After trimming, the next most important technique in bonsai styling is wiring. The purpose of wiring is to be
able to move branches into better positions to complete the aesthetics of the composition. During the initial styling of a
tree, wire may be sued to inpart dramatic changes to the shape of a tree. Young trees with branches lifting to the sky
can be aged immediately by bending the branches down toward the earth, because old trees (like old humans) have
succumbed to the constant force of gravity.
When doing the initial styling of a bonsai, one does not always have branches where they are needed. There
might be a large hole in the styling that can be remedied by moving in a branch from another area. Moving one branch
a lot might require moving another branch slightly to fill the new space. Normally, one wants to avoid having one
branch right underneath another branch because a shaded branch in nature will eventually weaken and die.
There are several common misconceptions about wiring bonsai. 1) Some trees for sale on the web or at malls
are wired to "make them bonsai." Wrapping wire around a branch does not make a tree a bonsai. The wire should be
there for a prupose or it should not be there at all. 2) Wiring a tree is like the ancient tradition of "foot binding." There
is no comparison between the two practices. Careful wiring improves not only the beauty of a tree but also its health.
But like foot binding, the careless application of wire on a tree can lead to permanent scaring. This is to be avoided
The two types of wire commonly used for wiring trees are anodized aluminum and annealed copper. Neither of
these wires are the same as what is used in electrical work. They do not have insulation. The copper wire has been
specially heat-treated or annealed to make it very flexible.
Aluminum wire is less expensive and more commonly available at garden shops or bonsai stores. It takes a greater
diameter to hold a given limb, but that greater diameter means that it is less likely to leave a wiring scar on the tree.
Professionals and experienced bonsai artists use copper. Copper wire holds more securely for a given diameter of wire.
It has the interesting feature of "work hardening" which means it is flexible as you put it on but gets harder to bend as it
is wrapped around the tree. This can be used to great advantage in styling a tree.
Do not try to save money by using other wires. For instance, do not use iron wire.
Do not use vinyl-clad wire.
Do not use two types of wire on a single tree. The wires will invariably touch and where they touch, there will be
galvanic corrosion. A copper wire will eat right thru an aluminum wire.
There is a second factor to consider when choosing the wire for a tree. All bonsai wires come in a variety of
diameters usually given in millimeters. One will generally want to choose the diameter of wire that is strong enough to
comfortably hold the various bends that one is trying to accomplish. In aluminum, 2mm or 3mm wire is most
common, but one might go all the way up to 8 mm for a large branch. To make the choice of which size wire to use,
take a piece of straight wire and press on the branch in the direction you would like to move the branch. If the wire
bends, the wire is too small. If the branch bends, the wire is adequate for the job.
How to Apply Wire
One's skill at wiring is indicative of one's skill or experience with bonsai. Professionals are often anal about not
having crossing wires and having the wire applied in a precise manner. That is fine and it is permissible to display
trees that are expertly wired. This is a matter of art and not function. Beginners should have no qualms about crossed
wires - the purpose is to accomplish the bending required. Nonetheless, one should aspire to good wiring and the
following section provides some of the basics.
When applying wire, the starting end of the wire needs to be secured in place. If it is coming up the trunk, the
wire can be started by inserting into the soil at the base of the tree. Alternatively, the wire can be looped around
another convenient branch. Do not be stingy with the wire. If you have started out a branch, take the wire all the way
to the end of the branch. It will hold better and there will be other improvement to the tree that can come later in the
The first bend of a wire on a branch should be the same direction that you want to bend the branch. For instance,
if you want to bend a branch down and forward, the wire should approach the branch from the back and come over the
top. Thus, as you bend the branch in place, the wire will be tightened, holding the branch in position better. Were it
from the bottom and front, the wire would be compressed and would loosen its grip on the branch during the
As the wire is applied, it should conform to the tree but it should not be so
tight that it immediately starts to cut into the bark of the tree. The wire should
appear to be crossing the branch or trunk at about a 45 degree angle (or less as you
become more experienced and know what will work) because this will give the
optimal combination of holding power and ability to put the desired bends into the
branch. The first figure shows the application of a wire up a trunk and onto a
branch. In this particular case, the wire would probably be used to lower the angle
of the branch to provide age to the tree. For that reason, it started out the branch
from above the branch. As the branch is lowered, the wire will tighten slightly and
do a better job of holding the branch in place.
The diagram purposely skips the first branch because that branch will be
addressed in the next picture. Note that looking down from the top of the tree, the
wire has been applied to the trunk in a clockwise manner. It does not matter
whether the applicaton is in a clockwise or
counterclockwise manner - that is a matter of
personal preference. However, all subsequent applications of wire to the trunk
should be applied in the same clockwise manner.
The second piece of wire applied to the trunk (shown in red for clarity)
starts just below the original wire and follows the original wire up the tree. The
original wire was placed so that there was a gap as it passed above the first
branch. That left a place for the second wire which now started out the branch
from above that particular crotch in the tree.
As an alternative to wiring both of these
branches from the base of the tree, it would
have been possible to wire both of them using
the same piece of wire. In that particular
case, the two branches act as anchors for each
other. It is essential that there was some wire
up the trunk, as will become clear later.
