Wiring a bonsai is an important design technique for shaping a bonsai. The growth and shape of the bonsai is influenced by the wire. The wire is wrapped around trunk or branches. The wired parts are bent in the desired direction. Once the form has solidified, the bonsai wire can be removed.
Slightly more detailed wiring a bonsai is, besides pruning, the most important design technique for forming a bonsai. When forming a bonsai, a normal tree is designed according to a given ideal. The goal is usually that young, not yet developed bonsai trees look old and venerable.
Important for perfect bonsai wiring: Use as little wire as possible but as much as necessary
The growth of the bonsai and its shape can be influenced and controlled by the wire from the very beginning. Almost all good bonsai were wired at some point, often over long periods of time. Without wire an exact design is difficult to achieve.
Bonsai wiring is a continuous process that is often carried out gradually over many years. Special bonsai wire is wrapped around trunk, branches and shoots. The wired areas are then bent in the desired direction. Over the next few months, the shape of the wired plant parts solidifies through thickening and lignification. Then you can unwire the bonsai.
The shaped parts of the bonsai then often remain in their position (e.g. in tree species with quickly woody shoots such as spindle trees, pepper tree bonsai, azalea bonsai, boxwood, maple bonsai). In tree species with softer wood (e. g. pine bonsai, Spruces) the branches often bend back a little. Then the bonsai must be wired again.
It is often thought that bonsai care and design is difficult. In our experience, that's not the case. Once you have understood the basic points, the attitude of bonsai is simple. With one exception: Wiring a bonsai. To wire a bonsai well and then shape it without damaging it is really not easy. Learning the technique takes a lot of effort.
But in the normal case applies: Without good wiring there is no good Bonsai. This design technique allows the best control during forming of a bonsai, from the movement of the trunk to the smallest shoots. If you are serious about bonsai, you have to learn how to wire a bonsai. As a reward for the effort, your bonsai looks exactly like you want.
At first, everything sounds very simple: Buy bonsai wire - Wrap wire around branch - Bend - Wait - Remove wire and you're done. Unfortunately it is not that easy. For the beginner, wiring a bonsai is often frustrating. But with a little practice and time you will become more save and success will come. And as time goes by, you will notice that bonsai wiring is very relaxing. The stressful everyday life is quickly forgotten.
Here on this page we have collected all the points that are important for good wiring.
Why is a good bonsai wiring technique important ?
- Badly wired, an exact bend in the desired shape is not possible
- Stress avoidance: Good wiring technique = better stabilization when bending
- Avoidance of damage when shaping the bonsai (breaks, damage to the bark)
- Well-laid wire remains discreetly in the background and does not disturb the picture
- A well-wired bonsai is even accepted at exhibitions today
How is a bonsai wired correctly ?
- Wire the bonsai at the right time of the year
- Wired only healthy and strong bonsai
- Choose the right bonsai wire (aluminum, copper)
- Determine the correct wire size for the branch to be wired
- Cut the right length from the roll
- Fix one end of the bonsai wire in the ground or on a branch
- Always start from bottom to top and from inside to outside
- Wrap the wire tight but without too much pressure
- Wire the branches except for exceptions at an angle of 45°
- Avoid crossing the bonsai wire. It'll squeeze in
- Always wrap the wire in the bending direction around the branch
- Fix the wire well with your fingers when wrapping the wire
- Place the bonsai wire on the outside of a bend
- Watch the bonsai so that the wire does not grow in
- When the wire presses in, you have to unwire the bonsai
- Do not use bonsai wire several times, especially copper
- Use a bonsai wire cutter to unwire
In the following we will go into the points of the checklist in more detail:
Which season ?
Theoretically, most tree species can be wired at any time. However, certain times of the year have advantages and disadvantages both for the bonsai and for the stylist. Since many different tree species are formed as bonsai and cultivated under different climatic conditions, it is difficult to give a generally valid guideline.
Bending the branches into the new shape causes many small cracks in the bark and cambium layer. During the growing season, these injuries can heal easily and quickly. Than the new branch position solidifies in deciduous trees often after a few weeks. Outside the growing season, these processes take many times longer.
Fast-growing species (such as redwood bonsai, most maple bonsai, elm bonsai) need much less time in the growing season to maintain the new shape. Slowly growing trees (white pines, juniper bonsai, spruces) or trees with soft wood (larch bonsai) take much longer to solidify, regardless of when they were wired.
Spring: For many outdoor bonsai it is a good time to wire the tree. Before budding, the branch structure of the bonsai is well visible and the non-existent leaves do not interfere with wrap the wire arround the branch. However, care must be taken not to break off the already large leaf or flower buds. In April-May the shoot growth is particularly strong. This has the advantage that injuries heal quickly and the new shape solidifies quickly. But the wire can grow into the branch quickly. It must be checked regularly. It may already be necessary to unwire the bonsai in May. With many deciduous tree species, however, the new position has already solidified in such a way that the branch retains its position (for example spindle tree, azalea).
