters the branch over the top for a branch being bent down or underneath for a branch getting bent up. This is for 2 reasons. 1 is that you get the most amount of support for the branch where it exits the trunk, or branch if you are wiring a secondary branch. This is where the branch has its biggest weak spot.
and 2. if you notice on the example above if you were too enter the branch from below with your wire and bend down the wire would be in the crotch between the trunk and branch, This void will soon be gone as the trunk swells and so does the branch meaning that if you have some wire in there it will get swallowed by the tree and you might do a lot of damage removing it and if you do get it our there will be a strangle little hole where the wire used to be.
Trick For Measuring Wire : When cutting off the correct amount of wire from your roll this can be a gamble, you might cut too much or not enough. A trick i use is i roll out the length of the first branch i am wiring then the length of the space between the 2 branches and then the length of the second branch being wired, this is the length of wire roughly but now we need to account for the girth of the branch or trunk you are wrapping around, for a thinner trunk or branch i would say add another half branch to the length for thicker i would add another branch length, this can also depend on how tight your pitch is when applying the wire. This trick will take a few practises runs to get used to but once you have done a couple it becomes second nature and you begin to waste less and less wire.
Trick For Checking If The Wire Is Strong Enough To Hold A Branch : Sometimes we can apply some wire then as we bend the branch it just moves straight back to where it came from. This means we used the incorrect size wire. To avoid this pull out around 20mm of wire from the roll you think will be the right size and press it down on the branch you want to wire roughly in the middle of the branch, if you can push the branch down without the wire bending it will be strong enough, but if the wire bends and the branch doesn't move you need a thicker wire.
So these are just a few tips and tricks for wiring bonsai which i hope will give you a nice foundation for good practise, you can also do our Beginners Course at www.TheBonsaiDojo.com if you would like to learn more about wiring and also everything else including pruning, watering, fertilising, soils, pot choice tool basics and more in video form, There is over 4 Hrs of content. Here is a discount code if you wish to jump on board and learn some of the best practises in bonsai, use code "WIRING10" at checkout for 10% off.
But Until Next Time, Enjoy Your Bonsai Journey.