Again note that the wire was applied in a clockwise manner on the trunk. If for
some reason, I want to apply another wire to the tree starting from the bottom, the
handedness of this short section on the trunk will become important.
In the next figure, the red wire has been
applied up the trunk going thru the area of the
original wire. The red wire has been applied
in a clockwise manner and is thus able to pass
the original wire without crossing or making contact with the original wire.
Planning the course of the wire can be important to the final outcome of the
As the wiring of the tree progresses, there will be more such decisions to
make about the location of wires. The next two figures show the application of
wire to four branches. The first figure is a good example of what not to do. It
might seem to be convenient to wire the two pairs of branches in that manner, but
there is no
anchor to the
wire. As a
two branches held by a giver wire will teeter-totter
back and forth as you attempt to position the
branches. It is far more desirable to wire as shown
so that there is sufficient vertical anchoring. Once
again, note that as both wires go up the trunk, they
are progressing in a clockwise manner.
gets to fine wiring out on the ends of branches, there may be no good location to
anchor the wire. At that point, it is possible to loop over the main part of the branch
to pick up two smaller branches. This is shown in the following picture. At this point
future wiring becomes a bit more difficult because as you will note, the wire going
our one branch is clockwise and the other is counterclockwise. Generally, one would
not need to add more wire to this situation, but if it is necessary, then it can be done.
In the next two
figures, wire is brought out the branch to pass the
existing wire. Note that to go one direction, the wire
is applied clockwise and for the other branch, the wire
is applied counterclockwise.
As mentioned above, the initial wiring of a tree is often to make it look older and this involved lowering the angle
of the branches. At times, it is difficult to achieve the desired positions with simple wiring. As an alternative, one can
resort to tie-downs. Tie-downs are as simple as running a wire between two positions and applying tension to the wire
to achieve the desired movement. If a tree is well-secured in a pot, it is possible to use a short piece of heavy wire to
make a hook to be places thru one of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. A smaller wire is then attached to that
anchoring hook and brought up from under the pot. Run the wire thru a short piece of rubber or plastic tubing and then
around the desired branch with the tubing running across the top of the branch where the pressure from the wire will be
the greatest. The branch should be pulled somewhat past the desired position and then the wire is twisted to hold.
In particularly difficult cases, the wire can be applied as a loop around the branch and a significant anchor point on the
tree. A stick is then placed between the two wires and the two sides of the loop are slowly twisted together, applying
significant tension like a turnbuckle.
Getting Results from the Wire
We have discussed how to put the wire on in the above section, but the job is not finished. One can put
significant bends into tree to make dramatic changes in their appearance. When working on young material, I have
already mentioned that the branches should be bent down to enhance the look of age of the tree. Wire taken up the
trunk of a tree can be used to put some movement into that trunk. Bend some curves into the trunk such that the
branches leave the tree at the outside of curves. The curves should be broader at the thicker parts of the tree and should
become tighter as the tree narrows.
If the tree is two-dimensional, swing some branches around to the back of the tree to give the tree depth. If there
are holes in the overall outline of the tree, move branches around to fill those holes.
If you have put movement into the trunk of the tree, the branches should reflect that movement. Bend a branch back
where it leaves the trunk and then bring part of it forward before sending the tip back again. The curves should be
broader at the thicker parts of the branch and should become tighter as the branch narrows, again reflecting the overall
style of the tree. The purpose is not to contort the entire tree, but to make the tree more interesting.
How Long Does Wire Stay On?
The general rule of thumb for how long wire stays on is "just as long as necessary" or "not too long." Are those
answers ambiguous enough? I prefer the answer you would get from a lawyer - "It all depends..."
Wire applied to fast-growing deciduous trees in the spring can start to cut into the bark in as little as a month.
Spruce can take years for the wire to achieve the desired effect. Thus, it is impossible to provide a definitive answer.
But it is possible to define what is too long and that is if the wire is beginning to leave a scar on the tree. Just be sure to
look at the tree on a regular basis.
For trees like maples or crab apples, you should wire in the spring and watch the wire on a weekly basis. You
should be able to see the entire circumference of the wire and none of the wire should appear to be below the level of
the bark. The branch will take a set into the new position within that short period of time. On spruce, you may leave
wire on for two years. When you finally take it off you will see the branch start to resume its original position. Thus
you might have to re-wire the tree immediately. This might seem like a lot of extra work, but it has the advantage of
moving the wire to a new position. Thus, it is much less likely to be scarring. I have never had to have anything wired
for more than four years.
Azaleas are particularly this-barked and thus susceptible to wire scars and the scars are close to being permanent.
That is why it is a common practice to wrap the wire in paper or raffia before applying to the tree so that there is a
softer material up against the bark of the tree. This will allow the wire to be left on for a longer period of time before
any damage is done.
When one is doing tie-downs, there can be quite a bit of pressure from the wire in a very limited area. This is a
quick way to scar the tree, so it is common to pass the wire thru a small piece of rubber tubing or padding right at the
contact area to minimize cutting in. Tie-downs might remain in place for up to two years, but the point of actual
contact with the branch can be moved on a regular basis.
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educational purposes. If large portions are copied, we would appreciate attribution. We welcome links to this site.