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Wiring – The basics

So you have brought home your first bonsai tree from a dealer. You have read all about the various forms of styling in bonsai growing, and are raring to go. You have a set of cold, shiny, brand new tools. You have a young sapling in front of you ready for training. “Training” is the term used in growing bonsai to refer to the gradual process of shaping your bonsai tree to grow a certain way. Now what?

You need to learn wiring and pruning, if your bonsai tree is ever going to become the beautiful showpiece you have in mind. Lets start with the basics of wiring for today.

What is wiring anyway?

Wiring is the practice of wrapping aluminum or copper wire around the bonsai trunk or branches, in order to shape the tree gradually. The branches and trunks are wrapped in either anodized aluminum or annealed copper wire (usually available from a bonsai dealer), and held in place for a few weeks or months until they fuse into position. Once the wires are removed, the branches and trunks that were wired, stay in shape and place.

By wrapping the trunk and branches with wire of the right length and thickness in the correct way, the basic bonsai style is created. You should be aware that certain styles may require (much more) wiring than other styles. For example, the formal upright style does not require any wiring, but the cascade style requires a lot of it, in order to bend the trunk over the pot.

The wire material

It’s important to remember that the wire should be anodized aluminum or annealed copper, in order to prevent harmful metals leaching out from the wires, and being ingested by the tree, resulting in sickness or death.

copper-wiring.jpgWires are sold by bonsai dealers (online and offline) according to width (in millimeters) and the width depends on the thickness of the branch or trunk you are wiring. A wire size of 1/3 that of the branch or trunk is a rough rule of thumb. Of course, the bigger the bonsai tree, the harder it becomes to wire it properly. You should get a few reels of different thickness, since your bonsai tree is definitely thicker in the trunk than say, the branches; and the lower branches are of course thicker than the upper branches.

You’ll need a good pair of cutters as well. There are several kinds of small gardening secateurs that can double up as wire cutters, and branch pruners at the same time.

Draw up a sketch plan

Beginning with a sketch or computer drawing capturing your vision of the final result helps to define your goal visually. It doesn’t have to be final, but you should have an image in mind as your goal. Visiting a bonsai gallery is one way to study firsthand, the results of advanced wiring and pruning techniques practiced by expert bonsai artists.

Before wrapping the intended tree, practice. Start with a simple wooden pole or small ordinary tree branch, just to get the feel of the wire and develop the dexterity to hold the branch and wrap at the same time. Once you’re comfortable holding the branch with one hand and wrapping with the other, without bending or tugging anything but the wrapped part, you can move to the bonsai tree.

Precautions

Since wiring puts stress along a trunk or branch, it’s essential to exercise essential caution and patience during the process. The alternative can easily result in a cracked branch, or worse, a cracked trunk and a dead tree. Don’t wire unhealthy or sick trees; that will delay their recovery. Also, it’s possible to wrap too tightly or at the wrong season. The result will be scarring that can kill the tree or create damage taking months or years to heal.

Wiring is a complex subject in bonsai gardening, along with pruning, best learnt through actual trial and practice. In subsequent articles, we’ll examine the best times to wire your tree, and the techniques involved.

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