Summer: The summer is the second best season to wire deciduous tree bonsai. The existing leaves interfere with both the analysis of the branch structure and wrapping the wire arroung the branch. The advantage is that the main growth is over so that the wire can stay longer on the tree without grow in. At the same time, the bonsai grow enough to quickly close the wounds and stabilize the new shape. Many bonsai friends remove all leaves completely (leaf cut) in deciduous trees to then wire the bonsai. If the plants are healthy and strong they do not mind it.
In summer the trees are growing fast. During this time the cambium layer transfers liquid nutrients made by photosynthesis down to the roots. This allows the bark to easily detach from the wood when wire is wrapped arround the branch. Therefore - work carefully, especially with stronger bends.
Autumn: In warmer areas (such as Italy, southern France, Spain, and the UK), early autumn is a good time to wire deciduous bonsai trees. The strongest growth has come to an end, the leaves have fallen off or can be removed even before the leaf is fallen. After that, the structure of the branches is easy to see and the wire can wrapped much easier without leaves. Also, the wire can stay on the tree for a long time (until next April-May). The new buds are still very small and the danger of breaking them during wiring is low.
Winter: Winter is the worst season for wiring a bonsai in areas with regular, heavy frost. When wrapping the wire or bending the parts of the plant, wounds may be created (such as cracks in the branch). Since the trees (outdoor bonsai) are in the resting phase at this time of year, injuries heal worse or not at all. If you want to wire a bonsai in winter, it should placed frost-free and very bright. In a normal apartment maintained indoor bonsai in winter to wire is not optimal. Due to the short days they grow slowly. Better to wait until the beginning of spring. In warmer areas or when caring the indoor bonsai in a greenhouse, nothing bothers you to wire these bonsai in the winter.
Evergreen conifer species can be well wired from spring to early autumn. The wire often has to stay on the tree for a very long time. Shoots of coniferous trees (such as White pines) thicken more in early summer. If the bonsai has been wired in the spring then has to be checked regularly in the summer that the wire does not grow in. If, in the case of conifers, the wire should remain on the tree in winter, a frost-free location during the coldest weeks is advisable.
Bonsai are wired with bonsai wire made of anodised aluminum or annealed copper specially produced for bonsai styling. Telephone or electric cables are just as unsuitable as steel wire.
Before starting work, the right type of wire must be selected as both aluminum and copper have advantages and disadvantages.
In short, aluminum is good for beginners and for bonsai with thin bark, copper is good for advanced and for trees with thick bark and for bonsai, which are still to be wired before an exhibition.
Which wire size is needed for wiring a bonsai ?
- The most commonly used is 1.0, 1.5, 2.0 and 2.5mm aluminum wire
- For small trees you need 100g per strength, for larger 250g
- The bonsai wire must be thick enough to hold the branch in place
- At the same time the wire must be thin enough to work with it
- Aluminum wire must be about half the thickness of the branch
- Copper bonsai wire must be about half as strong as aluminum
- Different strong branches need different wire thickness
- If a wire is too weak, a second wire can be wrapped arround branch
- A strength can be used for 2 branches if they are the same thickness
- The wire length must be about 1/3 longer than the branch
You can find out the right wire thickness quite well by the following test: Take the wire in your fingers and let about 2-3cm protrud forward. Press the protruding end against the branch. If the protruding piece bends easily, the wire is too thin.
If too thin wire is used, the branch bends back quickly from the desired position. In this case, the wire can be removed again and replaced with a stronger one. Alternatively, a 2nd wire can be added between the gaps of the 1st wire to better maintain the position of the branch.
The wire size actually required also depends largely on the tree species.
Step by step
1. Fix a wire end
At the beginning of the work always fix one end of the bonsai wire in the ground (blue) or on a branch (green). Fixed in the ground means: Simply put the end of the wire 4-5cm into the ground, preferably behind the tree. Better and more stable is the fixation around a branch.
2. Wire from strong to weak
The wire is applied from bottom to top or from inside to outside, that means always from the stronger to the weaker part of the bonsai. It can be wired clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on which direction you want to bend. Example: Fix wire at A, wrap the wire arround trunk upwards (B) and then wire branches C + D outwards.
4. Wire at an angle of approx. 45°
Put the wire in the wingel at about 45°. At 45° less wire is needed and at the same time a high bending stability is achieved.
6. Apply wire in the bending direction
Good wiring for bending movement of the branch counterclockwise.
Fields of application of bonsai wire
- Bonsai wire is of course mainly used for bonsai wiring (ie. wrapping the branches and then forming by bending)
- Pull down: If the bonsai branch is to be bent downwards only, bonsai wire can be used for pulling down, that means with a very thin wire (1mm aluminum wire), the branch is pulled down and attached to the pot (sometimes to another branch, a root or on the plastic cultivation pot).
- Attaching the cover nets over the water holes at the bottom of the bonsai pots: By attaching the cover nets with wire they do not slip during potting.
- Wire corset when bandaging stronger bonsai branches before bending: This significantly reduces the risk of breaking the branch or trunk.
- Thickening of plant parts: Wire is wrapped around thinner stem parts. Over the next few months, the wire will squeeze in a bit. The pressed parts get thicker faster than the rest. The wire needs to be removed well before growing in. This technique is often used in Japanese White pines. Unfortunately, the wire is often removed to late resulting in unsightly stripes in the trunk. These wounds disappear after a few years.